Saturday, June 22, 2013

Defining Middlebrooks

What is Will Middlebrooks: a major league player or a prospect?  More importantly, why isn't anyone asking this question?

It is assumed that Middlebrooks is the first option, a big leaguer.  Discussion about Middlebrooks and his "recent" struggles are done under the terms that, somehow, Middlebrooks is a semi-veteran player who just needs to stay in lineup until, as I heard on NESN before one game, "his swing comes around".  This discussion is framed around the assumption that Middlebrooks is on the level of veterans like Pedroia or Big Papi, who have produced after periods of struggling at the plate.  

But, if Middlebrooks is actually a prospect, would that change the whole tenor of the discussion around his struggles at the plate?  Perhaps the framing of this discussion should be adjusted. 

To the statsmobile, Batman! 

Here are a couple monthly stat lines for Middlebrooks:

Month #1: .194 BA, .286 OBP, 6 H, 0 2B, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 8 K
Month #2: .194 BA, .223 OBP, 19 H, 4 2B, 6 HR, 12 RBI, 32 K

So, what months did I pull these stats from?  These are reflective of Middlebrooks' "recent" struggles, so both of these months have to be from 2013, right? 

Wrong -- Month #1 is Middlebrooks' stat line from August 2012, before he broke his wrist.  Looking at that stat line, nobody can say that Middlebrooks wasn't struggling then; and he's still struggling now.  Therefore, his struggles are hardly a recent occurrence.  Middlebrooks isn't mired in a slump that he can swing his way out of, something else is going on.  

Month #2, by the way, are Middlebrooks' numbers in April 2013.  If you want to bring his latest numbers into the mix, you'll find that he's batting .138 with a .194 OBP this month.  Since returning from the disabled list, Middlebrooks has managed to drop his batting average from .199 down to .192. 

If a prospect is called up to fill in for an injured player and he catches on fire for a couple months before teams adjust their scouting reports and learn how to pitch against him, is he now a major league player or still a prospect that needs development?  To me, this is a rhetorical question.  Middlebrooks does not have the major league experience under his belt to make the assumption that he'll get out of this slump like any other veteran; he just continues to sink.  
In some small market organizations, letting a prospect struggle at the major league level is part of the development process.  The Royals called up Alex Gordon and let him suck for a couple of seasons before he finally started producing.  The Red Sox, though, spend big money and they have never been apt to give a prospect development time in the starting lineup.  Those players are sent to Portland or Pawtucket and told to keep improving as a player and wait their turn. 

Why is Middlebrooks treated differently?  Why is he this golden boy born as a big leaguer? Why hasn't reality seeped into the conversation about his struggles-cum-development?  And to continue treating Middlebrooks like this when the other option to play third base is hitting over .400 with a 23 game streak of getting on base, and he only has one fielding error at third compared to Middlebrooks' 8 errors?  Honestly, I just don't get it. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Napoli and the Mask of Overachieving

Guess what?  It's time for me to bitch about Mike Napoli again.  I know, I know.  I should get a life, right?  Or find something else to talk about?  Hell, maybe I should comment on how well the Red Sox are doing instead of always looking for something negative, right?


One positive aspect of the Red Sox loss against the Rangers last night was that that the game was close, and it felt like the Sox might be able to pull off a come from behind victory at any time.  Lackey had a great start, as well, limiting the Rangers' playoff-caliber hitting to a run over six innings.

Jose Iglesais continues to place himself on the short list for Rookie of the Year candidates by getting a single in the 7th, extending his hitting streak to nine games while moving a baserunner to second.  The Sox didn't score, unfortunately, but one must wonder if Iglesais could help drive in runs if he was hitting second instead of ninth.  Either way, with Middlebrooks being told that his stay in Pawtucket will be extended until he shapes the fuck up, the front office seems ready to adopt the ethos of placing the best team on the field instead of using players that gross money from Pink Hat merchandise sales.  Now, if Salty could only be moved to place Lavarnway in the lineup...

The bad part is that you could see this loss coming from a mile away because Alexi Ogando was starting for the Rangers, and the Red Sox have a tough time winning against pitchers who have an ERA under 3.00.  Some of you might have questions when I point this out, such as: "What's the big fucking deal?  Doesn't every team have difficulty against good starters?  Isn't that baseball?  Don't you realize that the Red Sox have the most runs scored in the Majors right now?  What the fuck is wrong with you?"

I could sit back and enjoy seeing the 2013 Red Sox run up 17-5 victories against shitty pitching while shrugging off close losses to spectacular pitching, but witnessing the latter reveals more than the former because it shows deficiencies with this team that will become more pronounced as their schedule becomes more difficult in August and September, with plenty of games against the Yankees, Rays and Baltimore; along with a series against teams with great starters like the Tigers, Diamondbacks and Dodgers.  If the Red Sox make it to the playoffs after all of that, most of the pitching they will face will make last night's starter, Alexi Ogando, look pedestrian.

What would bring the overachieving Red Sox hitting over the hump is another hitter in the meat of their order that can produce against great pitchers.  And that brings me back to Mike Napoli because, so far, Mike Napoli hasn't been that hitter.

How many home runs has Napoli hit off of pitchers who have an ERA under 3.00?  None.

How many homers has Napoli hit off pitchers with an ERA under 4.00?  Three, and two were against relievers.  The only questionably "tough" starter that Napoli has teed off against is Jeremy Guthrie.

Conversely, how many homers has Napoli hit against pitchers with an ERA above 5.00?  Four.

As I've mentioned before (and repeatedly) in tweets, 5 of Napoli's 9 homers have come against the Blue Jays.

The Red Sox don't have this problem with David Ortiz -- he has made a career off of hammering great pitching.  This year, we've already seen Big Papi rake against Yu Darvish, Matt Moore and Hiroki Kuroda.

Napoli has gotten some RBIs off fielder's choice balls and sacrifice flies against decent pitchers, so at least he can put the ball in play when runners are on base to make something happen.  And, as evidenced by his stats, Napoli has a big stick against bad pitching.

The question regarding Napoli, with a third of the season over, is whether he'll be able to step it up and rake against great pitching or is he just an overachiever?  The answer to this question may be the deciding factor in whether the Red Sox lineup can survive the final third of the season or regress to a .500 ballclub that doesn't make the playoffs.