Boston Red Sox First-half Report Card
By Jason Mastrodonato
BOSTON -- A team that’s on pace to clear the 100-win mark won’t be rushing to the mailbox to intercept this report card.
There were 11 As given out in 29 grades at the All-Star break this year, though with eight Bs, eight Cs and two Fs, there are clearly improvements to be made.
Here’s what we thought of the Boston Red Sox in the first half:
Blake Swihart, C
It’s been an impossible job but at least he’s willing to do it. He’s played six positions (seven if you count DH) and has often gone weeks between starts, which can excuse his .207 average and .513 OPS. There won’t be room for him when Devers and Vazquez return, so expect Dombrowski to find Swihart a new home before July 31.
Christian Vazquez, C-minus
After signing a contract extension in spring training, he took a big step back in offensive production (from a .290 average in 2017 to a .213 average this year). And he’s thrown out base stealers at a career-low rate of 31 percent (though that’s still above league average). He’ll miss at least another month due to a broken pinky finger.
Sandy Leon, C-plus
We shouldn’t mistake his 2016 season as the norm; Leon has proven to be a light-hitting catcher who plays great defense. And that’s exactly what he’s been this year. He’s not a big impact player, but he’s but useful and trustworthy.
Mitch Moreland, A-minus
One of the best values of the offseason, Moreland impressed in part-time play and continued his dominance when given the full-time job at first base. But the Sox might need to find more rest for him, especially given that he’s cooled off over the last few weeks. It remains to be seen if he’s the best option against left-handers.
Eduardo Nunez, C
It hasn’t looked easy nor enjoyable to play through a knee injury that has severely limited his range on defense and hurt his ability to impact the ball at the plate. But the Sox have and will likely continue to rely heavily on Nunez with injuries to Dustin Pedroia, Marco Hernandez and Rafael Devers.
Xander Bogaerts, A
At 25, Bogaerts is having his best season yet. He’s already exceeded last year’s home run total (from 10 to 16) and RBI total (from 62 to 64) with another half still to play. His plate discipline has improved dramatically and he’s pulling the ball with authority. At shortstop, he makes the routine plays with the occasional flash of brilliance.
Rafael Devers, C
One of the bigger disappointments of the 2018 season for the Red Sox, Devers had started to turn a corner over the last month and did so while playing through a shoulder injury. Those injuries can severely limit a player’s power, though, and the Red Sox would be wise to pursue an experienced infielder to help carry the load down the stretch.
Andrew Benintendi, A
Finally, the breakout is here. This is what the Red Sox hoped and expected from Benintendi, the former college player of the year at the University of Arkansas who possesses what many believe to be one of the prettiest swings in the game. He’s consistent and avoids long slumps, hits for power, gets on base and is 17-for-18 in stolen-base attempts.
Jackie Bradley Jr., C-minus
And really, it could’ve been worse. For the first couple months, Bradley was as bad as he’s been as a major leaguer. Over a span of 91 plate appearances in April-May, he struck out 39 times. He only recently turned a corner and began striking the ball with authority again, and the Sox will need more of that in the second half.
Mookie Betts, A-plus
He’s a force in right field and is 18-for-20 in stolen base attempts, which is to say that if you completely ignore his ridiculous .359 average and 1.139 OPS, he’s still a productive major leaguer. Instead, he’s a generational player who is hitting his prime and should be cherished during his remaining two years in Boston.
J.D. Martinez, A-plus
Some thought he wouldn’t have success going opposite-field at Fenway Park. Some thought Boston would be too much for a player who spent most of his career in Detroit. They were wrong. Martinez is proving to be the lineup presence that David Ortiz once was. And his hitting IQ appears to be rubbing off on his teammates.
Brock Holt, B-plus
There was a chance he wouldn’t make the roster out of spring training after multiple concussions and a case of vertigo changed him into an unproductive player the last two years. But Holt has clearly recovered and is once again the player the Red Sox fell in love with a few years back. He moves around the diamond seamlessly and offers a solid at-bat every time up.
Incomplete: Dustin Pedroia, Steve Pearce, Tzu-Wei Lin, Sam Travis
Chris Sale, A-plus
What started out slow turned into another insane first half from the Red Sox ace, who has the rare ability to pile up strikeouts while also pitching deep into games. The only question now, as Sale throws harder than he has at any point in his career as a starting pitcher, is whether or not he really did save enough gas in the first half to dominate in September and October.
Rick Porcello, B-plus
At one point it looked like Porcello was back in Cy Young form. And though he’s since lost that level of sharpness, he remains a reliable innings eater who ranks third on the team in strikeout-to-walk rate (3.71). His 1.24 WHIP is a better indicator of his season than the 4.13 ERA.
David Price, C
If one ignores the bizarre incidents and confusing comments and focuses merely on the performance (4.42 ERA, 18 homers allowed), Price still leaves a lot to be desired. At this point, a strong second half could serve multiple purposes, giving the Red Sox a strong No. 2 or No. 3 starter while simultaneously giving Price an opportunity to opt out of his contract without having to take a large pay cut.
Eduardo Rodriguez, B
Can’t blame him for suffering ligament damage in his ankle while covering first base, but it’s a big blow to a team that is without much starting pitching depth. He had been gaining momentum, too, in what looked like the beginnings of a turning point in his young career. The Sox should bring him back slowly and hope to rely on him in the postseason.
Drew Pomeranz, F
He had no success when he was healthy (6.81 ERA, less than five innings per start) and has now missed 12 starts due to biceps tendinitis. His velocity remains a concern while he rehabs in Triple-A Pawtucket and doesn’t appear close to being back in form. There’s little reason to be optimistic.
Steven Wright, B
It was looking good for a little while. After a platelet-rich plasma injection in spring training, Wright impressed in his brief return with a 1.29 ERA in his first nine outings. But he gave up 10 runs to the Mariners on June 22 and hasn’t been seen since. His surgically-repaired knee has proved troublesome.
Brian Johnson, B-plus
Can’t ask for more out of a player who has been roped back and forth between the starting rotation and the bullpen. He’s not exactly a true lefty specialist, nor is he a true big league starter, but he’s proving reliable while providing cheap innings, which the Red Sox badly need.
Craig Kimbrel, A-minus
On the surface it’s looked like an identical season to last year’s, but his walk rate has almost doubled, (from 1.8 to 3.5 walks per nine innings), an alarming sign given control issues are what hurt him in 2016. Other than a few erratic performances, and a lack of versatility, he remains one of the game’s best and most overpowering relievers.
Matt Barnes, A
Finally, one of the Red Sox’ set-up guys has taken the jump from good to great. Barnes has become a true weapon to help build the bridge to Kimbrel. His 4.5 walks per nine can be excused when he’s allowed just one home run and 25 hits over 42 innings.
Heath Hembree, B
A useful reliever who handles the uncertainty of an ever-changing role with ease. Every team needs a Hembree.
Joe Kelly, B-minus
For two months he was a force, but a 9.22 ERA and .932 OPS allowed since the start of June is cause for concern for the pending free agent.
Hector Velazquez, B-plus
Similar to Johnson, Velazquez has pitched in a thankless role, providing multiple innings in mop-up duty and starting roles, while also being used as a set-up guy on occasion. He’s done it while posting a 2.66 ERA.
Brandon Workman, A
His curveball is a weapon and when he’s sharp in the strike zone he’s tough to hit. Shows the strength of the bullpen when a guy of Workman’s caliber was sitting in Triple-A for two months.
Carson Smith, F
Red Sox were hoping to rely on him as an eighth-inning guy after his dominant showing last fall, but Smith’s temper got the best of him. A self-induced shoulder injury cost him his season.
Incomplete: Tyler Thornburg, Ryan Brasier, Marcus Walden, Jalen Beeks, Robby Scott, William Cuevas, Justin Haley
Dave Dombrowski, A
His two major offseason moves were both home runs as he re-signed Mitch Moreland to a bargain deal and signed J.D. Martinez to a deal that is starting to look like a bargain. Dombrowski even snuck in an under-the-radar minor league signing in right-hander Ryan Brasier, who throws in the upper-90s and could play a bigger role in the second half. There might not be enough bullpen depth or starting pitch depth with all the recent injuries, but there’s still time to address those needs before the trade deadline.
Alex Cora, A
A brand new manager took a team with almost the exact same players and made them better. Several are having career years under his watch. He’s kept his top players and pitchers relatively fresh compared to his predecessor, his faith in Brock Holt has been rewarded and he’s clearly communicated well with his players, the fans and the media, creating a positive atmosphere in the same space that was often overwhelmingly negative one year before.