A brief look at an opponent we play this week.
Offense: Mike Aviles-SS, Ryan Sweeney-RF, Dustin Pedroia-2B, Adrian Gonzalez-1B, David Ortiz-DH, Kevin Youkilis-3B, Jarrod Saltalamacchia-C, Cody Ross-LF, Marlon Byrd-CF. Bench: Kelly Shoppach-C,Darnell McDonald-OF, Nick Punto-UTIL/Bane of existence.
Mike Aviles is not a long term solution in the leadoff slot. He'd be hitting somewhere in the back third of the lineup if Jacoby Ellsbury could keep his shoulder in joint and Carl Crawford wasn't terrifying everyone by visiting the world's leading elbow surgeon. But we live in an imperfect world where cars break down, it occasionally storms too hard, and former Kansas City Royals get the most plate appearances on some teams. That being said, Avila is off to a red hot start, fueled by fortunate bounces (BABIP .023 above career average) and unsustainable power (SLG .167 above career average). He's always been a good hitter (.327 career wOBA), but a below average defender. If it seems like it was a really long time ago that Ryan Sweeney was a White Sox prospect, that's because it was. 2007 was five years ago. You're getting old. You should take better care of yourself. Don't eat that. It's bad for you. Sweeney is just kind of average all around. He can't play center well enough, so he's relegated to the corners where his lack of power sticks out even more. He'll be lucky to ever hit double digit homeruns in a single season. His last good season stealing bases was back in 2008, his first year in the majors. The one thing he does well is get on base (.344 career OBP). Do not buy into his hot start. Just under half the balls he puts in play are falling for hits (.457 BABIP!). When Tyche comes to collect, it's going to get ugly fast.The more I think about it, the more I realize that Dustin Pedroia is pretty much the perfect second baseman for Boston: good, unlikeable outside of Boston, and likely to be overshadowed by his Yankees counterpart. Pedroia is one of the top second basemen in the game. He really does everything well and seems to be the main guy in the Red Sox clubhouse, despite being shorter than my dad. Tiny athletes weird me out. As long as he stay healthy, expect basically the exact same year out of him as he's put up over the past two. He's pretty consistent. Remember when we supposedly could have traded Gordon Beckham as part of a package to get Adrian Gonzalez? Good times. Gonzalez didn't have the power spike everyone assumed would happen would he moved from Petco to Fenway last season, as he wound up hitting the most doubles of his career while hitting the second least homeruns. It would be a bit silly to think he'll hit anywhere near .338 again. I'm amazed he kept a .380 BABIP going for an entire year. He's good defensively. Adrian's off to a slow start, not walking his usual amount or hitting for much power. We can only hope this doesn't correct itself until next week.
Sometimes I find myself wishing David Ortiz wasn't so damn likeable. Then I realize how stupid of a wish that would be and go back to wishing for money or a better farm system (and laughing at the Twins for ever letting him go). Despite looking absolutely done at the start of the 2009 season, Ortiz has done nothing but rake since. Yes, he's currently in his decline years and is no longer able to match the production he put up in the middle of the decade (while on PEDs), he's still a very good hitter and off to a pretty hot start. Kevin Youkilis is not so lucky. Youk is off to a horrible start that had even more attention drawn to it when his manager threw him under the bus (Valentine's shelf life in Boston is going to be very short if they miss the playoffs again). We don't know whether he's actually not trying, has lingering injuries, or is just suffering from bad luck. His BABIP has been dropping considerably each season as he ages, but this season's dropoff has been a bit too much. He's below average defensively and appears to be entering a very ugly decline phase. It will be interesting to see if his option gets picked up this winter.
Every year, I hope and pray for Jarrod Saltalamacchia to go away. I no longer have to look up his name to remember the proper spelling, and that kind of bothers me. Salty never quite turned into the player he was projected to be. The once top prospect is just kind of there. He hits for good power, but doesn't really bring anything else to the plate. He strikes out four times for every time he walks and he's below average at throwing out runners. He's merely a placeholder, just like the other players in this paragraph. Cody Ross was supposed to be split time with Ryan Sweeney and be a third/fourth outfielder type. But then everyone decided to emulate a fantastic album by the Roots and he become a full-time starter. Ross has rewarded that faith by being the exact player he was supposed to be, but somehow also already hitting five homeruns. Ross is usually a bit above league average with the bat, but below with the glove. If he keeps hitting like this, he'll be moving up in the lineup. Boston was so desperate for a center fielder that they actually traded for Marlon Byrd. Byrd currently owns a sparkling .132 wOBA. His game never recovered from when he was blasted in the face last season, and if he doesn't start hitting soon his career will be over.
If after reading the preview on Boston's offense you were wondering "How are they doing so poorly?", wonder no more. The pitching staff has given up 6.35 R/G, the highest figure in the majors (0.61 higher than the next worst team, the Minnesota Twins). And please, no beer/chicken/video game jokes in the comments. It's been overdone. Jon Lester has been struggling and one would think a rather large part of the problem stems from his comically bad LOB% (60.2%). His command seems to be a bit off, as he's already issued 13 walks. He's also not getting his normal amount of strikeouts. Lester throws a low-to-mid-90s four-seamer, a cutter, a curveball, a changeup, and a sinker. Josh Beckett is learning to adjust with age. His fastball no longer has the zip it once displayed in his youth and hitters know this. His former main pitch is no longer the valuable strikeout tool it once was, and expect to see his strikeout totals decline as such. Beckett is always an injury risk, having only thrown consecutive full seasons once (06-07). He's begun to rely more heavily on his cutter, which sits around 89-90 mph. He also throws a curveball and a changeup.
Clay Buchholz has given up at least five earned runs in each start he's made so far this season. He's also only managed to strikeout more hitters than he's walked in one outing. There's only so much of his struggles you can attribute to bad luck when you're walking as many hitters as you're striking out. Clay keeps the ball down, but unless he starts seeing his K/BB ratio shift upwards, he's going to continue to struggle. It looks like the young man has reached his ceiling. He throws a low-90s four-seamer, a sinking two-seamer, a cutter, a curveball, and a changeup. Felix Doubront is a young Venezuelan southpaw. He's been good in the minors, but never overpowering. He lacks great control and also seems to struggle with the longball. He doesn't look like much more than an innings eater at best. Felix throws a four-seamer in the low-90s, a sinker, a curveball, a changeup, and a cutter.
Daniel Bard is yet another hard-throwing reliever making the transition to starter, a role he has not fulfilled since 2007. Bard's been decent in the rotation so far, but he was curiously brought in as a reliever this Monday against the Twins. Bard keeps the ball down and has good control, so he should be able to handle the switch pretty well. Bard throws a mid-90s four-seamer, a sinker, a slider, and a changeup. Alfredo Aceves is the current wearer of the mantle of closer, since Andrew Bailey and Bobby Jenks are both sitting on the disabled list. Aceves wears #91 on his jersey, which is weird. But he does it to honor Dennis Rodman, which may be even weirder. He's started the season of poorly, but before anyone goes around saying crap like "he doesn't have that closer mentality", it's been five freaking innings. He throws a mid-90s four-seamer, a sinker, a curveball, a changeup, and a cutter.
Outlook: Boston is probably a better team than their record, though I'm wary of any team that counts half of their wins against the Twins. Split season series at 4-4. Oh, and I give Bobby Valentine until mid-May next year.