Read Sox: Yoan Moncada’s Whiffs, Clay Buchholz’s Success (?!) and More

Welcome to this week’s edition of Read Sox. We’ll look into Yoan Moncada’s first week or so at the major league level, Steven Wright’s confusing injury (/screams internally at John Farrell) and more.

Going Deep

Last time I checked in with Read Sox, we were welcoming Andrew Benintendi to the majors by appreciating his success and interviewing a host of the outfielder’s relatives. Now, Benintendi is hurt and the new top prospect du jour is Yoan Moncada. And, while he has a few hits in the bigs under his belt, the theme in analysis of the young third baseman has been his proficiency to not hit baseballs he swings at. In his past two games, Moncada has made seven at-bats and has struck out in — oof — all seven of them. This rather unsustainable K-rate has been the subject of much fodder on the Boston-based interwebs.

Alex Speier of the Boston Globe checked in with this analysis of Moncada, comparing his swing-and-miss to the strikeout frequency of other recent Red Sox prospects. The Globe’s Nick Cafardo wrote about the young Cuban as a work in progress, albeit a very good one. Rob Bradford of WEEI took a similar tack, discussing the ups-and-downs that have befallen the first week of Moncada’s major-league career. Bradford poses an interesting question: can the Red Sox, in the midst of such a tight division race, afford to be patient as Moncada adjusts to a new level of play? ESPN’s Scott Lauber says the answer is no, and that the team needs to pump the brakes with their newest and youngest third baseman.

While Moncada has been at least slightly disappointing in a miniscule sample size, it’s certainly worth noting that this result was not entirely unforeseen. Of the two wunderkids in the Sox farm system, Andrew Benintendi was viewed all season as the one more prepared for the jump to the bigs. Moncada sat out a full season after defecting from Cuba and had less than a year-and-a-half of experience in the minors before his call-up. Meanwhile, Benintendi played two years of high-level college ball in the SEC, and did so very well, before being drafted and working through the team’s system.

So far, Moncada has struck out in over half of his at-bats (10 out of 18) and opposing pitchers seem to have picked up on his trouble with off-speed pitches. Per Baseball Info Solutions via FanGraphs, Moncada has been thrown hard pitches just 56.6 percent of the time (with cutters included). He has been on the receiving end of sliders and curves in a combined 30.2 percent of pitches. Including changeups, almost half of the pitches coming his way have been off-speed, and the results have been less than thrilling; his whiff rate on breaking pitches is more than double that on fastballs thus far.

Moncada will get better and will learn how to hit off-speed pitches. All of these statistics should be taken with an industrial-sized pile of salt because of the minuscule sample size. And regardless, Moncada’s electrifying athleticism and speed merit him a spot on the roster both now and if the Red Sox make the postseason. It’s worth noting that temporarily deposed (and now maybe reinstated?) third baseman Travis Shaw has played for the past week like a man trying to keep his job. Shaw added a homer and three RBIs in a 7-2 win over San Diego on Wednesday night with Moncada mercifully given the day off after the seven straight punchouts. Shaw’s viability as an everyday third baseman will have a lot of bearing on Moncada’s playing time as long the growing pains continue for the 21-year-old. And right now, hitting 8-for-17 with a pair of dingers and nine RBI in his past five games, Shaw looks more than viable.

In the past, with the team in contention, the Sox have been the beneficiaries of top prospects who perform admirably under the bright lights of an October pennant race. Jacoby Ellsbury in 2007 and Xander Bogaerts in 2013 were called up and performed immediately. So the less-than-perfect start for Moncada is disappointing in the context of a few who came before him.

Sox fans may have to settle for just one top prospect (hopefully) lighting it up down the stretch; Andrew Benintendi has begun fielding fly balls and seems to be making good progress in returning from his knee injury.

Quick Hits

A lot of Red Sox fans don’t really like Clay Buchholz. Shocking, I know. For much of his Fenway career, the right-hander has infuriated the Faithful, alternately performing well but getting hurt and, uh, performing less than well. He has a team option at $13 million for 2017 that, in June, seemed like a hilariously improbable proposition. Now, well, we’re reading and writing about how smart and inevitable exercising that option seems to be, like this article by Ben Buchanan of Over the Monster. Buchholz has ma– I’m about to compliment Clay Buchholz, please send aid immediately — Buchholz has made the difficult shift to and from the bullpen very comfortably, and now boasts a 2.05 ERA in his past six outings, three of them starts. Whether in the rotation or the bullpen, Buchholz figures to play an important role on this team down the stretch. Everyone strap in.

Maybe it wasn’t a great idea for Steven Wright to be used as a pinch-runner. Maybe Steven Wright should be able to take a lead off second base without hurting his shoulder and jeopardizing his season. Maybe I get some twisted satisfaction out of blaming John Farrell for things. Maybe these are all true statements. Cafardo wrote about Wright’s injury, and the opportunity it afforded Buchholz to get back into the Red Sox rotation.

David Ortiz commented recently on Donald Trump’s proposed immigration policy, saying “it’s not fair” to immigrants. This, predictably, has gotten picked up by media outlets around the country and made a multitude of headlines. Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald commended Ortiz for making his opinion known, and implored athletes to do so more often.

Photo by Gary A. Vazquez/USA Today Sports Images

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2 comments on “Read Sox: Yoan Moncada’s Whiffs, Clay Buchholz’s Success (?!) and More”


On Moncada – can you comment more on approach. Okay – 7 KOs in a row is bad, get it. But I would feel better if his approach was to properly take breaking stuff early in the count. It’s tough to consistently throwing breaking balls for strikes – so usually passing over “soft stuff” result in being ahead and waiting for FBs in + count situations. Are pitchers just throwing a lot of soft stuff for strikes against Moncada, getting ahead, and then striking him out with breaking balls?

Josh Slavin

Sure thing! I think part of the issue is that, at the moment, pitchers are throwing breaking balls for strikes against him partially because they’re not worried he’s going to do anything about it. Obviously, pitchers don’t always want to live in the zone with their off-speed stuff, but so far Moncada hasn’t made anyone pay.
In his first AB Tuesday, the first two pitches thrown to Moncada were breaking balls (taken), the count 1-1. Three fastballs worked the count full before he was caught looking at another curve for strike three. Fine. Getting a hook with a full count is tough to deal with. Second AB: he fouled off a fastball and swung and missed at a curve down and in (close to the plate). Took a ball on another curve before swinging and missing at a third one. If a pitcher can think “I can throw this dude the same breaking ball three straight times and get him to strike out,” there’s some work to be done. Third AB he struck out on a fastball, fourth AB he fell behind 1-2 on fastballs before being frozen by a slider.
More quickly: Monday’s first AB, he fell behind on slider’s 0-2, worked the count full, swung and missed at a fastball. Second: took a changeup for strike one, fouled off a slider, missed a slider for strike three. Third: didn’t even see a fastball, worked the count full (changeups and curves) before swinging and missing at a curveball. So, sometimes you’re right and he’s taking breaking pitches early in counts. But if pitchers know they can get away with that and still wipe him out (swinging or looking) with more offspeed pitches, I’m not sure that’s any better.

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