Red Sox: Patience running thin with rookie Bobby Dalbec

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 27: Bobby Dalbec #29 of the Boston Red Sox in action against the New York Mets at Citi Field on April 27, 2021 in New York City. Boston Red Sox defeated the New York Mets 2-1. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 27: Bobby Dalbec #29 of the Boston Red Sox in action against the New York Mets at Citi Field on April 27, 2021 in New York City. Boston Red Sox defeated the New York Mets 2-1. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /

Boston Red Sox rookie Bobby Dalbec has been struggling this season

Bobby Dalbec was on the short list of Rookie of the Year candidates entering the season but his maddening inconsistency now makes him a more likely candidate to be shipped back to the Boston Red Sox minor league system.

The criticism of Dalbec’s performance comes with the usual disclaimer about small sample sizes but few were willing to overlook the size of the sample when the young first baseman was lighting up the league late last season. Dalbec made quite the impression when he homered in his major league debut last August and went deep in six of his first 10 career games. He finished with a .263 average, .959 OPS, eight home runs and 16 RBI in 80 at-bats, leading fans to envision him as the next great powerhouse slugger for the Red Sox lineup.

We’ve now reached the point where we have an almost identical sample from this year but the results have been the extreme opposite. Dalbec is hitting a pitiful .190/.247/.304 with only one home run and six RBI in 79 at-bats to begin the season.

His 52 wRC+ and -0.5 WAR both rank in the bottom-eight of the American League, per FanGraphs. Dalbec has trimmed his strikeout rate from last year but his alarmingly high 34.1 K% is still the eighth-highest in the league. He’s also drawing fewer walks with a rate cut nearly in half from 10.9 BB% last year to 5.9 BB% this season.

The slumping Dalbec has gone without a hit in his last five games, going 0-for-18 during that stretch. He showed us what he’s capable of last year but his futile production leaves us wondering if the 25-year-old might be best served retreating back to Triple-A to work on his swing. It’s far too soon to give up on Dalbec from a long-term perspective but in the short-term, he’s been a liability at the bottom of the lineup.

Unfortunately, the Red Sox don’t have an appealing alternative ready to replace Dalbec. The top option on the major league roster is Marwin Gonzalez, who is struggling just as much this season.

Michael Chavis could be an option to bring up from the minor league system but he failed to earn a roster spot over Dalbec in spring training so there’s little reason to assume he would be an upgrade unless he shows progress at the Triple-A level.

Triston Casas recorded a pair of hits in his Double-A debut. He still has much to prove in the minors but the top prospect in the organization could climb the minor league ladder quickly and be breathing down Dalbec’s neck by the end of the season. Casas isn’t an immediate solution though, which brings us back to counting on Dalbec to break out of his funk.

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As frustrating as his lack of production has been, the outlook for Dalbec might not be as bleak as it appears. He’s still making solid contact despite that he’s not getting results.

Dalbec ranks 10th-worst in the league with a .245 wOBA, a version of on-base percentage that values how much an event is worth in relation to projected runs scored. However, he’s in the middle of the pack with a .347 xwOBA, which measures based on the quality and amount of contact rather than outcome. The -0.102 differential between these two metrics is the eighth-highest negative rating in the majors, per Baseball Savant.

In other words, Dalbec was been shockingly unfortunate based on the contact he’s making. Granted, he doesn’t make enough contact with that high strikeout rate, but when he does put the bat on the ball it should be producing better results than he’s been seeing so far. Dalbec is second in the majors with a 52.0 Sweet Spot % and he owns a well above-average 14.0 Barrel % this season.

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Unlucky as he may be, the Red Sox need to start getting results out of Dalbec. The data suggests he’s due for positive regression but fortunes don’t always change for the better. Rookies are expected to have some growing pains and the club will reserve a fair amount of patience for him but if the Red Sox remain in contention when mid-season approaches, they might be forced to seek an upgrade at first base if Dalbec doesn’t turn his season around.