Red Sox in Need of Upgrades
By Michael Silverman
The day after a loss like Tuesday night’s and a Red Sox fan can wag their fingers at a couple of reasons for the 6-2 loss to the Twins.
Like, no way Robby Scott should have been used for the first time this season in a 2-2 ballgame to begin the eighth inning.
Like, there’s no excuse for the Red Sox offense to continue to take nights off when Chris Sale starts.
Like, chill maybe, because if you look at the gap between the AL East bottom feeders and where the Red Sox and Yankees sit -- 151/2 and 141/2 games respectively ahead of the third-place Rays -- you should take a deep breath and realize it’s a 162-game schedule and there are 88 games to go.
A bigger problem is knocking at the Red Sox’ door, however.
And that’s the increasing likelihood that second baseman Dustin Pedroia is not going to be able to contribute in a meaningful way for at least the remainder of the 2018 season.
But even if you prefer to look at Pedroia as having a 60-40 or let’s say 70-30 chance of coming back, both you and the Red Sox would be guilty of negligence to bank on that happening and standing pat at second base.
The Red Sox need an upgrade at second base.
Pedroia’s too big of a health risk and Eduardo Nunez is not providing what the Red Sox need: above-average defense and an impact bat, especially against left-handed pitching.
For nearly three months now, the Red Sox have lived almost entirely without Pedroia and fared quite well (their 49-25 record speaks to that). But the Red Sox right now are a team that struggles mightily against left-handed pitching -- they are 26th in the majors, slashing .237/.299/.374 while their success against right-handed pitching is better than any other team at .268/.336/.474.
The signing of Nunez over the winter was a stop-gap solution, supposedly independent of Pedroia’s health. He would hold a spot for Pedroia at second base, and then play an undetermined role as a spot-starting infielder with a dependable quality bat once Pedroia returned.
Now, nearing the halfway mark, the worst-case scenario in the Red Sox’ plan has been exposed. Nunez has performed far below expectations, both defensively and offensively.
He’s awful against left-handed pitching (.169/.229/.200).
And there is absolutely nobody around who can point to a return date for Pedroia, who experienced more knee soreness had go back on the DL after only three games.
Just listen to what manager Alex Cora had to say about Pedroia before Tuesday night’s game.
“Like I said before, it was major surgery,” said. “We didn’t know what to expect so we are where we are now. We’re hoping that, yeah, he’ll be back. When? We don’t know. But I still believe he’s going to contribute this season and he’s going to help us to win.”
Maybe Cora’s right, and Pedroia’s experiencing a temporary hiccup. Everybody would prefer that to be the case. But the Red Sox are too close to their goal to cross their fingers and wait for their current options at second base to turn into best-case scenarios.
Without Pedroia and with Nunez the team’s weakness against left-handed pitching has become a liability that a championship-caliber team will have a very difficult time overcoming.
It’s why the team has to be exploring a trade for a new second baseman.
Hitting left-handed pitching has always been a Pedroia trademark. Even in his limited efforts last season, Pedroia’s OPS against left-handed pitching was .929, which was .200 higher than against right-handed pitching, and his career OPS versus left-handed pitching is .849, significantly higher than .791 against righties.
At the moment, the only Red Sox hitter bashing southpaws is Mookie Betts, with his 1.212 OPS and .365/.424/.788 slash line. Xander Bogaerts is next best at .868 and .298/.400/.468 but that’s about it. One might make the knee-jerk assumption that J.D. Martinez would hurt southpaws, but he’s much better against right-handers (1.093 OPS) than lefties (.765). Martinez has company for righty-pitching punishers (Betts, 1.083 OPS; Andrew Benintendi, .980; Mitch Moreland, .927 OPS) but it’s Nunez and that .429 OPS against lefties that has too much company: Moreland, .713 OPS; Benintendi, .685 OPS; Rafael Devers, .579 OPS and Jackie Bradley Jr., .364 OPS.
The Red Sox’ lineup has a performance imbalance when it comes to left-handed pitching.
It just so happens that the top three second baseman in OPS against left-handed pitching this season are three second basemen playing for teams that are likely or at least probable sellers before the trading deadline.
They are Whit Merrifield of the Royals (1.072 OPS vs. lefties); DJ LeMahieu of the Rockies (1.009) and Scooter Gennett of the Reds (.996).
Go get one of them, Red Sox.