Baseball has surprises each season, and the Boston Red Sox are no exception. Surprises can come in two forms: The first is finding that a Benjamin is stuffed in a coat pocket -- a pleasant surprise.
The second, now that I am speeding down the analogy highway, is a letter from the IRS showing you placed that decimal in the wrong place and are now indentured to the government for the next 20 years. So we have good and bad surprises with a dose of disappointments.
The leader of the bitter disappointments is righty Corey Kluber. How bad is it for the former two-time Cy Young Award winner? Kluber is now the garbage time option for Cora to eat up innings and inflate his ever-expanding ERA.
Next is the sad case of Triston Casas, who was supposed to be a leading candidate for Rookie of The Year. In a tasting session 2022, Casas showed enough of a gloss to have him penciled in at first base. The batting average (.197) disappointed, but five home runs in 27 games and a sparkling .358 OBP gave this kid an all-in for 2023.
I could rehash what happened in 2023 with the batting average, lousy defense, and appearance of indifferent play. Still, if any Cassaophilies exist, they can provide a Clarance Darrow defense for his season. What do you do?
Manager Alex Cora has made changes, including selective entry into the lineup, brief benchings, and defensively taking him out of harm's way. Fans and social media folks have encouraged the Red Sox to ship him out and have a return of the equally inept Bobby Dalbec.
I would continue down the path Cora has chosen. The Red Sox are lingering around .500, so keep the kid in there (occasionally) and play out the table for 2023.
Is Boston where fat pitching contracts go to die? On the disappointment scale, Chris Sale is right there, thanks to an arm that refuses to be rehabilitated. Just when it appears Sale contributes and catapults the rotation into respectability, it comes crashing down. Sale is on the books for $27.5 million for 2024, and hopefully, it will be more positive than in 2023.
I never thought catcher Connor Wong would be a contributor with the glove or bat. This season Wong is whiffing at a 31.9% clip and has not exhibited any great plate patience with a 7.3 BB%. Still, the muscular Wong has slammed six home runs and some wall displacement line shots.
Defensively there is a mixed message with a league-worst six errors but a commendable 33% CS% that is well above the league norm. Wong also checks in with three DRS; by all reports, pitchers are reasonably comfortable with Wong behind the dish. Wong's performance is a pleasant surprise.
Righty Tanner Houck is in the rotation over circumstances, and the results have been promising. Examining the personal metrics, Houck is flirting with the MLB average, but the last two starts against the Yankees have been impressive despite fielding a liner with this cheekbone.
Houck is a two-pitch hurler with a solid fastball (the mid-90s) and a put-away slider. His cutter and two-seamer are a work in progress, and when one or both reach the comfortable stage, Houck can and should be a mid-rotation starter.
Jarren Duran has demonstrated the need for patience when dealing with high-profile prospects. Cora spots Duran to keep the lefty hitter away from lefty pitching, which is an ideal approach, especially with the right-handed options available.
Defensively Duran is now in the plus territory with a 1.3 UZR/150, and a real plus is the kid can fly with ten steals in eleven attempts. Duran's playing time may decrease with the return of Adam Duvall, but Duvall could be gone after this season, leaving Duran as an everyday option.
With a few more positive surprises, the Red Sox would not be around the .500 mark
Nick Piveta pitched himself in and out of the rotation. What I thought was a reasonably reliable bottom-of-the-rotation starter fell apart. Batters are hitting .245 against Pivetta, but it seems a tough average with a 48.4 HARDH%.
Enrique Hernández is a well-documented mistake at shortstop -- forced there by necessity. A 75wRC+ and a -0.6 fWAR say it all. Disappointment or just adhering to his career standards? Hernández is not Brock Holt and certainly not Billy Goodman.
Yu Chang has some pop and steady fielding before an injury put a damper on his season. Chang's average (.136) was pathetic, with a 2.1 BB%, 25.5 K% joining the batting average as a downside. However, a .205 ISO showed making a mistake costly. Chang being on the team was a surprise.
Reese McGuire has seen his average drop steadily through the season, and coupled that with no power, you see why Wong is getting more time behind the dish. Even Casas could steal a base on McGuire's arm.
Rare is the career journeyman player who gets a reward, and that is Rob Refsnyder, who the Red Sox signed to an extension. Refsnyder is the perfect complementary piece that is used judiciously by Cora.
Baseball is a numbers game, and the numbers are often the roster that cost Raimel Tapia his job with
the Red Sox. Tapia, a left-handed bat, hit a hard .264 for the Red Sox. Pinch hitting is a tough job, and Tapia is good at it with a career of .242 average and six home runs. Too bad the Red Sox could not fit him in.
That is my short list for the season so far and it can change dramatically as yesterday's bum is today's hero. Still the Red Sox continue to hover around .500 with the only consolation being if they were just in another division it would not be so bleak.