It’s time to evaluate the first half of the 2012 season. As we all know this team has been riddled with major injuries. With a new manager in Bobby Valentine and a chance to redeem themselves from that horrible collapse in September of 2011, the season could not have gotten off to a much more horrific start. It actually all started before the season began. Closer Andrew Bailey came up with a serious thumb injury that would keep him out at least until the All-Star break or even longer. Leftfielder Carl Crawford was also expected to miss most of the season and Jacoby Ellsbury dislocated his shoulder sliding into second base and would be out of commission for at least two months. It turned out to be a longer healing process than expected. Various other injuries to position players and pitchers throughout the first half kept the team from putting up a long winning streak that could have propelled them to the top of the division. If that wasn’t enough to discourage Red Sox Nation then the parting of Kevin Youkilis to the White Sox was another reason why fans could not be optimistic about this team.
With all the adversity and criticism, the Red Sox had to rely on players who were not used to playing on an everyday basis. But a number of them were willing to help in any way they could. Some performed very well while others just couldn’t do the job for more than a few days at a time. Still, others, just did not perform well consistently. Here is my analysis of the manager and player performances for the first half of this season:
Manager Bobby Valentine: Grade B
Bobby came into a tough situation after last year’s September collapse and the departure of Theo Epstein and Terry Francona. There were media and fans alike who were upset at his hiring and thought he wouldn’t get the cooperation of the players. The handling of Kevin Youkilis before the trade brought a lot of ire from fans and media alike. Early in the season he also made some glaring mistakes with the lack of moves to the bullpen which led to losses and criticism. Since then he has done a very good job with the bullpen and the Youkilis move had to be made in view of his free agency status and lack of production. He’s very cautious with the media and tries to back his players when things get difficult on the field. He’s a knowledgeable baseball man and the right person for the job as the Red Sox transition their team from older to younger.
Starting Pitchers: Grade D
The expectations from the “Big 3” was very high before the season started. Everyone thought they would bounce back from last September and come into camp in great shape and with an attitude of a rookie. Unfortunately they have looked more like aging veterans ready for the scrap heap. Oh sure they’ve had a few good games but overall they’ve been a very, very big disappointment. Clay Buchholtz is injured once again and who isn’t sick of seeing Josh Beckett get bombed in the first inning and eventually leaving the game after five innings with a high pitch count. There’s no excuse for it. John Lester seems to have lost velocity on his fastball and his command has been terrible with the exception of a few games. That leaves Felix Doubrant who showed signs of being a successful major league starter but he seems to be running out of gas. Should we even talk about Daniel Bard who seems to be a male Cinderalla falling into a hole, descending into a unknown land. If it continues like this for him it will go down as one of the worst decisions by a player and management. The starting pitching will be the fall or rise of the Red Sox in the second half.
Bullpen: Grade B
This year’s bullpen, for the most part, have done a very good job the first half of the season. Matt Albers, Scott Atchison, Vicente Padilla, Andrew Miller, Mark Melancon (lately), Franklin Morales and Alfredo Aceves as the closer. They are a different breed of cat. They have to be ready everyday. Some games they warm up and then have to sit down. When they finally get in the game it’s usually in close games. They also have to have a short memory especially when they give up the winning run. That’s why Aceves deserves a lot of credit. I didn’t think he would become a successful closer. He was a very good middle-man in the past but closing a game takes a blinding fastball or some kind of trick pitch that fools hitters. Well, he showed the middle nineties fastball as well as an excellent curveball and changeup. If he duplicates or betters the first half he may have found his niche.
Catchers: Grade B+
Jarrod Saltalamacchia has improved seven-fold this year both as a hitter and as a receiver. He’s blocking balls as good as any catcher in baseball and his homerun output has been outstanding. His first half helped the Red Sox stay above water with clutch hits and strong leadership on the field. His big test is coming up in the second half, however. Last year, in the second half, he did not play well. He was terrible at the plate and there were a lot of balls in the dirt he failed to block. He’s a year older and more experienced but it’s a good idea to give him more rest before September when they’re in the Wild Card hunt. Kelly Shoppach is a decent receiver and has a good arm but his hitting is not good overall. He won’t embarrass the team as a catcher but they should pinch hit for him late in the game. The B+ grade is for Salty’s first half.
Infielders: Grade C+
Dustin Pedroia, when healthy, is a premier player by any standard. The thumb injury he has right now may become chronic because there’s a lot of pressure in that area when you swing a bat. If I had to grade him alone he would get an A because he can still do the job at a high level. The big surprise for me has been Mike Aviles. He got off to a terrific start not only with his bat, (we knew he could hit), but at shortstop where it’s much more demanding than second or third. To my surprise he showed very good range, especially up the middle. He has a strong accurate arm and he’s a smart player. Lately he’s struggled but may come on in the months ahead. He, most likely, will be elsewhere next year. Adrian Gonzolez is a gold glove first baseman who played right field for a while, (does that make sense?) He hasn’t hit the way everyone is used to seeing. He’s not lifting the ball as much as in the past thus less home runs. He continues to get singles and doubles when he swings at strikes and utilizes the wall at Fenway. He’s an important guy in the lineup especially with all the injuries. I wonder if his shoulder is still bothering him. Rookie Will Middlebrooks made an impression with his bat when he came up to Boston. He’s got some power and hits the ball to all fields. Like most rookies he has trouble with breaking pitches and changeups. I like the way he hit with men on base. He showed a toughness at the plate and may develop into a good clutch hitter. As a third baseman he needs lots of work. His feet are a bit slow getting into position to field the ball and he needs to anticipate where the ball may be hit. His reactions are not yet what they should be but he’s young and is willing to work had to improve.
Outfielders: Grade C+
Let’s see who’s played the outfield in the first half: Cody Ross, Ryan Sweeney, Daniel Nava, Ryan Kalish, Darnell McDonald, Che-Hsuan Lin, Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis(?) All because of two key injuries to Crawford and Ellsbury. In grading this group I have to go with Cody Ross and the power he’s shown at the plate. He’s a good fastball hitter but has trouble with braking pitches. He’s not a good outfielder, in my opinion. He has problems judging high fly balls especially when he has to come in on them. Sweeney is a good outfielder with sure hands but not that much range. He’s also a good hitter but lacks power. He would be a valuable guy coming off the bench as a pinch hitter. The two players I really like are Ryan Kalish and Daniel Nava. They both showed a lot of aggressiveness when they played. They were tough outs at the plate and played hard in the field. They were both good in the one, two slots in the lineup. They made things happen. Unfortunately, when Crawford and Ellsbury come back they both may wind up in Pawtucket. I think at least one will be traded by the trading deadline. Overall, the outfield play was OK but not good enough to be proud of.
Designated Hitter: Grade A
Let’s face it, everyone thought David was all done a few years ago. He had such a bad first month that then manager Terry Francona pinched hit for him against a lefty reliever. He showed everyone that it wasn’t time for Big Papi to go back to the Dominican Republic and rock in his hammock or go golfing the rest of his life. He’s having a great first half and there’s no reason to think he shouldn’t continue. His bat is so quick it doesn’t matter how hard a pitcher throws. He can turn on it and hit it out of the ballpark. He’s also an excellent breaking ball hitter so if they try and back door him he goes the other way. He’s by far the best DH in the American League and one of the top sluggers in Red Sox history. Would I give two more years? Absolutely, definitely, no doubt about it and you bet.
Infield Utility Players: Grade C
Most of the utility players are starters with the exception of a few. Nick Punto has done most of the filling in when injuries have occurred. He’s a guy who can play second, short or third which makes him a valuable commodity. He’s a pesky hitter but lacks power so you wouldn’t pinch hit him in a tie game or a one run behind game when you’re looking for the long ball. He can steal you a base occasionally so he can pinch run in late innings. Overall he did a decent job the first half. The two rookies who came up from Pawtucket were a surprise to most people. Infielders Mauro Gomez and Pedro Ciriaco made a splash for a few games and may have led everyone to believe they might become part of the Red Sox future. Ciriaco played shortstop for a few games and made some very good plays and he banged out a bunch of base hits in those games. Mauro was a disaster at third which he played for the first time in his career (and I hope the last time). He looks like a pretty good hitter. Both were minor league free agents the Red Sox picked up last year. Only time will tell if the Red Sox hierarchy will give them a chance to play more.
It’s just too difficult to think about the first half and not stress the fact that they’ve had so many injuries. It’s no excuse, I realize that but how can you replace all these players with equal abilities and experience. It’s impossible. Sure pitching is the name of the game and the Red Sox have the bodies but can they ever perform the way they did say five years ago. If I were the Red Sox I would try to trade Beckett and/or Buchholz. See if you can get a young up and coming starting pitcher or two for both of them. I would keep Doubrant and never trade Lester. He’s a guy that could come back to form in a short period of time as long as he’s healthy. He reminds me of Kenny Rogers who pitched for a number of teams. He struggled in the middle of his career and then came back and won 20 games. The Sox also need a power hitting right-handed batter. That would help the whole lineup. Let’s see what happens the rest of the way. They have a shot at the wild card position. That would a big plus for the organization, the players and Red Sox Nation.