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Monday, April 27, 2015

Boston Red Sox: 10 Thoughts About The Start of Their 2015 Season

The Boston Red Sox are now nearly an eighth of the way through the 2015 regular season. With a record of 10-9, they have been decidedly uneven thus far, and much remains to be seen as to what they can and can’t accomplish by the time October rolls around. Although it is admittedly early, here are ten thoughts that have come to mind in watching the team in the early going.

-New left fielder Hanley Ramirez is just a professional hitter. He has been far and away the best player on the offensive side of the ball for Boston. With eight of his 21 hits having cleared the fences, it’s looking like playing his home games in cozy Fenway Park may help him raise his power numbers (although six of his homers have been on the road) even more than the 15-20 you can typically depend on from him.

-Will 40-year-old closer Kohi Uehara make it through the entire season without losing his job? Although he has had just one truly bad outing so far, there are alarming warning signs. Never a hard thrower to begin with, his fastball has declined significantly, with the average velocity on his heater in 2015 clocking in at 86.1 MPH according to FanGraphs. Similarly, the site shows he has thrown his fastball on just 15.3 percent of his offerings this year, which is about a third of his previous lowest rate. It’s reasonable to extrapolate that he, or perhaps the team, doesn’t have much confidence in that pitch right now.

-While on the topic of velocity, what’s the deal with starter Justin Masterson? The big righty has sat in the low 90s for much of his career but is logging a career-low 87.2 MPH fastball average in the early going according to FanGraphs. Many pitchers take the early part of their season to get their arms tuned up, but with Masterson’s injury woes last year, his continued drop in velocity might be a red flag. SBNation’s Justin Schultz explored this topic in depth last year.

-At one time, 25-year-old right-hander Matt Barnes was the top starting pitching prospect in the Red Sox’s system. However, he has worked exclusively out of the bullpen in two brief major league call-ups during the past two years, including this past week. It seems like it would behoove the team to see what they may have with him as a reliever. His mid-90s fastball and biting slider might just be what their relief corps (which lacks power arms) could use.

-Designated hitter David Ortiz has been striking out at the rate of once a game this year. While many players routinely post similar or higher rates this is noteworthy for him because he has not been this prolific at getting punched out since 2010 when his overall numbers were down and many believed he was nearing the end of his career. He subsequently made some adjustments in his approach and enjoyed several fine seasons since. At 39, he is in the waning years of his career and it has to be wondered if he is in decline and how many adjustments he may have left in him.

-Since being traded to Boston last summer, Allen Craig has combined for 16 hits in 120 at-bats, which computes to a miserable .133 average. That stint also includes 43 strikeouts and just three RBIs. He has never been able to regain his prior All-Star level production, and getting 2-3 at-bats a week with the Red Sox is not going to help remedy that. Barring needing him to fill in for a significant injury, it may be getting time to think about finding him a new start elsewhere.

-One pitcher who seems to be back to his old tricks is left-handed reliever Craig Breslow. After a stellar 2013 season, he bombed in 2014 to the tune of a 5.96 ERA and a 1.86 WHIP. It appears that the southpaw has tightened up his arsenal and is throwing his fastball and changeup more than he ever has previously, as shown by FanGraphs. The results have been 11 scoreless innings over his first seven appearances out of the bullpen, and being the early frontrunner for most reliable of all Boston relievers.

-Youngsters Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts have had varying degrees of success this season but the talents both flash indicate the team has two long-term impact players on their roster. Both have shown impressive plate discipline for players their age (both 22) and the fact they are getting lots of playing time will only speed up their development.

-The next prospect that needs similar treatment to the aforementioned Bogaerts and Betts is outfielder Rusney Castillo. Although the Cuban defector has been injured, the team did not pay him over $70 million to stay long in his current location of Triple-A Pawtucket. Right field has been a revolving door so far this year in Boston, so now that he nearly back healthy, it would seemingly make little sense to keep him down on the farm much longer.

-Finally, the Red Sox appear to have a lot of intriguing options at Triple-A in addition to Castillo should the need to augment their roster arise. Catcher Blake Swihart and outfielders Jackie Bradley Jr. and Bryce Brentz are swinging hot bats. Left-handed starters Eduardo Rodriguez and Brian Johnson have been almost unhittable in their first three starts. Even though fellow southpaw Henry Owens has uncharacteristic control problems, he has been more of an enemy to himself than any opposing hitters. Having an excess of young talent like this is an enviable problem for any big league team.

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