With the All-Star Game behind us and the Dodgers visiting Fenway this weekend, it’s time to hand out grades to the best and worst of the Red Sox in the first half:
Christian Vazquez, A-
Where did this come from? Known as a contact hitter who doesn’t strike out much, Vazquez contributed an astounding 14 home runs to go with a .299 batting average in the first half. He’s started eight games as the designated hitter, made two appearances each at second and third base and has also handled the bulk of the duty behind the plate. The only knock on him is the continued success the pitchers have with Sandy Leon (3.88 ERA to Leon compared to 4.80 ERA to Vazquez).
Sandy Leon, B
A calm and strong presence as the captain behind the plate, he commits the entirety of his job to that one part of his game and the team loves him for it. Every now and then he comes up with a bit hit. They’ll take it.
Michael Chavis, A
There have been growing pains, but the Red Sox called up one of their few remaining prospects before he was fully developed and the rookie responded by handling three different defensive positions while hitting 15 homers with 48 RBI in 69 games. Drafting Chavis 26th overall in 2014 was one of Ben Cherington’s final gifts to the Red Sox before he was pushed out a year later.
Eduardo Nunez, F
It was a mistake by Dave Dombrowski to commit $9 million to Nunez after the 2017 postseason, when he collapsed running to first base against the Astros. Since the knee gave out in that series, Nunez has hit .257 with a .648 OPS and 12 homers in 185 big league games. He’s made four errors at third base, six at second base and has been thrown out running the bases on eight different occasions.
Xander Bogaerts, A+
It’s not a slam dunk that great players continue to get better seven years into their big league careers, but that’s what Bogaerts has done regularly since his debut as a 20-year-old in 2013. One of these years he’s going to get the respect he deserves for his defensive work, but until then, soak in the league-leading 29 doubles, 17 homers, 65 RBI, .294 average, .919 OPS and a Cal Ripken Jr.-like readiness to play through injuries and start at shortstop every day.
Rafael Devers, A-
A disaster at third base the first month or two, Devers has steadied at the hot corner and has started to make the routine plays without panicking. Offensively, he’s been better than the Sox could’ve ever hoped for, with a .324 average and .923 OPS that earned him a spot as Alex Cora’s new No. 2 hitter.
Andrew Benintendi, C
There’s nothing wrong with a .784 OPS, but the Sox were hoping for a breakout from their 25-year-old left fielder. The power has yet to develop, and though he’s considered an average-first hitter, the .274 mark with 82 strikeouts in 314 at-bats leaves a lot to be desired. He often looks uninspired on defense.
Jackie Bradley Jr., B
If the future-tellers presented these first-half numbers back in spring training, it’d be difficult to complain: 17 doubles, nine homers and a .728 OPS from the Gold Glove center fielder. The inconsistency can be maddening, but at least Bradley seems to have discovered his stroke fairly early in the year. He’s hitting .305 with a .977 OPS and all nine of his homers in his past 43 games since May 20.
Mookie Betts, B
Still a great player, just not an MVP. Perhaps he’s too interested in putting the bat down and drawing a walk. His first half looked a lot more like one put up by a vintage Dustin Pedroia. He walked 68 times and struck out just 60 times. His .272 average and 14 homers were fine but unspectacular. He’s hitting just .216 with two outs and runners in scoring position.
J.D. Martinez, A-
He’s not carrying the team on his back, though he’s certainly capable, and the power numbers are down a bit from a year ago. But Martinez remains a steady and consistent presence, one who is hitting .304 at the break. He has a matching .304 average with RISP.
Incomplete: Mitch Moreland, Steve Pearce, Brock Holt, Marco Hernandez, Sam Travis, Blake Swihart, Tzu-Wei Lin, Dustin Pedroia.
Chris Sale, B
Sale finished the first half with a 4.04 ERA. He has just nine quality starts in 18 tries. He summed it up simply after his final outing before the break: “What am I, 3-8? That’s absolutely embarrassing. That’s not what I need to be and that’s not who I need to be for this team. On a team like this, they need me to be better and I haven’t been there for them. I’m standing before you as frustrated as I’ve ever been, just to be honest.”
David Price, A
The most consistent member of the Sox rotation this year, Price has anchored the staff by allowing two earned runs or fewer in 12 of his 16 starts. His 3.24 ERA is the best he’s had in a Red Sox uniform. And he’s done it while pitching through some arm issues, having missed some time with elbow tendinitis.
Rick Porcello, D
A few timely gems keep Porcello above a failing grade, but he’s not missing enough bats to be effective on a regular basis. His 5.33 ERA is indicative of that. His fastball velocity is in the bottom 20 percent of the league, leading to a bottom-tier strikeout rate and way-too-high slugging percentage to be successful in the American League East.
Eduardo Rodriguez, C
He’s averaging 5-⅔ innings per start, which is encouraging, and MLB hitters continue to struggle hitting anything hard off the hard-throwing left-hander. His average exit velocity of 86.4 mph ranks him in the top 12 percent of MLB pitchers this year. But he’s not getting timely outs when he needs them and too often lets big innings get the best of him, thus a 4.65 first-half ERA.
Hector Velazquez, D
We have a soft spot for pitchers who aren’t given any sense of comfort or routine, and Velazquez has been roped back and forth in the rotation and the bullpen all year. On one occasion in April, he threw 33 pitches out of relief on a Thursday, then started on the mound that Sunday. A week later, he pitched out of relief on a Saturday and started two days later on Monday. The Red Sox were underprepared to start the year and asked Velazquez to bail them out. Instead, he’s had injury problems and is nursing a 5.65 ERA.
Matt Barnes, B
He looked like a sure-fire All-Star to start the year, striking out almost half the batters he faced while holding a 1.99 ERA on June 1. It’s been all downhill since then: 14⅓ innings, 8.79 ERA, .276 opponents average, 11 walks, 26 strikeouts.
Marcus Walden, B
See Barnes, Matt. Walden started the year looking like a hidden gem, with a 1.91 ERA on June 4. Since then: 12⅔ innings, 8.53 ERA, .351 opponents average, five walks, 16 strikeouts.
Brandon Workman, A
The only consistent and reliable reliever all year, Workman has done it by throwing his curveball a career-high 48 percent of the time. He doesn’t seem to care about walking guys (28 in 40⅓ innings). But he’s allowed just 14 hits and has a 1.79 ERA.
Ryan Brasier, C
The feel-good story has come to an end. An out-of-nowhere surprise in 2018, Brasier has looked hittable all year. His fastball velocity is a bit down and the pitch is getting hit to the tune of a .268 average and .495 slugging percentage.
Colten Brewer, D
His stuff plays, the Sox have said all year. Brewer ranks among the league’s best in spin rates and fastball velocity. But his command is wild, he walks too many guys and the results haven’t been there: 4.70 ERA, 1.77 WHIP.
Incomplete: Heath Hembree, Nathan Eovaldi, Ryan Weber, Josh Smith, Josh Taylor, Brian Johnson, Mike Shawaryn, Travis Lakins, Steven Wright, Darwinzon Hernandez, Bobby Poyner, Erasmo Ramirez, Trevor Kelly.
Dave Dombrowski, F
Since the World Series ended, there’s not a single positive decision from him to point to. His first move of the offseason was to re-sign 36-year-old Steve Pearce, who has a .180 average, .503 OPS and is out indefinitely with knee problems. It’s $6.5 million down the tank on a platoon first baseman, one they picked up for nothing via trade last summer. A clear misevaluation. Then Dombrowski committed $68 million to the oft-injured Nathan Eovaldi, who has made four starts with a 6.00 ERA and underwent elbow surgery. He’s now dealing with biceps tendinitis and will try to come back as a closer. Whether he succeeds or fails, he’ll be the fifth-most expensive closer in the game at $17 million per season. Dombrowski’s final move of the winter was to trade for Colten Brewer (4.70 ERA). Even the minor league signings disappointed; none has contributed with success in the majors. And now he needs the Eovaldi transition to work out, plus a few impactful trades, to save the Red Sox’ season.
Alex Cora, C
The spring training plan for the starting pitchers was a total disaster that resulted in lower velocities across the board. The rotation ended April with a 5-14 record and a 5.39 ERA, putting the overworked bullpen in a bind from the start. Will it pay off in September/October? And if the manager/coaching staff is to get credit when players have career years, the same must be taken away when players regress below their averages, such in the cases of Betts and Benintendi, who did not succeed when Cora switched their position in the lineup. Cora has remained loyal to his player-friendly managerial style that worked so well last year, and this grade can flip quickly if he’s able to turn the season around in the second half.