Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Summer school

Per the request of Steve R., one of TATB's Original 6 readers, I've stopped watching the Disney Channel's Boy Meets World marathon long enough to bang out this midseason report card on your first-place and eminently enjoyable Boston Red Sox. As a DVD extra, I've posted Steve's own player-by-player take in the comments section, just to get some discussion going. Feel free to add your 2 cents. In the meantime, I'll be wondering whatever happened to Fred Savage's homely, talentless kid brother . . .

Kevin Youkilis
(.297, 10 homers, 43 RBIs): One of the many wise moves Tito Francona has made this season is restoring Youkilis to the leadoff spot when it was apparent Coco Crisp was still rusty. Youkilis isn't a classic leadoff hitter in the Willie Mays Hayes sense, but would you rather have a guy who runs really fast and gets on at a .320 OBP clip, or a guy like Youkilis who gets on 40 percent of the time and always seems to be trotting home ahead of a Papi blast? It doesn't take Bill James to realize you're better off with dude who gets on base more often. (Actually, maybe it does take Bill James to realize that.) Oh, yeah, and Youk's taken to this first base thing pretty well, too, hasn't he? A-

Mark Loretta (.305-3-37): He's exactly what we hoped he'd be. Loretta catches everything he can get his glove on, turns the double play as if he and Gonzalez have been playing together for years, hits to all fields (and hits good pitchers, an underrated talent), and is such a gentleman that when Tina Cervasio asks him such vapid questions as, "What do you like better, a walk-off hit or a walk-off home run?" he somehow resists rolling his eyes. Gotta like a guy like that. B+

Big Papi (.278-31-87): One of the cool things about this blogging gig is that sometimes readers remind you of something you've completely forgotten you'd written. I realized this again yesterday, when I was poking around the new Wiki project on Sons of Sam Horn, and noticed, much to my ego's delight, that in their bio of Papi (not "Pappy," Berman, you idiot) that they've included a quote from my post on this site after his walkoff homer against the Orioles last season. (About a dozen walkoffs ago, correct?) As I mentioned, I don't recall writing these words, but I think they hold up in describing his finest year yet, Joe Maddon be damned:

"He's Mo Vaughn with an uncanny knack in the clutch and no strippers-and-bacon-sandwiches baggage. He's Reggie Jackson without being an arrogant, phony $%%#@. He's Dave Henderson with more ability, more pure power, more duende. He is the greatest clutch hitter you, your dad, your granddad, and in all likelihood, your unborn children will ever see. He's Big Papi, larger than life, bigger than the biggest moments."

Yeah, that's about right. A+

Manny Ramirez (.306-24-65): I'm white. I have something of a pulpit. And while I'm only 36, my midsection suggests middle age is approaching faster than I care to admit. All of that considered, I'm afraid it's my obligation to rip Manny for not attending last night's all-important exhibition game. I don't want to be a hypocrite, mind you. Personally, I'd like to acknowledge Manny as the most consistantly great righthanded hitter I've ever seen, as a much-improved defender, as an endearing, happy-go-lucky goof whose occasional adolescent misbehavior is something I long ago accepted as part of the package. But instead, my demographics demand that I yelp and yowl and stand on my creaky soapbox and defend the Ye Grand Ole Game in front of an audience that has long since tuned me out. With all the indignance I can contrive, I must demean Manny for the Way He Disrespects The Game, even as My Beacon Of All That Is Good, the gritty and gutty Trot Nixon, airmails yet another cutoff man. It's my duty. It comes with the microphone and the Tostito gut. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go engulf another sandwich. A

Trot Nixon (.311-6-43): The batting average is lovely, but where'd the power go? Admiral Dirty Hat has as many extra-base hits as Scott Podsednik. B-

Mike Lowell (.307-11-46): The offensive resurgence has been a bonus, one very few of us expected. But the real treat in watching Lowell on a daily basis is his defense. Does he ever make a throw that's not right on the money? A-

Jason Varitek (.232-9-40): Uh-oh. Is this a prolonged slump . . . or is it the predictable decline of a catcher on the wrong side of 30? I'm not sure I want the honest answer. C-

Coco Crisp (.268-4-14): He was dazzling in that opening road trip, got hurt, and has been playing catch-up every since. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt at the plate - a hand injury can really mess with your swing - but I have to admit I'm a little disappointed in his defense. He takes terrible routes to line drives in the gap, and too many seemingly catchable balls fall in front of him. I thought Johnny Damon slipped a lot last season, but last year's Damon was a better defender than this year's Crisp. C-

Alex Gonzalez (.284-5-27): All right, y'all have convinced me. He's the best defensive player ever to wear the Red Sox uniform. If he hits above .270 - and considering the overtime he's putting in with Papa Jack, I think he will - I hope the Sox keep him around beyond this season. B+

Curt Schilling
(10-3, 3.60 ERA): He's not quite what he used to be - he has a maddening new habit of giving back runs right after the Sox put a few on the board - but he still defines the term "workhorse," and there's no one else I'd want on the mound in a game of consequence. Thank the baseball god above that he returned to health after his lost 2005. B+

Josh Beckett
(11-4, 4.75):I expected more, which is saying something considering he's on pace to win 21 games. It's easy to forget, because of his early big-league success, that Beckett is still a kid himself, just a few months older than Jonathan Papelbon. He still has some growing to do, both as a pitcher and in terms of maturity. His knack for giving up home runs (26, or roughly one every four innings) is a mystery, but something tells me that if he can knock off the macho b.s. on the mound and start pitching rather than daring them to hit his heat, the number of baseballs leaving the ballpark will decrease rapidly. Ah, well. At least he hasn't had any blister problems. C+

Tim Wakefield
(7-8, 4.05): As consistent and reliable as a knuckleballer can be. Let's hope this back flareup doesn't become a chronic hindrance, or we might suddenly realize how much some of us take him for granted. B

Jon Lester
(4-0, 3.06): The 20 walks in 32.1 innings are alarming, and I'm worried about . . . ah, hell, who am I kidding? I'm as giddy as the rest of you. Not only does he have top-of-the-rotation stuff (once he sharpens his command, of course), but I'm sure I'm not the only one still blabbering about the humongous cojones the kid must have to throw David Wright a 3-2 curveball with the bases loaded. He is as good as they said. B+

Matt Clement
(5-5, 6.61): He won five? Really? Here's a prediction: Clement has thrown his last straight fastball as a member of the Red Sox. John Henry will be paying the Pirates (or the Brewers . . . or the Padres . . .) to take him off our hands once he proves healthy. I'd say he never should have come to Boston in the first place - clearly he isn't made for this city, and vice versa - but I have vague recollections of a decent first half last season. Must be another hallucination. F

Jonathan Papelbon
(0.59 ERA, 26 saves in 29 chances): I've run out of superlatives for this Clemens/Gossage hybrid, so let's just throw out a couple more statistics. In 46 innings, he's allowed 25 hits and walked only 8 while striking out 47. That's a hell of a Strat-O-Matic card. A+

Mike Timlin
(4-0, 2.59): He's 40, his velocity is down, and his shoulder hurts. Good thing he can still get batters out just by making eye contact and scaring the living hell out of them. B-

Manny Delcarmen
(1-0, 3.52): Good thing the Sox refused to include him in the Crisp/Marte deal with Cleveland. He's got a classic bullpen power arm, his 12-to-6 curveball is shaping up to be a strikeout pitch, and the likeable local boy no longer seems awestruck when he comes into the game at Fenway. I'm a believer. B

Craig Hansen
(1-0, 4.63): I don't know if it's Al Nipper (I'm skeptical) or one of the minor league pitching coaches, but someone is doing fine work preparing these kids. Hansen has come along way from the raw chucker we saw during last September's desperation. He's lost most of the unnecessary kinks in his motion and repeats his delivery pitch after pitch. The result seems to be better movement on his fastball and better command of his breaking stuff. He might mean to this season what Papelbon meant last year. B-

Javier Lopez
(5.40): His success against Jim Thome bodes well, but I still say they should have kept Mike Myers. C

Keith Foulke
(5.63): Ignore what Johnny from Burger King says. We'll always have October 2004, and we'll always wonder if you sacrificed the rest of your career to make our baseball dreams come true. C-

Julian Tavarez (4.56): At the risk of annihilating my last shred of credibility, I think he can still help. Sure, he's nuts, but he's got a long track record of being effective, he's pitched for good teams, and his fastball still has good movement. He's not going to be your eighth-inning bridge to Paps, but there are worse alternatives. (Like the next guy . . .) D

Rudy Seanez (4.86) Just go back to the NL already and we'll pretend this inexplicable sequel never happened, 'kay?. F-

Alex Cora
(.300): Fast becoming known as the RemDawg's man-crush. Tito seems pretty fond of him, too, and with good reason: Cora does something every time he plays that makes you say, "Wow, that was smart." I can't think of a better utility player in Sox history. A-

Gabe Kapler
(.355) It's impossible not to like Kapler, because he's one of the good ones. But I never realized I'd actually miss him as a player until enduring the Dustan Mohr experience for a couple weeks. Welcome back, indeed. B

Wily Mo Pena
(.321, 4 homers): He's younger than, what, all but five current members of the Sea Dogs? Give him time and give him a chance, will ya? C

Doug Mirabelli:
(.175): Congratulations to the 'EEI banshees for raising the "BAHHHHHD CAN'T CATCH A KNUCKLAH!!" panic level to the point that the Sox felt obligated to trade improving Josh Bard for Wakefield's calcified caddy. I'm still dismayed Theo found this necessary. F

Willie Harris
: (.159): He should never be allowed to swing a Louisville Slugger in anger, but hey, he made a disaster-averting throw to get Gathright, his jet-pack legs have proven useful on occasion, he's versatile defensively, and his teammates adore him. What more do you want from the 25th man? C

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