By now, most of you have already heard that Red Sox great, Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk was arrested on charges of driving under the influence. He was found asleep behind the wheel in the middle of a cornfield. There was an open bottle of Vodka on the floor of his vehicle. Fisk was brought to the hospital and released from custody the next morning after posting bail.
During his 24 year playing career, Carlton Fisk is most remembered for running down the line, waving his home run fair during the 1975 World Series.
John Farrell was officially introduced as the 46th manager of the Boston Red Sox today at noon. Everyone down the line from Owners, Chairmen, General Manager, and even former and current players were on board to congratulate Farrell. Most of them even stood up to say a few words about him and everyone spoke so highly of him. With much praise about his leadership skills and intelligence all around the game of baseball, it is no wonder why the Sox made this choice so quickly, as soon as they were given permission to speak to him from the Toronto Blue Jays.
Great news as pitchers and catchers reported for the Sox yesterday.The first workout will be tomorrow and position players will arrive February 24, a day before the teams first full workout. The Red Sox clubhouse is still talking to media about the epic collapse from last year, with Lester and Beckett openly taking blame. Also, guys like Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Adrian Gonzalez have already been vocal about assuming the leadership type of role this team needs.
Let’s get back to the matter at hand, ranking the shortstop’s in the AL East.
1. J.J. Hardy, Orioles
2. Derek Jeter, Yankees
3. Yunel Escobar, Blue Jays
4. Nick Punto/Mike Aviles/ Jose Iglesias, Red Sox
5. Sean Rodriguez/ Reid Brignac, Rays
Derek Jeter is nearing the end of his career and the shortstop position has switched from a division strength during the late 90’s and early 2000’s to now the AL East’s weakest position. It seems like just yesterday Nomar was being called “The Human Vacuum Cleaner” by Sports Illustrated for Kids and featured with his shirt off on the Sports Illustrated cover labeled “A Cut Above.” Whether it was the cover jinx or not, injuries arose for the Beantown legend and the position has become vastly different from the days when Nomar and Jeter would duke it out as potential MVP candidates.
J.J. Hardy, Derek Jeter and Yunel Escobar all display plus gloves in the field, although Jeter is the only to have received a Gold Glove out of the three (he has received five total-his latest in 2010). Despite this, Jeter might now be the worst fielder out of three since his range has begin to diminish with his aging body. J.J. Hardy is ranked first due to his reinvented swing from the past two years. Hardy went from hitting 50 HRS in 2007-2008 combined to 11 in 2009 and 6 in 2010. Hardy was killed by pitchers (specifically lefthanders) in these two years, after Alex Eisenberg of Baseball-Intellect.com revealed some flaws in Hardy’s plate approach. He has spent the 2009-2010 battling through a wrist injury and other minor injuries. Hardy now has spent the end of 2010 and 2011 redefining his plate approach by shortening up his swing and lowering and extended his arms in the beginning of the approach. He has began pulling the pull more often and the results showed last year. In his bounce back year, he had 30 HRS and 80 RBI’s. I expect Hardy to hit around 28-34 HR in the hitter friendly Camden Yards.
Next up is Derek Jeter. In Big Nons story earlier this year, I chimed in the comments section giving my thoughts on Jeter: “Can’t call yourself a true fan of both the Red Sox and baseball unless you admit Derek Jeter is a great ballplayer. The guy hustles on the field and is the ideal team captain. Any time i see someone go full speed into a ball in the stands and dive in there with the fans the way Jeter did years back against the Sox, I’m impressed. “The flip?” One of the best heads up plays I have EVER seen a shortstop make. I mean “c’mon son” to any Sox fan that is not willing to have some respect for him.” Despite his declining skills, he is still a force as the leadoff man in the always impressive Yankee lineup. Due to his consistency in this leadoff spot in getting on base and getting himself in scoring position, he gets the nod for the second spot in these rankings. Yunel Escobar on the Blue Jays is the third ranked shortstop. Escobar has displayed the ability to consistently get on base throughout his four year career, even throughout his off year in 2010 (.366 Career OBP with .289 Career AVG).
All of the first three options display some sort of flaw; Jeter’s career is close to ending as he will turn 38 in June and both Escobar and Hardy have had issues with injuries throughout their careers. Despite this, all are better options than the situation the Red Sox and Rays are in. The Red Sox shortstop position opened up in late January when Marco Scutaro was traded. It will be temporarily fixed with Nick Punto and Mike Aviles. Both players are pretty good fielding shortstops, but have been utility infielders for the majority of their careers. Punto has just about zero power, but will reach base at a decent rate in comparison to other options (.249 career BA, .278 last year, .325 Career OBP-.388 last year). Aviles is a slightly better option offensively in terms of power and AVG, but he has a horrible OBP considering his higher AVG (.288 AVG and .318 OBP throughout his career). The real gem could be Jose Iglesias. He has been one of the top prospects in the Red Sox farm system for a few years now, with a glove that is very major league ready. He is touted as a future perennial Gold Glover. His only issue is batting, and its a big issue. He batted .235 in the minors last year, but he has slowly been improving throughout his short professional career. Due to his incredible fielding skills, he will most likely be forced to try and improve in the big leagues. As I’ve said before, I don’t care how good of a fielder he is, every Red Sox fan wants to see offensive production and there is no way he can last in Boston hitting barely above the Mendoza line.
Tampa Bay is in a very similar situation. Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac are both good options fielding wise, but both are worse hitters than Boston’s options, with the exception of Iglesias. Brignac batted .193 last year and Rodriguez batted .223. Unless one of these players figures out their troubles at the plate, Tampa Bay will have the worst situation at shortstop in the AL East.
For other position rankings click here: C–1B–2B–3B
Today, we are going to move over to the hot corner. Two different ends of the spectrum at third base, with the up-and-coming stars in Evan Longoria and Brett Lawrie and the declining talents of Alex Rodriguez and Kevin Youkilis. Also, we have the “Greek God of Walks” in Kevin Youkilis and also the Strikeout King, Mark Reynolds.
1. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
2. Brett Lawrie, Toronto Blue Jays
3. Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees
4. Kevin Youkilis, Boston Red Sox
5. Mark Reynolds, Baltimore Orioles
These rankings were tough, especially after Longoria in the first slot. Every single player, Longoria included, has something to be criticized about. Evan Longoria has been one of the top third basemen since his monster rookie season in 2008, where he had a .272 AVG/27 HR/85 RBI line in 122 games. Year after year, we have seen great production out of the young superstar, but he hasn’t had a full year showcasing ALL of his skills. In 2010, he effectively lowered his strikeouts and maintained a good average, but his power was down (only hit 22 HR in 151 games). In 2011, he regained his power stroke hitting 31 HR’s in 133 games, but his average dipped to .244. Despite these issues, Longoria has the talent to maintain his position as the top third baseman in the AL East.
Most Sox fans are probably wondering who Brett Lawrie is, and why the hell is rated above A-Rod and YOUUUK. Brett Lawrie was one the top prospects in the Brewers coveted farm system a few years ago, until he was traded for Shaun Marcum in December 2010. Lawrie was a former catcher, turned second baseman, turned now third baseman. He displays pure athleticism on the field, which has helped him in his transistion between positions in the minors. His bat has never been questioned throughout his short career. Although he was said to be major league ready after camp last year with the Blue Jays, they decided to give him more time to work on his glove at the hot corner in Triple A. Lawrie was called up to the bigs on August 5th and made an immediate impact, hitting 6 home runs in his first month. In 150 major league at bats, Lawrie ended up with a .293 average, .373 OBP, and 9 HR’s. He figures to be a major part of the Blue Jays offense, currently projected to hit in the 6 spot in a dangerous lineup. I was skeptical to give him the two spot in the rankings, but his potential, coupled with the injury problems of A-Rod and Youk gave me the green light on this ranking. I also think this guy has a little bit of Gronk in him. He was said to have attitude issues in Milwaukee and openly has pictures of himself drinking and doing “Edward FortyHands” online. His “don’t give a shit” attitude should help him in dealing with some of the increased attention he will get with his elite ability. I don’t see him being as effective as his short major league stint indicates, as most 22 year olds are bound to experience some issues in the first few years in the bigs, but Lawrie will soon become a household name for any AL East fan.
Next up are the walking wounded. With all due respect to Alex Rodriguez (although I don’t believe he deserves much) and Kevin Youkilis, it is quite obvious both are in the “decline” stages of their careers. Due to his incredible past, A-Rod gets the three ranking and seriously contended for second. It was just too hard to justify him above the rising Lawrie. His major league record streak of 13 straight seasons with over 30 home runs and 100 RBI’s ended abruptly last year. He has battled with numerous different injuries in the past four seasons (missed at least 20 games each season and 150 games total). I do see A-Rod making a bit of a comeback, but he has lost a lot of bat speed in the past few years and can’t make pitchers pay for a bad fastball as consistently as he used to.
Kevin Youkilis is more of the same. It seems like every year Sox fans are talking about “If Youk was healthy…” this and that, we’d be such a better team, a more dangerous lineup, etc. At some point, we need to expect him to get injured. Despite his unusual .258 BA last year, he is a great batter and the “Greek God of Walks,” but he is a liability at third base, where he is not nearly as good a fielder there as he is at 1st Base. I love having him in the lineup and he’s just as much the face of the franchise as Dusty, but he has constantly been getting injured in the past few years. I’m expecting a bounce back year for Youk with around a .300 BA, 20-25 HR, 90-100 RBI and of course his .400 OBP. And I, along with every other fan in Red Sox nation, hope that he stays healthy throughout the year and is good to go for a playoff push in September.
Lastly, we have the Strikeout King, Mark Reynolds of Baltimore. In the past four years, Mark’s home run’s look like this: 28, 44, 32, 37. Along with the good comes the bad, Mark’s strikeout numbers look like this: 204, 223, 211, 196. His average also looks like this: .239, .260, .198, .221. Pretty sure the averages and strikeouts speak for themselves. Yes, Reynold’s is a good power hitter, but as a manager I would never want his mentality of “swing for the fences” every at bat on my team. That being said, Reynold’s always brings fear into opposing pitcher’s and fan’s late in the game due to his big play potential.
It will be very interesting to see how this years young stars at third base end up matching up against the aging (and injured) stars of the AL East.
Another day and another position ranking, today I will look into second basemen. First, I analyzed catchers, with Baltimore’s Matt Weiters coming out on top. Next, I analyzed first base, with the Red Sox MVP candidate Adrian Gonzalez filling out the top slot. The AL East’s star position has to be second basemen. It contains 3 of the top second basemen, and two legitimate MVP candidates, who are becoming the face of their respective franchises.
The rankings are as follows:
1. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
2. Robinson Cano, Yankees
3. Ben Zobrist, Rays
4. Kelly Johnson, Blue Jays
5. Brian Roberts, Orioles
This has been by far the toughest decision to make in the position rankings. I know every Yankees fan will disagree, as any loyal fan would, but hear me out on this one. Dustin Pedroia and Robinson Cano have been very similar in terms of offensive impact in the past few years (barring Pedroia’s injury shortened season in 2010). While displaying virtually exact career AVG (Pedroia .305 vs Cano .308), Pedroia has consistently reached base at a higher rate (.373 Career OBP vs Cano’s .349). Cano may be able to put up more HR’s and RBI’s than Pedroia, but Pedey has consistently put up many more steals and runs. Cano’s extra RBI’s can mostly be contributed to his spot in the batting order. Last year, 94.9% of his at bats were taken from the 4 and 5 spots in the order, while 77.3% of Pedroia’s at bats were taken from the 2 spot in the order. Yes, Pedroia’s extra runs can be mostly contributed to his spot in the order, but his steals and baserunning are still much better than Cano’s. All offensive prowess aside, Pedroia definitely has an edge on the defensive side ( 2 Gold Gloves in four eligible seasons vs Cano’s single Gold Glove during his 7 seasons). Also, Pedroia has a better fielding percentage and zone rating. Perhaps the most telling fact is WAR (wins above replacement), in which Pedroia 8.0 2011 rating, clearly outshines Cano’s 5.6.
Despite this argument, it should be noted that if either team had the choice, they would not switch second baseman with the other team. Pedroia is a true Red Sox player, never afraid to get his jersey dirty, while Cano is a Bronx Bomber, provided unheard of power from second baseman position since the sloppy fielding former Yank Alfonso Soriano.
Next up is Ben Zobrist, who is a great player for the Rays, but overshadowed by Cano and Pedroia. Zobrist has the talent to fight for the top second basemen spot in any other division. He has the potential to contend with Cano and Pedroia, but his inconsistency gives him the third ranking. He displayed incredible numbers both last year and in 2009, but his steep dropoff in 2010 (.239 BA and a 63.0% HR decrease) leaves room for concern.
Filling out the fourth spot is Blue Jay second baseman Kelly Johnson. Kelly was acquired by the Jays from the Diamondbacks last year in a trade for Aaron Hill and John MacDonald. Johnson has been even more inconsistent than Zobrist, but should give the Jays a good option at second as long as his average stays up. I see him providing about a .275 average and 20-25 HR’s in his first full year at the Rogers Centre.
Lastly, the Orioles have the oft injured Brian Roberts slotted in as their starting second baseman. Although Roberts was once regarded as a top second baseman, those days are gone after only playing 98 games in the last two years combined. Whether he gets injured again and Robert Andino fills in for him remains the true question. Both will provide similar offensive output and show good speed on the basepaths. I don’t see the credentials to rate either one above any of the other second baseman in this stacked division though.
Spring training is around the corner and it looks like all the rosters are pretty much set in the MLB. I will begin to evaluate how the Red Sox matchup against their four counterparts in the AL East in different positions.
First up will be catcher (remember this is primarily based on projected starters):
1. Matt Wieters, Baltimore
2. J.P. Arencibia, Blue Jays
3. Russell Martin, Yankees
4. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Red Sox
5. Jose Molina, Rays
Wieters was a no brainer here in the first slot. He was a can’t miss prospect since he was drafted 5th overall in 2007. He is not the superstar people once believed after a monster first year in the minors (.388 BA), but he provides decent pop (22 HR’s last year) and won a Gold Glove last year.
The next three were tough to call. I went with Arencibia next after his breakout campaign last year. He provided a bad batting average, but hit 23 Hr’s and had 78 RBI’s in 129 games in his rookie season. Arencibia is still a pretty raw talent, but with his good arm behind the plate and incredible power, he should have a pretty decent career. Third on the list is Russell Martin, who is not the player he was in the beginning of his career with the Dodgers. He has battled through knee and hip injuries since he broke out as a youngster in ’06-’08. He has had a declining batting average since ’08, although he saw in increase in HR and RBI’s for the Bronx Bombers last year. Even though Martin says he is healthy this year, I find it hard to believe he is a better option than Arencibia.
The Red Sox and Saltalamacchia are rated fourth due to the muddled cloud over the position and also an attempt to not be biased in this column. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is the clear number one on the roster right now, although I think Ryan Lavarnway is the better long term solution. The Red Sox also signed Kelly Shoppach over the offseason, which confused me in terms of Lavarnway’s spot on the team. First off, Salty had a huge year for the Red Sox last year. He was a low risk young guy who had an incredible amount of confidence issues (to the point of him struggling to complete throws back to the pitcher). It looked like he found the stroke and confidence that he had as a good prospect growing up in the Braves farm system. Salty and Varitek combined to be some of the worst at throwing out runners last year (25.1% and 23.1%, respectively), and Shoppach should provide some defensive help. The true value of the Sox catcher situation lies in how they deal with Lavarnway. Lavarnway is a 6-4, 225 prospect with a very solid baseball IQ, which is very important behind the plate. The Yale-alum has average catching skills, but has a solid bat and could even provide some help from the DH spot. Sox fans immediately fell in love with Lavarnway when he provided 2 HR and 4RBI’s in a must win game on the second to last game of the season last year in which the Sox won 8-7. This was real impressive in such a high pressure situation in his rookie year and hopefully he will get a chance to build on his progress throughout this season. Also, as an end to the Red Sox section, I see Jason Varitek’s roster spot on the Red Sox gone. I hope they treat him in a similar manner as the Patriots with Kevin Faulk, by keeping him in the organization as a leader but not taking up a valuable roster spot with his declining abilities.
Lastly, the Rays are clearly the bottom of the pile here. I see them making some changes either in the season or during these last few weeks before camp. Right now they have 36 year old Jose Molina slotted behind the plate and he has never even had more than 268 AB’s in a season. Most Sox fans remember him from his days as a Yankees backup. He provides some help defensively (threw out 32.4% of runners), but it is always a good sign for opposing pitchers when he is in the on deck circle.
Stay tuned for more position evaluations throughout the next few weeks.