The Obstruction of Potential: The Play That Derailed Two Careers

Even with unrivaled success this millennia, Boston fans do not often forget those times that did not go right for them. They never forget that which went horribly wrong, even if it was corrected in the end.

The 2013 World Series championship was unforgettable for Boston and the city’s baseballObstruction fans. When seemingly everything went right for the Red Sox that year, there was a moment in that World Series where it looked like it would all fall apart. There was one moment where Red Sox nation felt like Raiders fans after the Tuck Rule in 2001. That one moment did not necessarily damn the series, but it could have damned two once-promising MLB careers.

Late in Game Three, St. Louis’s Allen Craig came around third after an overthrow. After tripping over third baseman Will Middlebrooks, he came around to score the winning run via an obstruction call. If not for the call, Craig would have been out by five feet, but alas the Cardinals suddenly had a 2-1 series lead.  While the call had Bostonians up in arms, the Red Sox won the next three games to claim their eighth world championship. The obstruction could be seen; the downward spiral of the two players’ careers could not.

Allen Craig’s Downfall

At the 2014 trade deadline, these two teams were heading in opposite directions. With St. Louis making a playoff push, they traded Craig along with Joe Kelly to Boston in exchange for John Lackey. Craig was under team control for three and a half more years with a club option for 2018. He was definitely one of the hardest hitters in the Cardinals’ lineup. The only thing Craig hit in Boston (and Pawtucket) was a wall.

In 29 games with Boston in 2014, he hit a brutal .128 with a whopping two RBI, enough to send the biggest optimists into a fit of pure rage. 2015 was not much better. He hit .152 in 36 games, but surpassed his RBI total of 2014, churning out three. Since then, he’s gotten to know Pawtucket better than their own mayor. This past season, he appeared in 22 games for the Pawtucket Red Sox, raking to the tune of a .173 average and slugging .250 along with his one homer and six RBI.

In 2013, Craig had 97 RBI for the Cardinals. In the two and a half seasons since that he’s been with the Red Sox, he has 41 split between his time in Boston and Pawtucket. The Red Sox will undoubtedly not pick up his option after this year and will owe him 13 million dollars in 2018. To call Craig a disappointment would be an insult to all the disappointments who never got a hug from their dad. Craig was a catastrophic failure.

The Drop-Off of Will Middlebrooks

The road for Will Middlebrooks since earning a ring has not been much friendlier. He broke out in 2012 where he hit 15 homers in his first big league season. His average subsequently dipped from .288 to .227 in 2013. Middlebrooks made it through the 2014 season with Boston, hitting .191 with two homers in 63 games. In December of that year, he was traded to San Diego for Ryan Hanigan. As bad as Hanigan was the past two seasons, it is really tough to decipher who won that deal.

In 2015, Middlebrooks appeared in 83 games for the Padres when he hit .212 with a .224 OBP. That production on a last place team earned him a trip to Milwaukee in free agency. On a Brewers team that went 73-89, Middlebrooks only earned 27 at-bats in 10 games, hitting .111. This offseason, he signed a minor-league deal with the Texas Rangers, making him a member of four different organizations in the four years since the 2013 World Series title.

Postlude

As bad as those two guys have been since then, there are still people involved in this infamous play who have been nearly as disappointing. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who threw the ball away to allow Craig to score, has been with three teams since then. His highest batting average since has been .225. Jim Joyce, the umpire who made the call, is most famous for that and blowing Armando Galarraga’s perfect game. He retired unceremoniously this offseason.

Times like these remind us there is nothing promised in this game. Craig was the x-factor of the 2013 World Series and now he’s struggling for playing time in Pawtucket. Middlebrooks was a budding slugger who has been in and out of the minors. While the obstruction call ended up not having a huge impact on the series, it drastically altered not just a runner’s path to home plate, but also two once-promising MLB careers.

Boggs Better Than Gwynn?

Wade Boggs and Tony Gwynn both debuted in 1982, won multiple batting titles, and joined the 3,000 hit club in 1999. They were perennial All-Stars, multi-Gold Glove winners, and first-ballot Hall of Famers. They played 2,440 games in careers that perfectly paralleled each other. But was Boggs better than Gwynn? Boggs Better Than Gwynn?

By looking at the numbers it’s almost impossible to tell. See below:

Boggs 1,513 R 3,010 H 578 2B 118 HR 1,014 RBI .328/.415/.443 (132 wRC+) 1,412 BB 745 K
Gwynn 1,383 R 3,141 H 543 2B 135 HR 1,138 RBI .338/.388/.459 (132 wRC+) 790 BB 434 K

As you can see, it’s a virtual wash. Boggs scored more runs, but Gwynn knocked in more. Boggs stroked a few more doubles, while Gwynn socked a few more homers. Boggs walked twice as often, but also struck out twice as much. Boggs got on base more, but Gwynn had more hits and greater power.

Was Boggs better than Gwynn by advanced metrics? Once again it’s really close:

Boggs: .302 true AVG .381 wOBA 1,750 runs created 479.7 batting runs
Gwynn: .300 true AVG .370 wOBA 1,636 runs created 437.7 batting runs

Boggs comes out on top, barely. His edge in adjusted batting runs is roughly two per season, while his advantage in runs created is about four per year. You’re splitting hairs at that point, albeit in Boggs’s favor.

But then, Boggs spent much of his playing days in hitter’s parks—nobody took greater advantage of Fenway—whereas Gwynn spent his entire career in Qualcomm Stadium—the Petco Park of its time. Accordingly, when you neutralize their numbers, Gwynn’s get better while Boggs’s get worse:

Boggs .321/.407/.435 (.842 OPS) 1,664 runs created
Gwynn .340/.391/.461 (.852 OPS) 1,735 runs created

Now it’s flipped, as it’s Gwynn who holds the slight edge. Had Gwynn played in Fenway, he probably hits .350 for his career. Meanwhile, had Boggs spent his whole career in San Diego, he wouldn’t have come close to batting .328.

Boggs could hit anywhere—he batted .302/.387/.395 on the road—but that would have been a bad season for him. It also pales in comparison to what he did at home (.354/.443/.495). Most hitters benefit from their home parks, but not to the same degree that Boggs did (unless they play in Coors Field).

Gwynn, on the other hand, hit nearly as well on the road as he did at home. His .334/.384/.451 road averages are nearly identical to his .343/.393/.466 home record. Gwynn would have been a .330 hitter no matter which team he played for, but Boggs might have batted closer to .300.

Was Boggs better than Gwynn? After taking their environments into account, it appears Gwynn was the superior batsman.

Red Sox Unlikely to Make Major Moves

This past season has been a massive disappointment for most of Red Sox Nation, to the point where one fan was caught on camera barfing from the right field deck during Wednesday night’s game against the Chicago White Sox. But the most disappointing thing so far? Probably the fact that the team has yet to even attempt to make a major move this year. At least at this time last year, they were trying to make moves and trying to make the team better.

The return for dealing Jon Lester and John Lackey was a bad return on investment, to sayRed Sox the least, as none of the pieces they ultimately received has made much of an impact, but at least they made some kind of effort last year. This year is a different story, though. The front office hasn’t made much of an effort to even build for the future before the deadline this year, and barring something dramatic, that won’t happen this time around.

Mind you, something dramatic could still happen, but it seems unlikely that the Red Sox make a major move. Rumors are still out there that they could go after Tyson Ross and Craig Kimbrel on the San Diego Padres, but with the deadline this afternoon, it seems like a long shot.

I’m thinking this trade deadline will pass without the team making any major moves, which would be the worst possible outcome for the tea, but the good news is that they at least have a couple pieces to build around in the off-season, namely guys like Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Brock Holt, but it would have been nice to see the Red Sox go out and get a veteran starter or bullpen help to make it easier, but the Red Sox would need a miracle at this point for that to happen.

The best we can hope for is that they can get someone in free agency, but that might be too much to expect at the moment.

Padres Demote Will Middlebrooks to Triple-A

The career of Will Middlebrooks has taken another sour turn with the Padres demoting the third baseman to Triple-A on Wednesday as he continues to struggle at the plate.

When the Red Sox signed Pablo Sandoval last winter, Middlebrooks spot on the roster was immediately in question. Will MiddlebrooksMiddlebrooks was traded to the Padres for Ryan Hanigan just before Christmas, in one of the smaller moves the Padres made this past winter after adding Justin Upton, Wil Myers and James Shields. Middlebrooks was the Padres Opening Day third baseman.

After making his debut with the Red Sox in 2012 the Bobby V year, Middlebrooks has not been able to make a real consistent stay in the major leagues. He claimed the third base job from Kevin Youkilis that year and was on track to be the third baseman of the Red Sox for years to come. He got hit by a pitch on his wrist late that season which cost him the rest of the season. In 2013 he was up and down with the Red Sox and even started games in the playoffs until Xander Bogaerts took over at third base, while Stephen Drew was still on the team.

In 2014 Middlebrooks was demoted to Pawtucket once the Sox signed Drew for a second time and rejoined the team after the fire sale that saw the Red Sox trade Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jonny Gomes and Stephen Drew. Last season with the Red Sox Middlebrooks hit a Mike Napoliesque .191 with only 2 home runs and 19 RBI. Sox brass wanted Middlebrooks to play winter ball but he declined.

With another slow start this season hitting .212 with the Padres he was demoted to El Paso after already losing his third base job to Yangervis Solarte. Middlebrooks had so much potential with the Red Sox. He had 15 home runs in his first 287 at bats in the big leagues and even hit for a decent average hitting .288. Many question the moves of Ben Cherington this past off-season but it seems the Red Sox got the better end of this deal.

Ryan Hanigan may not have been a flashy name but he is a major league catcher and the Red Sox would have forced Blake Swihart’s development even further after the injury to Christian Vasquez, something they may have done with Middlebrooks.

Middlebrooks Gone, Red Sox Get Ryan Hanigan

ryan hanigan

In need of a backup catcher, the Boston Red Sox were able to kill two birds with one stone.
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First of all, Will Middlebrooks posed a bit of a problem for the club. He hit .254 in his first 169 big league games and smacked 32 home runs, making it clear that he was going to be one of the best power hitting third baseman in the game.

In 63 games in 2014, Middlebrooks hit just two home runs in 63 games with a dismal .256 OBP, putting his future with the Red Sox organization in peril.

Also, the Red Sox needed a backup catcher and were able to get one by trading Will Middlebrooks to the San Diego Padres. In return, the Boston Red Sox will obtain catcher Ryan Hanigan who the Padres will get in the Wil Myers deal when it is all said and done.ryan hanigan

Hanigan, who never has and most likely never will play in a big league game for the San Diego Padres, spent 2014 as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays and hit .218 with a .318 OBP in 84 games and clipped five home runs. It was a down year for Hanigan and the Red Sox will bank on him being better than he was this past season.
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Plate discipline has always been a big part of Hanigan’s game. He has walked 220 times and struck out on just 198 in his career, showing his knowledge of the strike zone. As a result, Hanigan puts a lot of balls in play and is good for a few sacrifice hits a season.

Defensively, Hanigan has thrown out 38% of attempted base stealers in his career and lead the league gunning down 48% in 2012 and 45% in 2013.
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Typically, Hanigan serves his team as a platoon catcher, playing more than a backup but less than a starter. Expect Red Sox rookie catcher Christian Vazquez to catch at around 60%-67% of the time next season while Hanigan will see around 33%-40% of the reps if all goes well.

Now that the Red Sox have Hanigan who is signed for the next two years, trading Blake Swihart is a definite possibility. Although many people may not want to trade him, the return would be rather large and could set the Red Sox up for a championship next season.
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The 34-year-old Hanigan is a graduate of Andover High School in Andover, Massachusetts. Welcome back Ryan Hanigan, welcome back.