This week, at the midpoint of the Red Sox’ season, we began to examine how the high hopes of the preseason have given way to a much harsher reality. Each day, we’ll focus on a specific area. Today, we’ll continue with the designated hitter and catchers.
Note: Statistical information is at the conclusion of 83 games. Next
March: We all marveled at what the face of the franchise did after not seeing a single live pitch last spring training. He was a .300-average, 30-homer, 100-RBI guy for only the fourth time in 17 seasons and after that, well, the Cards are still in disbelief. Ortiz knows his body, he knows this game, and he damned sure knows how to hit. But, he’s also 38 and you’ve heard all about Father Time by now. If he’s healthy, Ortiz will produce, and the Red Sox are banking on a couple of high-quality years left in their potty-mouthed Papi. The numbers will inevitably dip a bit, but it shouldn’t be drastic yet. We can address our worries for 2015 a year from now.
Midpoint: Is it 2015? Not quite. The home run (19) and RBI (52) totals remain on pace for his recent norm, but Ortiz has just 11 doubles. His slash line is down across the board from a year ago at .250/.349/.480, well off the .309/.395/.564 marks. Without a monster three-game set against his former team, the Twins – during which he clubbed four homers, drove in six, and batted .571 with a World Series like 2.071 OPS – the stats would look even worse. Add to that, Ortiz has been the poster child for whining and excuse-making, from the contract demands to the David Price saga to complaints over Fenway’s official scorer to the schedule and travel, and everything in between.
Second-Half: Fans are growing impatient with Ortiz and it has nothing to do with his play at the plate. The story used to be, “Well, whatever drives him,” but he has his contract, he gets his way with everyone but Price, and he isn’t producing quite at the level he needs to. If healthy, Ortiz will reach his 30 homers and maybe 100 RBI, even if the average remains around .250. At this point, those digits and a little more silence – unless it involves motivating his team – might garner a little more fanfare. Next
March: It was a strange first year in Boston for Ross, who went from an injured backup catcher who hit .216 while appearing in only 36 regular season games to the starting backstop in the World Series. Age is not on Boston’s side behind the plate with two 37-year-old pitch-callers. Ross has rarely in his career been known for his offense but he’s adept defensively and will hopefully stay healthy enough to play in around 60 contests in 2014. On the one hand, that seems like a reasonable request for a second-in-line. On the other, he’s reached that total just four times in 12 years.
Midpoint: Ross is hitting .176 with a .597 OPS in 29 games. Believe it or not, not career-worst’s. The 2004 Dodgers welcomed that lousy season. But, the veteran has worked well with the pitching staff (to the tune of a 3.50 catcher’s ERA, which is 7th best in the AL) and that’s a large part of why he’s here. Just ask Jon Lester.
Second-Half: More of the same for Ross. Good game-calling abilities, poor offense with occasional pop, and very sporadic playing time. A $3.1 million salary seems high for that return, but he’s a role player who is popular with teammates and just hasn’t enjoyed much success outside of the National League. Next
March: We’ll know Pierzynski’s new teammates adore him when he’s allowed to pick the clubhouse music one afternoon. Until then, fans will view him as “that guy everyone in baseball hates.” No matter, he’s here and Jarrod Saltalamacchia isn’t. The veteran has been reasonably consistent in his 16 big league campaigns, batting .283 with a .750 OPS. Both of those numbers were mildly down (.272, .722) in 2013 for the Rangers, and he walked an alarming 11 times. Not so good for a team that likes its players to take pitches, and that hasn’t improved in the spring. I’m expecting the regression to continue for the elder statesman and a look at Christian Vazquez or Blake Swihart should come long before September.
Midpoint: If you believe the whispers, Pierzynski must not be picking the music. The catcher has often been a media scapegoat for his lack of patience at the plate and inconsistent chemistry with battery mates. At times, he’s been combative with reporters after losses and has clearly grown tired of the criticism sent in his direction. And, unfortunately for him, the vet has been terrible offensively. He’s had a knack for the timely hit, but this year is a comparative horror show (.252 average, .634 OPS, seven walks, and just four homers compared to 17 in 2013) to last year’s efforts. Does this really come as a surprise to anyone?
Second-Half: Trade-bait. As the Red Sox fall farther back in the race or the catcher becomes a bigger internal distraction – provided such rumblings are true – there’s no reason to think the team wouldn’t attempt to move Pierzynski and what’s left of his modest $8.25 million salary. Vazquez is ready to take over the reins. Defensively, it’d be an improvement. Offensively, would it really be much different? Back to the beginning
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