Welcome back to Read Sox. This week we look at the state of the pitching staff, and Blake Swihart’s ongoing adjustment to left field. Then we marvel at Xander Bogaerts’ offensive prowess, Mookie Betts’ power, and Jackie Bradley Jr.’s emergence, as well as consider the idea that the organization has crossed a metaphorical bridge.
Generally, the bullpen has been a strength for the Red Sox this season. By RE24 Red Sox relievers rank as the fifth best group in baseball. However, the unit is in flux. Carson Smith is headed for Tommy John Surgery, and Clay Buchholz has been demoted to a relief role, sending Heath Hembree back to Pawtucket. Joe Kelly may not be too far behind Buchholz, although that is likely wishful thinking on my part. In any case, figuring out what to do with Buchholz and replacing Smith are paramount.
Ben Buchanan writing at Over the Monster says that Buchholz has no place in the bullpen, and I agree. The team has a number of better relief options in-house (e.g., Hembree, Pat Light, Anthony Varvaro, Noe Ramirez, and Brandon Workman, who could be back in August), and time in the ‘pen is no guarantee to solve Buchholz’s woes. A trip to the disabled list and rehab outings in the minor leagues represent a better prescription. If Buchholz doesn’t work out as a reliever and the team decides to go outside the organization to shore up the bullpen there are intriguing options to consider. At Over the Monster, Matt Collins outlines five potential targets from likely-to-be trade deadline sellers.
Blake Swihart was recalled to the big club in Boston 11 games ago when Brock Holt was placed on the 7-day concussion disabled list. Swihart has played in nine of those games, each time starting in left field and, while there was considerable angst about moving him to the outfield, it has gone well. Defensive metrics are not reliable in small samples, but thus far all advanced measures have Swihart as a positive defender in the outfield. So much in fact, that John Farrell has suggested Swihart could assume the left field job full time even upon Holt’s return, as Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal notes, sending Holt back to the super-utility role that has fit him so well in the past.
Interestingly, it will be Swihart’s bat – long his most widely praised tool – that will ultimately determine his role with the Red Sox. Since being recalled, Swihart has a .259/.355/.481 line, which moves his season TAv to .268; a mark that would be top-15 among catchers, but is middle-of-the-pack among left fielders. The Red Sox lineup is not lacking for offense, so perhaps his performance with the glove is more important at the moment.
Regardless, having Swihart on the roster offers more substitution options in late-game situations. Specifically, it affords Farrell more flexibility to pinch hit for both of his light-hitting catchers, Christian Vazquez and Ryan Hanigan. If both catchers are hit for, Swihart can take over the catching duties while Chris Young, Brock Holt or even Travis Shaw man left field. All told, a bench of Brock Holt, Chris Young, Marco Hernandez, Ryan Hanigan and (maybe) Josh Rutledge, gives Farrell a chance for more favourable hitting matchups without sacrificing much on defense.
Is this worth altering Swihart’s development as a catcher and potentially reducing his overall value? Probably not, but it is one positive of using him as an outfielder in the present.
In each of the last two Read Sox articles, we’ve featured stories about Xander Bogaerts’ impressive offensive performance. He is currently in the midst of a 24-game hit streak during which he has hit .393/.430/.607, so we’ll feature him again. Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs outlined how Bogaerts is doing everything at the plate; simply put, he is demonstrating advanced contact skills, plate discipline, power and the ability to hit to all fields. At this point, Bogaerts should be part of any discussion regarding baseball’s top shortstops. Maybe Bogaerts, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa and Manny Machado can get together and recreate a classic Sports Illustrated cover.
Mookie Betts’ performance at the plate has been inconsistent over the first two months of the season. His batting average and on-base percentage are down from his 2015 marks, but his slugging percentage is slightly higher, leading to a big jump in his isolated power. Alex Speier of The Boston Globe notes that the power Mookie is showing is remarkable, especially for a player his size. Betts’ impressive extra-base hit totals at such a young age and short height have him in some remarkable company.
Betts and Bogaerts are the sort of players that old friend Theo Epstein had in mind seven years ago when he mentioned the idea of the Red Sox organization going through a transitional “bridge” period. Speier writes that, with the current core of young players leading the team every night (and for the foreseeable future), the team has officially crossed Theo’s bridge. We can all breathe a sigh of relief.
By True Average (TAv), Jackie Bradley Jr. has been the second-best hitter on the Red Sox this year behind fellow sweet swinging lefty, David Ortiz. After John Farrell orchestrated the end of Bradley Jr.’s hit streak last week by writing his name first on the lineup card, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com posted an excellent article on how Bradley Jr. has worked through adversity to emerge into the consistent offensive threat he is now. Bradley Jr.’s combination of excellent defense with this ability to hit major-league pitching makes him a truly valuable player and a potential star.
Eduardo Rodriguez (who made his first start in a Red Sox uniform in 2016 Tuesday night) was, without knowing it, very close to staying put with the Orioles two summers ago. Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald tells an interesting story about how Dave Dombrowski, while GM of the Detroit Tigers, almost made a trade with the Red Sox at the 2014 trade deadline for Andrew Miller, the player the Sox eventually dealt to get Rodriguez from the Orioles. The course of Rodriguez’s career would likely look quite different had that Tigers-Sox deal been completed.
Three Good Game Stories
On Friday night, the Red Sox lost to Josh Donaldson (and the Blue Jays). Donaldson went 4-for-5 with two home runs and five RBI. Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald notes that Friday’s starter Joe Kelly continued his pattern of looking good for stretches before ultimately crumbling, something he shares with a former member of Boston’s rotation in Buchholz.
Saturday’s game against the Blue Jays ended in disaster for the team, as Craig Kimbrel failed to hold two leads. Christopher Smith of MassLive.com has more on the game and whether the long period between outings affected Kimbrel.
Steven Wright’s excellent season continued on Monday afternoon in Baltimore, as he held the Orioles’ strong offense to two runs in his third complete game of the season. Rob Bradford of WEEI.com details the joy Wright feels in being a successful starting pitcher at the big league level.
Photo by Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports Images