If you ask a group of people what the worst unit on the Red Sox has been, the vast majority of the answers will be “starting pitching.” That’s been the glaring weakness on this team for months now, so there’s no question as to why it would be a very common answer. Some might say the bullpen, as even the best pitcher in that group – make no mistake, it’s Craig Kimbrel by several miles – has had his hiccups here and there.
No one would say the hitting’s been a problem, as it’s the one thing keeping the team afloat. But what about the bench players? They’re not a particularly inspiring group, but they’re not main cogs of the run-scoring machine the Red Sox run out there every day. You could definitely fault them as a whole for being pretty terrible, though.
On Opening Day, the Red Sox began the season in Cleveland with a bench that included Ryan Hanigan, Pablo Sandoval, Chris Young, and Rusney Castillo. While benches aren’t exactly supposed to be imposing, this one certainly wasn’t at first. Chris Young is the one good name here, and he’s currently on the disabled list after pulling a hamstring. Sandoval’s shoulder ended up being a lot worse than we thought, and he was done for the year. Rusney Castillo has been so bad in both Triple-A Pawtucket and the big league club that he’s since been removed from the 40-man roster. Hanigan’s a backup, but even he was sidelined by a neck strain, and catching Steven Wright hasn’t helped his defensive metrics in any way.
So, next one(s) up, right? Here comes Christian Vazquez, who clubbed a home run I can only describe as immensely satisfying to watch. The clean sound off the bat, the arc, the – well, everything.
As great as that dinger was, it didn’t take long for Vazquez to revert back to his old ways of simply not hitting. The thing is, you accept that if he could play some of his trademark phenomenal defense, right? He didn’t have that either. After a June that saw Vazquez hit .189/.246/.226, he was sent to Pawtucket, and Sandy Leon was called up.
Then Leon caught fire, and in just 60 PA, he amassed 1.1 WARP. Catchers, man. Apart from Young, Leon might be the best guy here in terms of contributing to the 2016 team.
I’d talk about Blake Swihart with the rest of the backstops, but he was a catcher for all of a month. Swihart was sent back down to Triple-A to learn how to play left field, as Brock Holt had one good week and didn’t really do much after that. Come May, it turned out Holt was also playing through concussion symptoms. So Swihart gets installed as the left-handed platoon partner in LF, and promptly gets injured while playing a position he had all of a few months worth of experience with. Another bench player bites the dust, albeit an out-of-position one.
“But Brett,” you argue, “catcher depth is going to have some very steep fall-off in production after the starter!” And yes, that’s true. The thing is, all the guys who haven’t been backup catchers on the Red Sox’s bench have collectively been just as bad.
Of the infielders, Marco Hernandez has promise, but that’s about all you can say for whomever’s graced the Red Sox bench over the last couple months. Josh Rutledge was doing okay filling in here and there, but knee tendinitis has sidelined him, forcing the Red Sox to rely on Deven Marrero and Mike Miller – yeah, that was my reaction too – to help put a band-aid on a bullet wound.
The outfielders are in the same spot. Chris Young’s pulled hammy opened the door for Bryce Brentz, who has done well early on, but you’re not going to be sold on a guy who has a 25% difference between his strikeout and walk rates. Ryan LaMarre has appeared, and then disappeared, kinda like this pitch:
RYAN LAMARRE pic.twitter.com/Pz7n1gCMXa
— Joon Lee (@iamjoonlee) June 21, 2016
Yeah. That’s what the Red Sox have been dealing with.
So what’s been the point of me listing off all the failings of guys of which the majority shouldn’t be starting in the first place? Well, it’s because this is starting to become an issue as bad as the starting pitching. It’s just not as evident or instantly noticeable.
The 2016 Red Sox are being propelled on the strength of the hitting of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and David Ortiz, with some help thrown in by the likes of Dustin Pedroia and Travis Shaw. But man, does it ever drop off after that. Hanley Ramirez has been okay, sure, but who do you turn to when he can’t buy a hit and Travis Shaw starts regressing from hitting .350 for two months? You turn to the bench.
This time, there was nothing on the bench to shore up whatever the Red Sox lacked. Combined with a pitching staff that got worse at the worst time, the Red Sox trudged through a 10-16 June, and the left field situation got so bad that people started wondering if Andrew Benintendi could work out in a call-up to the majors from Double-A Portland.
Benches, in a vacuum, aren’t supposed to be good. I get that. The players aren’t starting because they’re not good enough to do so, and we weren’t going to see something like 2013 where guys like Mike Carp and Jonny Gomes annihilated everything they saw. But the Sox, with the resources they have, should’ve done better.
Thankfully, Dave Dombrowski’s taking steps to actually fix all this, trading for Aaron Hill, who was – relative to the Sox bench – smacking the hell out of the ball in Milwaukee. It’s a start. They might just have to wait for guys to come back off the DL for more help.
One can only hope the regulars keep doing what they’re doing, since the Red Sox can’t really afford for them to do much else. That’s the situation they’ve ended up in after the first half, and it’s not going away anytime soon.
Photo by Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports Images