Should The Red Sox Pursue Pablo Sandoval This Off Season?

Pablo SandovalFor many baseball fans October 2014 has been an exhilarating time of year. However, for fans who saw their teams’ seasons end late-September, the focus is now on the upcoming offseason. The Boston Red Sox unfortunately fit in the latter category, and are consequently in full-offseason mode. But while us Red Sox fans have in mind what we would like to see on the Opening Day roster, the brasses’ projected squad likely looks entirely different, with myself (purposely) neglecting to acknowledge the all-too-real concept of an open market where Boston will have to vie against twenty-nine other teams to acquire a single piece.

So, yes, I do not know what this offseason will behold for the 2014 A.L. East cellar-dwellers. I do know, however, that there have been rumors linking the Red Sox to looming free-agent Pablo Sandoval. And, though, it is a dull time of year for Boston baseball fans, there is always something to talk about; this time around being whether or not Sandoval is the best option for the Sox at the hot corner in ’15.

Before we even begin comparing Sandoval to other potential free-agent third basemen, it is imperative that we acknowledge the Red Sox’ internal options for next season. To start, there’s Will Middlebrooks, a now-26 year-old, who has lost the ability to hit altogether, on top of sub-par defense. How much longer can Ben Cherington and Co. really be hung onto the fallacy that he will revert to his 2012-self? Hopefully not much longer.

Then, there is touted prospect Garin Cecchini who compiled an outstanding 131 wRC+ in his first and only month (so far) in the big-leagues. His minor-league track record is sterling, sans a blip in his performance in Triple-A Pawtucket this year, and you have to believe Boston will use him in some advantageous fashion in ’15 whether it be indirectly (trade) or directly.

Finally, there’s Brock Holt. He had a surprisingly delightful season this year, but his September drop-off makes him a dubious case to occupy a starting position next year.

Middlebrooks, one has to surmise, will not be on the roster next year. Yet Cecchini and Holt will be pending an unforeseen trade. Now, let’s delve into Boston’s external options, including and starting with Sandoval, for next season.

The hefty third basemen’s offense has been gradually declining each year: .909 OPS in ’11, .789 OPS in ’12, .758 OPS in ’13, and .739 OPS in ’14. He’s still an above-average offensive player in a tough hitters’ park, and, according to the metrics, holds the position down well. All said, he’s a pretty good gamble, but probably not a $100 million one.

Other market-sensible options include Chase Headley, Hanley Ramirez, and maybe Aramis Ramirez. Aramis has a mutual option in ’15, and even if it isn’t exercised the guy is entering his age-37 season. Hanley, on the other hand, can hit but is almost certainly too expensive for the Red Sox’ taste.

Finally, Headley is an intriguing case; he is a stud with the glove and has shown he can handle the stick in the past. In fact, Headley has amassed a 15.2 fWAR the past three seasons, whereas Sandoval has a 7.9 fWAR in that same time-span.

To me, there’s three sensible things the Red Sox could do: 1. Sign Headley to a multi-year deal 2. Sign Sandoval to a multi-year deal or 3. Find a capable right-handed hitting complement for Cecchini. Wedged in the middle, the signing of Sandoval, seems to be the most-favored among Red Sox fans; however, the Headley signing and Cecchini complement seem to be the most wise from an economic standpoint. With that said, the Red Sox seemed to make conservative and financially-restrained moves last off-season; and how did that work out?

September Showed Christian Vazquez’s Offensive Skills

Christian VazquezFor those who actually watched the Boston Red Sox play meaningless baseball in September, I salute you. You’re a rarity in this day and age, and your loyalty is inspiring. With that said, you were probably focused on the offensive emergence of Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts, and on new-comer Rusney Castillo. They, in all honesty, were the men to watch in September, so it’s no surprise they were the ones you were talking about. However, there’s a Red Sox by the name of Christian Vazquez who also had himself a very solid month from the plate, but he doesn’t nearly get the recognition he deserves for it. Well, if it wasn’t already obvious, my mission in the subsequent paragraphs will be to shed light on Vazquez’s terrific final month of the 2014 season.

It is, indeed, irrefutable that Vazquez is a special talent, and his defensive aptitude is already at an elite-level. His offensive skills, on the other hand, have been his Achilles’ heel in his rookie season. Yet the Red Sox don’t mind — at least for this waste of a season — taking the trade-off, and rightfully so. Vazquez, with his 0.7 fWAR that doesn’t take into account his tremendous pitch-framing ability, pegs him as a valuable commodity even with his lackluster offensive contributions. Further, Oliver 5 Year Projection projects going forward that the right-handed hitting catcher will be worth roughly two and half wins each of the next five seasons

Now, this system isn’t perfect, but does give us a good indication on how a player will perform the next five years based on numerous factors such as his major and minor league production, as well as his age, ballpark, etc.

The point being, there’s reason to be optimistic about Vazquez even if his offense never comes. But, as I wrote three weeks back, there’s all the reason in the world to be hopeful that his bat will, in fact, come around. And wouldn’t you know it has come around this September.

Oh, yes, and in 74 plate appearances in that span the 24-year-old churned an exceptional .277/.351/.385 slash line, which resonates into an above-average 107 wRC+. His .333 BABIP in September doesn’t suggest luck has played a big role; therefore, there’s no reason to believe this won’t persist, given his minor-league track record. There’s no guarantee Vazquez becomes a decent bat, but, at the very least, he has shown he can hit in MLB.

Give Bryce Brentz Some More Playing Time

Bryce BrentzEarly September Bryce Brentz got the long-overdue call to the majors. Since then he’s only been given two plate appearances to showcase his offensive skills. For comparison, starting pitchers Brandon Workman and Anthony Ranaudo have been up to the plate the same amount in that time-span.

It seems rather strange that a player who hit a robust .243/.341/.465 clip with Pawtucket this season, not to mention one who has always been a highly-regarded offensive prospect, would be given such meager opportunities when he finally arrived in the big-leagues. Boston does, indeed, have a plethora of outfielders on their current expanded roster, but there’s absolutely no excuse for keeping Brentz on the bench when a southpaw is on the mound. .

I say this, in part, because of Daniel Nava and Jackie Bradley Jr.’s inefficiency to hit against lefties. The latter has an inefficiency to hit in general, but the former has struggled mightily when the switch-hitter has had to bat from the right-side of the plate whenever a left-handed pitcher takes the hill. Also, the fact Brentz has compiled a 1.089 OPS against left-handers in Pawtucket this season certainly doesn’t hurt.

Now, I am very much aware that Brentz will likely have no shot at being a long-term contributor. It’s not a knock on him or his talent; rather, it’s a byproduct of the surplus of outfielders that Boston possesses. In fact, they’re projected to have Shane Victorino, Allen Craig, Yoenis Cespedes, Brock Holt, Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo, and Jackie Bradley Jr. under contract in 2015, giving the Red Sox seven outfielders with only three starting spots. And, of course, this doesn’t include Brentz even though he’s got the potential to be a valuable commodity offensively and defensively.

So why, you might ask, would it make sense to start the 25-year-old right-handed hitter? Well, allowing Brentz to start these next few games would give other teams a bigger sample size to look at with the corner outfielder against MLB pitching. This, in turn, would increase his trade value, especially if he performs well.

All said, no harm can come from starting Brentz when a left-hander takes the mound. It actually is probably more productive — not that it matters — he gets the at-bats instead of Bradley Jr. or Nava. In conclusion, Boston should give Brentz his well-deserved at-bats the next few games; not just for him but to improve the organization as a whole.

Is This David Ross’ Last Year in a Red Sox Uniform?

David Ross

Source: Rob Carr/Getty Images North America

While watching the Boston Red Sox triumph over the contending Kansas City Royals 8-4 on Sunday, a thought dawned on me. Well, actually, two thoughts; one of which revolved around Ned Yost’s inexplicable decision to leave Aaron Crow in against Daniel Nava, with Kelvin Herrera right there.

But that’s a story for a different day.

Anyway, I sat there Sunday and watched as the “Blue Wolf,” more popularly known as David Ross, drew a walk in two of his four plate appearances on the afternoon. It was the first time the backstop had reached base since September 2nd. Granted, Ross only played in one other game in that time span, so he didn’t really have ample opportunities to get on base. Yet, it was a rare occurrence, as the bearded veteran only has compiled a pedestrian .264 on-base percentage this year, but it was a welcomed sight nonetheless.

Offensively, there’s nothing better to describe Ross’ two-year tenure in Beantown other than a complete disaster. In 290 plate appearances with the Red Sox, the 37-year-old compiled an abysmal .195/.274/.359 slash line to this point. Now, he didn’t have lofty offensive expectations when he joined the club during the 2012-2013 offseason, but the man does own a .753 career OPS and is a right-handed hitter in Fenway Park. That said, injuries have plagued him, notably concussions, which played a huge role in his offensive demise these last two years. Still, even with his offensive shortcomings, there’s a plausible argument to be made that Ross has, indeed, been a valuable commodity as a member of the Red Sox.

Intangibles aside, his defensive metrics have registered him a positive fWAR in each of the last two seasons despite his horrendous offensive numbers. Keep in mind those numbers don’t take into account pitch framing, something Ross does exceptionally well with. StatCorner, though, does track pitch framing, and rates Ross as the fifth-most valuable catcher, where pitch framing is concerned, in the American League, even with his limited playing time.

This speaks volumes to how important Ross really is to the Red Sox. Unfortunately, however, his contract runs out after this season, and although he said he’d like to play one more year, there’s a good chance he won’t come back next season.

Boston likely desires a left-handed complement for Christian Vazquez next year, something Ross isn’t, and with Blake Swihart knocking on the door, the outlook for a return is glum.

The humble father of two has become a fan favorite the last few seasons, representing more than just 1’s and 0’s. He’s from every indication, a great guy, teammate, and leader; something that a young team like the Red Sox could use. It’s also not as if he’s attributing negative value; no, he’s added value with his defensive talent.

The aforementioned thought was this, “it sure would be sad to see Ross leave.”

Indeed, it would.

Digging Deeper Into Xander Bogaerts’ Hot Streak

Xander BogaertsXander Bogaerts has been blazing hot the month of September, amassing an exceptional .340/.364/.585 slash line. Finally! The touted-prospect has started to hit like he was anticipated to. Well, actually, he’s hitting better than excepted, but it’s in a very small sample size, of course. However, given how disappointing he’s been this year — not to mention how disappointing this season has been for the Boston Red Sox in general — any sign of life from anyone is a positive. The question for Bogaerts, though, is if he’s really improved or if this is a small sample size mirage. And that question is what I’m attempting to answer.

Instantaneously we can see Bogaerts’ BABIP (batting average on balls in play), at .357 in September, is way above league-average and way above his career .297 BABIP. Now, don’t read too much into it as an indicator of luck because there’s also a possibility he adjusted his approach to hit the ball with more force. And in this case Bogaerts is, indeed, putting better wood on the ball.

This is indicated by his September 33.3 LD% (line drive rate), which is 20.1 percent better than his August percent. Further, his September LD% is an astonishing 12.6% over the league-average (20.7%). It’s impossible that he maintains that percentage over the course of the year, but if he can keep that percentage a good deal over 20 percent, he’ll subsequently put up better numbers. Fangraphs calculates line drives produce 1.26 runs per out, whereas fly ball produce 0.13 runs per out and ground balls 0.05 runs per out.

If that fails to convince you that line drives result in more hits compared to fly and ground balls, let’s take a look at Bogaerts’ line drive percentage month-by-month in juxtapose with his production in those months.

March/April- 22.4 LD%, .765 OPS, 121 wRC+

May- 24.4 LD%, .897 OPS, 152 wRC+

June- 15.7 LD%, .426 OPS, 12 wRC+

July- 19.0 LD%, .595 OPS, 60 wRC+

August- 13.2 LD%, .360 OPS, -3 wRC+

September- 33.3 LD%, .949 OPS, 165 wRC+

The correlation is evident: the more frequently Bogaerts has hit line drives in a month, the more hits he’s gotten in that same time span. This isn’t all luck-driven; in fact, most of it is “X” making better contact on the ball.

Like I said, there’s essentially a zero percent chance he continues hitting line drives at this rate, but it’s not at all unrealistic to see the shortstop hit them at an above-average rate. If so, Xander Bogaerts will blossom into the player he was expected to become.

 

Does Jemile Weeks have a place with Boston going forward?

Jemile WeeksJemile Weeks has essentially been this year’s version of Quentin Berry. For those unfamiliar with Berry’s role with Boston in ’13, he was used specifically for pinch-running purposes. That’s what Weeks has become in ’14, and while Berry’s tenure in Boston came to an abrupt end after the Red Sox’ World Series run, Jemile possibly has a future beyond the remainder of this lost year.

For one, he won’t be a free agent until 2019, but that’s useless unless he performs well. He lived up to that expectation in ’11, his rookie season, but since then has been unable to thrive in the majors. Well, actually, after Weeks produced an abysmal 73 wRC+, in 2012, he hasn’t been given ample opportunities. In fact, he’s played in just 15 games between 2013 and 2014.

It doesn’t make much sense considering his unsustainable .256 BABIP in the ’12 season and his consistent minor-league production. Yet that’s the circumstance Weeks has found himself in; just or unjust as it may be.

For some reason, however, there’s this misconception brewing that he’s a lost case from an offensive perspective. That’s far from the truth, and he’s hit in every level of the minors at an above-average rate. So, why, hasn’t he been given another chance?

That much I can’t explain, but do strongly believe he could get that chance with the Boston Red Sox in the role of a bench player. He’s quick and has offensive potential to be a prosperous major-leaguer. The question, though, remains: will the Red Sox capitalize on this gift they’ve been given in Jemile Weeks?