Middlebrooks and Bradley approach Mendoza Line


May 4, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox third baseman

Will Middlebrooks

(16) reacts to being tagged out by Oakland Athletics third baseman

Josh Donaldson

(20) on a fielder’s choice during the tenth inning at Fenway Park. The Oakland Athletics won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Rarely in baseball has a history of failure been as institutionalized as that of Mario Mendoza. Mendoza has the honor of having a level of incompetency named after him that will garner nods of agreement when his name is mentioned. Mendoza is firmly entrenched in the lexicon of baseball statistics with the Mendoza Line.

Mendoza was a light hitting – very light – infielder in the late 1970s and early 1980s who finished his career with a slash of .215/.245/.262. during his nine seasons. Where Mendoza made his infamous mark is for three seasons in the 1970s when he had a string of sub .200 seasons and his Pirate teammates forever honored him with the well-known Mendoza Line, with the demarcation point between “success” and futility being a batting average of .200.

I recall Mendoza from his Seattle days where for one season the slick fielding Mendoza saw considerable time at shortstop and responded with a .218/.246/.275, but to keep things in perspective Mario did hit .198 in 1979.

The Mendoza Line became a key phrase on Sports Center in the 1980s and Mendoza has made somewhat of a cottage industry over his lack of plate talent. The Red Sox currently have two players slowly drifting towards the Mendoza Line.

Will Middlebrooks is now hitting a robust .204. Middlebrooks has tantalizing power and most, such as myself, see a 25-30 home run range per season as possible. For 2014, a decidedly short sample, Middlebrooks has improved his BB% and seen his K% remain in the 25% range. His BABIP has gone from .335 in his promising 2012 season to .250, with a .263 stopover in 2013. His sudden plate discipline is seemingly not reflected in his batting average, but is in his OBP. That is a glimmer of hope. The question is, when do results start to trump promise?

Jackie Bradley just appears lost to me. I see a defensive hitter where an aggressive one should be. Can scouting reports and observations be so far off the mark?

Bradley is also at .204 with a 29% K rate. The redeeming feature is his ability to get on base via walks, but that will possibly decrease as pitchers become more finite in their approach to Bradley. This is just a resurfacing of the same issues that brought his demotion in 2013. For his ML career Bradley is now at .197 and shaking hands with Mario Mendoza. So, again, the question becomes when do results start to trump promise?

May 2, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. (25) hits an RBI double during the second inning against the Oakland Athletics at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

There comes a point where a choice has to be made. The Red Sox have options for both Bradley and Middlebrooks. A promising third baseman, Garin Cecchini, is performing well at Pawtucket. The Red Sox have outfielders available for promotion — hello Daniel Nava — or on the roster. The Sox also have some flexible payroll leverage and some promising trade chips so the continued slide of Bradley and Middlebrooks is not unsolvable.

Several months ago I wrote an article on BSI titled “Let it Ride with Middlebrooks and Bogaerts” and now you can add Bradley to the list. As a semi-literate baseball fan I realize that there is a huge gamble with all three players. As a longtime observer of the Red Sox I am willing to take such a gamble. To me the potential long-term reward outweighs the short-term failures.