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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

The First Third

With the Sox having completed the first third of their schedule on an 84-78 pace I’m feeling purdy smart.  Having said that they’ve gotten here in a path that frankly I’ve found dramatically different than I anticipated with the most noticeable difference being that a team I thought would be pretty dull when the season started has actually been pretty entertaining.  They bookended the first 54 with two entertaining losses; rallying from 8-2 down to lose 10-9 on Opening Day and then last night’s 7-0 deficit turning into a 9-8 defeat.  In both cases the tie run was in scoring position when the game ended.  And really those games encapsulated the first third Sox.  This is a team that can hit but the pitching is dicey at best.  With that said, let’s have some thoughts on the good and bad of the first third;

Good - Masataka Yoshida - Quite simply Yoshida may be the single most important player when it comes to Chaim Blom’s employment opportunities.  The Sox were heavily questioned for their expenditure on Yoshida this winter and so far he has come through.  He has a 135 OPS+ and while his defense and base running have also been as advertised (this is not a good thing) he’s hitting enough to make up for it.

Bad - Kiké Hernandez - Suffice it to say that Red Sox Nation was underwhelmed by the willingness to let Xander Bogaerts go and there was not more whelming at the idea of Hernandez as the every day shortstop.  So far he’s struggled with the bat and his defense has been poor.  I love Kiké but he has no business being the regular shortstop unless he can get the bat going.

Good with reservations - Triston Casas - The numbers on Casas are not especially good (sub-.700 OPS) but the path there is encouraging.  In late April the Sox gave him consecutive days off and since then he has hit .257/.338/.429.  On a particularly positive note his K rate, while high, is not Dalbecian (Dalbeckian?) and he is drawing enough walks to be hopeful.  He is on an 18 home run pace but if he keeps his May pace going that number goes up to 21.  That’s good enough.  For me Casas is a good simply because I think we are seeing the progress we want to see from a highly regarded prospect.

Bad with caveats - Rafael Devers - I don’t mean this to be too much of a critique of the very talented Devers but the Sox didn’t pay $330 million for a 106 OPS+.  He’s slumped of late and is on pace for 39 homers and 138 RBI but the Sox need more out of him on a consistent basis.  I can’t help but wonder if he’s battling a minor injury at the moment or maybe a cold or something like that.  He’s been off for the last couple of weeks.

Good - Chaim Bloom - Look, let’s give the guy credit.  If you are a Sox fan his moves this winter have been very good at least from the standpoint of guys he’s brought in.  Kenley Jansen and Chris Martin have delivered as promised, Yoshida is the player we hoped he would be, Casas is progressing, the non-trade, trade of JD Martinez for Justin Turner is a win for the Sox so far and some decisions to ride with players in they system (Jarren Duran, Connor Wong, Brayan Bello) are looking good.  Additionally I think Bloom probably deserves some credit for OKing decisions to demote struggling Nick Pivetta and Corey Kluber.  The Sox are spending some money on their pitching staff and those two guys are getting a good chunk of it so it has to be a gut punch to demote them to mop up duty but it’s the right call.

Good - The Future of the Pitching - Bello, Tanner Houck, Josh Winckowski and Kutter Crawford are all looking like they can be useful (if not more) pieces. Assuming Garrett Whitlock can get it together I feel like if the Sox come out of 2023 with Bello/Houck/Whitlock in the rotation and Winckowski/Crawford as useful relievers going into next year that’s a big win.

Bad - Chaim Bloom - Yeah I know.  Hey, the guy did a nice job with people he brought in but some guys he let go have been performing well and for the most part they’ve been guys most of us would have liked to have back.  Xander Bogaerts I put more on ownership than Bloom but he’s on the masthead so he gets slapped around for it.  Bogie hasn’t been great for San Diego (110 OPS+) but obviously he would be a huge upgrade from Kiké.  Similarly the Sox decided to go with Klubot over Michael Wacha (3.45 ERA) and suffice it to say that has not worked.  The guy who has really dazzled is Nathan Eovaldi though to be fair I was OK with letting him walk.  Eovaldi is very much an inconsistent guy and there was reason to be concerned.  So while I can’t pretend he wouldn’t look awfully good pitching for the locals I was not particularly upset when they let him go.

Good or Bad - The Rookies - The Sox are rolling four rookies in regular roles with Jarren Duran and Connor Wong having forced themselves into the lineup through a bit of good fortune and good work.  Casas and Yoshida I’ve talked about already.  Duran and Wong have been good so far but at the same time there are red flags.  I am more concerned about Duran than Wong simply because Duran has more of a track record of struggles and his defense is dicey at best.  Wong is having a strange month of May (.245/.273/.604) bolstered by a crazy few games early in the month.  As Bill Parcells would say you are what you are and he’s a very good defensive catcher with a 104 OPS+.  A bit more reliability with the bat would be nice but tell me that performance doesn’t have a certain Vazquezness to it.  Duran by contrast had a good hot stretch but has struggled of late and is striking out a bunch still.

One guy I left off my regular list and probably shouldn’t is Emmanuel Valdez.  OK, he ain’t Bill Mazeroski out there with the glove but he looks like he can hit.  He needs to get the average up a bit from its current .247 but a middle infielder with a .169 ISO can be pretty useful.  Even if his future is more utility guy than anything else he looks like a nice player.

Good - Alex Cora - This has to be a pretty challenging group to manage.  There were a LOT of uncertainties coming into the year and the season has not made things easier but Cora has worked around it as well as can be expected.

I’m sure everyone has thoughts so far and heck I haven’t even mentioned Alex Verdugo yet.  I like where the Sox are right now.  I won’t be shocked if the next couple of weeks are a bit rough; 2 more with a hot Reds team, 4 with Tampa, 3 in Cleveland, 3 in the Bronx, 3 against the Rockies then 3 with the Yankees.  I think if the Sox can still stand above .500 when that 18 game stretch comes to a close they should feel good about things.  I’m not expecting this team to be a legit contender, there are both too many weaknesses and too many good teams in the AL, but if they can build and put together an 84-85 win season I think it’s a successful 2023.

Jose is an Absurd Sultan Posted: May 31, 2023 at 10:43 AM | 25 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. villageidiom Posted: May 31, 2023 at 12:45 PM (#6130909)
Given my comment in the other thread I have to wonder what this team would have looked like at this point had Trevor Story been healthy. Presumably he would have been the starting SS, pushing Hernandez either to 2B or CF where he performs better and his bat is more sustainable. Right now they have the defensive struggles of Hernandez at SS coupled with the offensive and defensive struggles of Duran in CF, and Forrest Gump's Box of Chocolates at 2B. IMO at least two of those improve with Story being healthy.

That goes to a larger topic of overall depth, but we expected the team to be mediocre and despite the injuries they are still achieving that level at this point. The farm has developed at an appropriate pace under Bloom but hasn't developed enough yet to have a stockpile of MLB-starter-caliber talent idling in Worcester to serve as the backup plan. Their replacements are... well, they're replacement level. For a mediocre team, replacement level backups are to be expected generally. And if we didn't see the continued development of the low-minors players this would be a bigger problem.
Dalbecian (Dalbeckian?)

   2. jacksone (AKA It's OK...) Posted: May 31, 2023 at 12:55 PM (#6130911)
the non-trade, trade of JD Martinez for Justin Turner is a win for the Sox so far

I am not sure I follow your logic. A 140 OPS+ for $10M and no commitment next year is worse than a 105 OPS+ for $8.3M + a $6.7M buyout next year? Or are you itching for another year of Turner at $13.4M?
   3. Jose is an Absurd Sultan Posted: May 31, 2023 at 01:21 PM (#6130915)
2 - That's what happens when you don't look at the latest and greatest numbers. JD had been off to a fairly slow start and I didn't realize he'd gotten hot. So that's an oops by me.
   4. Darren Posted: May 31, 2023 at 01:38 PM (#6130922)
I'm guessing that if Story were healthy, Hernandez is starting in CF, as that seemed to be the original plan. That means they probably don't sign Duval and Duran doesn't get as much of a chance if any at all.

   5. Darren Posted: May 31, 2023 at 01:57 PM (#6130926)
Devers: I don't know what is going on there. He seems to have lost all sense of pitch recognition but still hits the ball hard. He's made several mental mistakes. And he doesn't look like he's in great shape.

Cora: This is something Jose has commented on a few times but it seems like this team isn't that well prepared. They got run over on the bases by the Orioles and seem to have been confused by the clock rules. And it seems like some pretty questionable relievers have had too many high-leverage appearances. Not thrilled with him.
   6. John DiFool2 Posted: May 31, 2023 at 03:03 PM (#6130931)
Sale is finally healthy and effective, something like 35-4 K-BB ratio over his last 6 starts or so.
   7. Captain Joe Bivens, Pointless and Wonderful Posted: May 31, 2023 at 07:20 PM (#6130961)
I like Paxton, so far.
   8. Darren Posted: June 01, 2023 at 11:15 AM (#6131044)
From the broadcast last night--the Sox are now 0-8 against the NL Central. Swept by Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and now 2 straight losses to Cincinnati. These are not the teams I was worried about when looking at the schedule.
   9. Captain Joe Bivens, Pointless and Wonderful Posted: June 01, 2023 at 11:35 AM (#6131050)
That's due to the Joaquin Andujar law/rule/thing.
   10. The Mighty Quintana Posted: June 01, 2023 at 11:43 AM (#6131051)
As we all predicted, shaky infield defense has been a huge issue. For guys like Sale and Paxton it might be less of an issue, but seemed like for Kluber it really affected him.

Also, Good: Verdugo. In shape and motivated, he's a heck of a player.
   11. Darren Posted: June 01, 2023 at 04:01 PM (#6131098)
I want to believe in Verdugo and I pretty much do but he really hasn't done anything this year that he hadn't done previously--have a really great month or so then fall off. On the other hand, he really does look great in the field and fast on the bases. Final numbers around .290/.350/.450, 3.3-3.8 WAR would be really nice.

   12. Darren Posted: June 01, 2023 at 04:05 PM (#6131100)
One-third of the way through the season is a fun time to look back at the over/unders. Here are mine:

79.5 Wins - OVER. Mid-80s, in contention for a Wild Card.
14.5 Sale starts - OVER. He heads into the year healthy so what could possibly go wrong?
24.5 Casas HR - OVER. Tough one. I think he is going to swing for the fences a bit more and, if he stays healthy all year, that gets him into the high 20s at least.
3.0 Verdugo WAR - OVER. Another close call. He's a good hitter and appears to have readjusted his approach to fit his strengths.
Turner/Duvall more HR - Duvall. I'm assuming he gets 400+ PA.
19.5 Whitlock starts - OVER??? I added a couple question marks. I think they will give him as much chance as possible to stick in the rotation, but usage, effectiveness in longer outings, and health are all question marks.
44.5 Devers doubles - UNDER. Very close. I think he'll have an excellent year but right around 40 doubles.
94.5 Devers walks - UNDER. The rest of the lineup isn't bad enough to push his walk total this high.
Marcelo Mayer MLB debut - September 23, 2023. One day after VI's guess so that if he debuts any time after that, I am righter than him. (Yes, I watch the Price Is Right, why?)
49.5 Rafaela prospect ranking - NA. Cannot be ranked because he will have used up his eligibility on the second half, playing an amazing CF for the big club.
Bonus:.300 Masataka Yoshida batting average -- OVER. Both ZIPS (.305) and Steamer (.299) project him to have the highest batting average in the AL. I like him.

Some good, some bad. Sale is 100 percent healthy now and nothing could possibly stop him, so that's good. I also love the Turner/Duval question just for its weirdness and that Duvall has a good shot at winning it despite missing a couple months.
   13. The Duke Posted: June 01, 2023 at 05:45 PM (#6131135)
I admire the Red Sox and Cubs. No hope of competing but they spent a lot of money anyhow. That's an unusual MLB management style. I have to think that Sale would bring a real haul at the deadline. He's got a perfect contract for someone in their window right now and the Sox likely don't win over the next three years. The Padres probably haven't anything left to acquire Sale but he'd be a perfect fit for Angels, Braves, dodgers, Phillies (probably nothing to trade ), mariners. I would have said Cardinals but I don't know anymore.
   14. villageidiom Posted: June 01, 2023 at 06:01 PM (#6131139)
For me...

On pace:
79.5 Wins - OVER
14.5 Sale starts - OVER
24.5 Casas HR - UNDER
Turner/Duvall more HR - Turner
44.5 Devers doubles - UNDER
94.5 Devers walks - UNDER

Not on pace:
3.0 Verdugo WAR - UNDER - not likely
19.5 Whitlock starts - OVER - but he could still get there

Marcelo Mayer MLB debut - September 22, 2023
49.5 Rafaela prospect ranking - OVER (meaning worse)
   15. The Yankee Clapper Posted: June 01, 2023 at 08:18 PM (#6131167)
Sale is 100 percent healthy now and nothing could possibly stop him, so that's good.
The jinxing is strong with this one.
   16. Captain Joe Bivens, Pointless and Wonderful Posted: June 01, 2023 at 09:11 PM (#6131183)
   17. John DiFool2 Posted: June 02, 2023 at 07:47 AM (#6131217)
   18. Steve Balboni's Personal Trainer Posted: June 02, 2023 at 09:56 AM (#6131231)
The number one variable that makes this team an 80-win vs 85+ win team is the health and effectiveness of Chris Sale. He needed a few starts to get the rust off, but in his eight starts, the team is 6-2 (with one of the losses being when he gave up one run in eight innings!), his ERA is under 2.70, WHIP under 1...a legit front of the rotation guy. It's been very exciting to see - which made last night's injury especially concerning.

Casas and Devers will improve, but I think the hot starts of Verdugo and Duran are masking some extended dry spells from both of them. IMO, both are coming back down to their established level of ability:

I continue to contend that Verdugo is a 105 OPS+ hitter with average defense and baserunning. From his peak in April, he's been slowly falling back to Earth (32 games, .254/.338/.397, 2 HRs). He's fine, but fans love him, and an outrageous first 20 games or so is causing a delayed realization from fans that he's probably *not* a markedly better player than he was the last few years.

Unlike Verdugo, I am actually concerned that Duran is not long for this roster. After Duvall got hurt, Duran had an absurd first three weeks:

68 PAs, .417/.456/.683, BABIP of .535 (!!!), 5/17 BB/K ratio

Since then, he has been pretty awful, but (like Verdugo) the hot start is hiding the reality that Duran is probably the same hitter he's been the last few years, as well:

86 PAs, .190/.256/.291, BABIP of .280, 6/28 BB/K ratio

The K rate is up, the power and BA are way down. Here's the thing: That's what he is. He strikes out a third of the time. He doesn't have a lot of power. He is a .220 hitter. He's not playable, in the long-term. Duvall will reportedly be back later this month; by then, I think the fan base will recognize what I suspect Bloom already knows - that Duran is not an everyday player.
   19. Darren Posted: June 02, 2023 at 10:39 AM (#6131237)
The important thing to remember is that none of us believe in curses or say... jinxes, right? All that stuff is just silly silly silly stuff, right? Right?
   20. Darren Posted: June 02, 2023 at 10:43 AM (#6131239)
Duran is a officially worrying me a little. I still think he's a good enough offensive player that if he plays a good centerfield like he has been, he's about average.
   21. Darren Posted: June 02, 2023 at 10:51 AM (#6131241)
I continue to contend that Verdugo is a 105 OPS+ hitter with average defense and baserunning. From his peak in April, he's been slowly falling back to Earth (32 games, .254/.338/.397, 2 HRs). He's fine, but fans love him, and an outrageous first 20 games or so is causing a delayed realization from fans that he's probably *not* a markedly better player than he was the last few years.

I forget what his injury was but he's had no power at all since he missed time in early May: .244/.337/.333. Hopefully that turns around and it's not another lost season like 2022.

I'm still hopeful that 2022 was the exception due to injury. From 2019-2021, he had a 112 OPS+ and 7.4 WAR in 1,202 PA. That's a very valuable player. Even including 2022, it's a 109 OPS+ and 8.5 WAR in 1,846 PA, which is a good player.
   22. pikepredator Posted: June 02, 2023 at 02:40 PM (#6131271)
79.5 Wins - Over. Maybe not by much but I can't buy into under-.500 before the season starts. I'm on the Hope Springs Eternal train w/Darren & VI, etc. Get back to me in mid-May . . .Hey look we're still on track for over!

14.5 Sale starts - Over. I'd feel less confident about 20 as a 50/50 prop, but 15 has to be doable if they're gonna be a .500 team.
I was feeling better about this until June came 'round.

24.5 Casas HR - Under. I'd love to be wrong but that number looks very optimistic based on his MiLB stats.
Still optimistic and I'd still love to be wrong.

3.0 Verdugo WAR - Over for sure. The talent is still there.
Well on his way . . . but hasn't made quite as much progress recently.

Turner/Duvall more HR - Turner for sure.
Right for all the wrong reasons

19.5 Whitlock starts - Over. I like the concept of the stretched-out bullpen role but would prefer him as an effective starter
Last start was decent, I hope it lasts long enough to get him to 20 but missing that month didn't help his chances.

44.5 Devers doubles - Under. As his power continues to develop more of those doubles will turn into HR.

As a bonus: Devers XBH - over/under of 75, I'd take the over. 80 . . . prob not.
On pace for 78 so . . .

94.5 Devers walks - Under
Easy money

Marcelo Mayer MLB debut - no, needs another year of seasoning against higher-level competition. No need to rush him up and hurt his confidence.

49.5 Rafaela prospect ranking - no idea on this one.

Yoshida .300 - Over for sure. Seems like the tendency is to lose power moreso than batting eye & control coming over from Japan.
I'm glad I was wrong about the loss of power. .500 SLG is fantastic and def exceeds expectations.
   23. pikepredator Posted: June 02, 2023 at 02:58 PM (#6131273)
I'm enjoying the season, but the last few weeks have been more what I expected, and what I expect from the season as a whole. It seems like the spackle that was covering the holes is starting to crack and fall off.
   24. Jose is an Absurd Sultan Posted: June 27, 2023 at 09:30 AM (#6135062)
I won’t be shocked if the next couple of weeks are a bit rough; 2 more with a hot Reds team, 4 with Tampa, 3 in Cleveland, 3 in the Bronx, 3 against the Rockies then 3 with the Yankees. I think if the Sox can still stand above .500 when that 18 game stretch comes to a close they should feel good about things.

I knew I wrote something like this somewhere. Obviously they are through the stretch I mentioned but whether you use today or the end of the Yankee series last week they have been above .500 at each point. It doesn't really get much easier for the next week with Miami, Toronto and Texas on the docket but OAK-All Star Break-CUB-OAK is a nice little stretch of games.
   25. Captain Joe Bivens, Pointless and Wonderful Posted: June 27, 2023 at 04:12 PM (#6135112)
The Yankees don't seem to be very good with Judge out of the lineup.

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