In a strange turn of events, Shane Victorino has become something of a punching bag in the Boston area. After being arguably the MVP of the championship team of 2013, there is already a large chunk of the fan base that would like to see him leave. I understand the “What have you done for me lately” mentality, but this appears to be taking it to the extreme. It’s not even about honoring an important player on a championship team, either. Victorino still provides plenty of value for the 2015 team, even if he’s better served as a fourth outfielder than an everyday player.
Of course, the biggest issue for the veteran outfielder has been injuries. As it turns out, he’s on the disabled list as we speak. It’s surely frustrating, but it’s to be expected of someone who plays the game as hard as he does. On the other hand, Boston has prepared for this by building a tremendous amount of depth in the outfield. Guys like Rusney Castillo, Jackie Bradley and Allen Craig could all be available in the event of a disabled list trip.
Fenway’s right field is super hard to learn, with plenty of weird gaps and bounces. Victorino has mastered this land.
When he is on the field, however, Victorino still brings value to the table. First and foremost, that value comes with the glove. Now that Castillo is up, the Red Sox finally have another passable right field option. With that being said, there are still problems with his game. He has the raw talents to be a good right fielder, but there’s still more refinement to be had in his game. Additionally, Fenway’s right field is super hard to learn, with plenty of weird gaps and bounces. Victorino has mastered this land. Not only does that alone make him valuable for days off and late-game situations, but it also means Castillo potentially has a strong mentor to teach him to navigate the difficult area.
There is also the matter of the other right field options on the roster besides Castillo. Bradley is the only one who makes just as much sense on the defensive side of the ball as Victorino. The issue, of course, is that Bradley looks like he’ll be spending the majority of the season in triple-A. The other two options are Daniel Nava and Brock Holt. While the former has become a much better defensive player than he’s been in the past, that improvement has come in left field. He’s still far overmatched in right, especially at Fenway. Holt picked up the outfield absurdly quickly, but he’s still better suited to be kept in the infield. The only other infield option on the bench is Jeff Bianchi, which should be reason enough. Even if he’s not the defensive player he was even two years ago, Victorino still provides a ton of value with the glove, especially in the context of this roster.
It’s not only the defense, either. Contrary to what some would have you believe, Victorino still brings value to the table with the bat in his hands. The perception around him would have one believe that he’s been a terrible hitter for years now, but he’s been at least solid for the last few years. Even in the last two years he’s been able to hit .264/.328/.371, albeit in a limited 199 plate appearance sample size. When he’s been on the field in 2015, he’s been extremely productive, hitting to a .311 TAv.
His most valuable skill, however, has been his ability to destroy left-handed pitching. Of course, the Red Sox as a whole have struggled against southpaws, making Victorino’s splits much more beneficial. To wit, he’s hit .391/.517/.565 against left-handed pitchers for 2015. It’s not just an isolated event in 2015, either. Over his entire career, he has an .879 OPS against lefties compared to a .726 mark versus righties. Meanwhile, the team is hitting a dismal .208/.292/.354 against left-handed pitching.
The weirdest thing about these team struggles is that the lineup is loaded with right-handed hitters. This is especially true in the outfield, which is comprised has three righties in Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts and Castillo. This presents a problem in trying to find a platoon partner with Victorino. However, he doesn’t need to be in a straight platoon to add value in this area. When one of these guys needs a day off, Victorino can certainly jump in, but he’s best utilized as a bat off the bench when a tough left-handed reliever comes into the game. Right now, Boston just doesn’t have that kind of option on their bench, but it could certainly change things in tough end-of-game situations.
While he’s been something of an easy punching bag for many over the last couple years, Victorino can still play an important role on a contending Red Sox team. His defense is still stellar, especially when compared to the rest of the team. Furthermore, he could be a valuable mentor for Castillo, who is still trying to learn Fenway’s vast right field. Even on offense, he’ll be a strong bat against left-handed pitching. Although he doesn’t have a clear platoon partner, he’d provide plenty as a bat off the bench. Teams should never give out roster spots based on past contributions, but that’s not the issue for Victorino. When he’s healthy, he absolutely deserves a spot on this Red Sox team.
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