Red Sox deadline approach vindicated by Bobby Dalbec, Kyle Schwarber

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 5: Bobby Dalbec #29 and Kyle Schwarber #18 of the Boston Red Sox walk off the field during the fourth inning of a game against the Cleveland Indians on September 5, 2021 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 5: Bobby Dalbec #29 and Kyle Schwarber #18 of the Boston Red Sox walk off the field during the fourth inning of a game against the Cleveland Indians on September 5, 2021 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /

The Red Sox didn’t need deadline upgrades at first base after all

It’s no secret the Boston Red Sox were looking for help at first base at this year’s trade deadline. And who could blame them? Bobby Dalbec, whom the team had hoped would be able to hold the first base position down after a strong 2020 campaign in which he belted 8 home runs and hit for an impressive .959 OPS, had not been getting the job done.

On July 28, just three days to the deadline, Dalbec’s OPS was a poultry .656 and he had struggled to put the ball in play, striking out 104 times in 278 plate appearances while only walking 12 times.

The Red Sox internal replacements for Dalbec had failed to get much going offensively as well. According to FanGraphs at this point of the season, Red Sox first basemen had a combined WAR of -1.3, the worst production at first base of any team in Major League Baseball.

It was clear that if the Red Sox were going to make a deep run in October they were going to need to bring in outside reinforcements to help at first base. They would do just that on July 29, trading prospect Aldo Ramirez to the Washington Nationals for Kyle Schwarber.

Many panned the deal at the time saying that Schwarber, who had very little experience at first base, was not a fit for this Red Sox team. They believed that a proven first basemen like Anthony Rizzo or Joey Gallo, both of whom would be traded to the rival Yankees prior to the deadline, would have been a better acquisition for Bloom to make. There was also much irritation over the fact that Schwarber would not be able to make immediate contributions to the ballclub as he was at the time sidelined with a hamstring injury.

In the immediate aftermath it appeared that these detractors had been proven right. In the twelve games between the trade deadline and when Schwarber was activated from the injured list on August 13, the Red Sox went 3-9 with seven of those losses coming against division opponents.

Meanwhile the Yankees, whom many had written off prior to the deadline, had leapfrogged the Red Sox in the standings by going 9-4 during this same period.

Things would change, however. Since Schwarber arrived, the Red Sox have steadied the ship, going 16-14 since August 13 and they are currently in a dogfight with the Blue Jays and Yankees for two American League Wild Card spots. This record is also impressive given that the team has had 12 players miss action since August 27 due to testing positive for COVID-19.

One major reason the Red Sox have been able to keep their heads above water despite the outbreak of COVID-19 in their clubhouse has been the performance of Schwarber. Since joining the Red Sox, Schwarber has slashed .278/.412/474 and he’s belted 4 home runs.

Schwarber’s versatility has been particularly helpful during this time as well as he has been able to make contributions in left field, first base, and designated hitter. Something Rizzo would not have been able to do had the Sox acquired him.

Speaking of Rizzo, he has not come close to making the same impact for the Yankees as Schwarber has for the Red Sox. Since joining the Yankees, Rizzo has hit for a slash line of .259/.353/.448, which is nothing to sneeze at, but clearly a step below the production of Schwarber during this same period. And while Gallo does provide similar defensive versatility to Schwarber, he has hit for an anemic .148/303/.380 slash line since joining the Bronx bombers.

The biggest surprise during this period has been the resurgence of Dalbec. Many Sox fans had given up on him by the trade deadline, believing that he should sent down to AAA or packaged in the deal to bring in an established bat. Thankfully, Chaim Bloom still believed in Dalbec and the rookie has made him look very smart for doing so.

Since July 31, Dalbec has hit for .311/.387/.745. This included a red hot month of August where Dalbec belted 7 home runs and was named the American League Rookie of the Month. While Dalbec has cooled off a tad in September he is still hitting for a respectable .275/.326/.675 and has gone deep four times in eleven games this month.

Much of Dalbec’s turnaround can be attributed to his improvement against right handed pitching. Prior to July 31, Dalbec was hitting .182/.237/.327 with a 38.4% K rate. Since then his performance against righties has improved dramatically, hitting .306/.377/.839. He’s reduced his K rate down to 24.6% and homered 9 times.

It is certainly valid to say that Bloom’s decision to look for a diamond in the rough in Austin Davis and Hansel Robles rather than adding a proven reliever to the back end of the bullpen has certainly hurt this team. I’m sure we all could point to countless games during this stretch since the trade deadline where the Red Sox have lost largely because they were one reliever short. The struggles and positive COVID-19 test for Matt Barnes have only adding to this very glaring weakness.

However it must also be acknowledge that Bloom’s decision to target the best available power hitter on the market despite the fact that there was not a clear fit at the time for him and his decision to stick with Dalbec despite his struggles have proven to be the right moves and are two of the main reasons why this team is still in the playoff hunt despite major contributors to their roster being out due to COVID-19.

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