Well, one month in the books. Sample sizes out there are still teeny tiny but reading through tea leaves, expectations going forward can indeed be discerned!
Let’s start by taking a look at some members of the Red Sox.
For example, Will Middlebrooks has six home runs, but outside of his three-home run game has struggled. The righty has a 30% strikeout rate and appears to be pressing at the plate with a sub 4% walk rate. Owners, yours truly included, need to be legitimately concerned that this might result in a benching or demotion. The one thing that might keep Middlebrooks in the lineup is the lack of a player at the MLB or Triple-A level in the Red Sox organization that could adequately replace him.
Mike Napoli, meanwhile, is playing quite over his head with a .287/.342/.602 line despite a strikeout rate of over 34%. But then again, no one drafted him for batting average help. A significant batting average drop off and general streakiness given his approach are the norm for the catcher/first baseman.
All the spring noise of Joel Hanrahan being the guy as the Red Sox’s closer was just that, noise. If Bailey proved to be healthy, it was only a matter of time until the former Oakland Athletic spirited the job away. Bailey is looking even better than vintage, armed with a 14.6 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 while averaging close to 95 mph on his fastball. Shoulder permitting, Bailey could have the closer’s job for the rest of the season. Even with both pitchers healthy, it would be hard for the Red Sox to justify switching back to Hanrahan given the disparity between the two pitchers' career command and control skills. Bailey’s are simply more ideal for high leverage situations.
Ike Davis owners should remain patient. The lefty is still showing pretty much the same patient, power-oriented approach as in the past. In other words, Davis is having a reverse Napoli moment where as time passes, a push towards the .240s should be expected, particularly if the lefty’s strikeout rates drop slightly to align more with his other two full seasons in the Majors.
Jon Niese owners may have some minor cause for concern despite a 3.31 ERA. The lefty has managed just a 4.7 K/9 as contrasted to his career palindrome mark of 7.4. I am not as concerned about Niese’s rise in BB/9 rate as much of the damage in his 3.6 BB/9 was accomplished in just two starts when he walked a combined seven batters. Niese has walked fewer batters combined in his other four starts. The most notable change I can find is a heavier reliance on his changeup, moving up a full 10% of the time, but pitch f/x reveals that while the change has not been all that effective, neither have been the other pitches save his fastball. So far, Niese’s batting average on balls in play, HR/FB, and left-on base rates are all not overly inflated or suppressed, so for now certainly hold onto him as he is mostly pitching within his skills, but keep tracking those strikeout rates.
Heading over to Seattle, Dustin Ackley owners should be extremely concerned. The former 1st round pick has not shown much, if any, skill development and has a very empty .245/.283/.277 slash. It does not help Ackley’s cause that he is not a natural middle infielder. Nick Franklin, meanwhile, is batting .400 in Triple-A with three homers and four steals while drawing almost twice as many walks as strikeouts yet making contact nearly 90% of the time. While Franklin does not project to be a star, the switch hitter does have long-term .280+ 15-15 potential and enough defensive skill to handle shortstop adequately enough to start, let alone second base. Redraft leaguers should be stashing Franklin if they have not already done so.
Rick Porcello had an amazing spring that lead some to believe that this was the beginning of a new era in which the 24-year-old would finally begin to miss bats and become the middle to upper end of the rotation starter many envisioned when he was originally drafted by the Tigers. While Porcello’s control numbers are in line with his career, the righty has been missing even fewer bats than usual with just eight strikeouts in 19.1 innings of work. On Porcello’s side pointing towards at least some improvement are a .347 BABIP, 49% left-on-base rate and 15% HR/FB ratio. In other words, these numbers should all regress towards the mean. What that doesn’t tell us, however, is whether or not he’ll be any good. Overall, Porcello’s skills still point to a mid to upper 4’s ERA. Last year’s fifth starter, Drew Smyly, is waiting in the wings in middle relief and has been extended on multiple occasions this season, working 18 innings in relief (or one fewer than Porcello) with more than a strikeout per inning and just five walks allowed. As with Franklin, Smyly, even though he is not performing in a significant role at the moment, should be rostered in AL-only leagues.
The A’s are utilizing a platoon situation where Jed Lowrie is in the lineup every day playing either 2B or SS depending on whether they are facing a righty or lefty. In other words, it’s really just a Eric Sogard/Adam Rosales platoon with Lowrie shifting positions. This situation may not last for much longer with both Grant Green and Jemile Weeks hitting pretty well in Triple-A. Green has four homers and a .321/ .397/.500 slash while he continues to make contact more than 85% of the time and is showing improved plate discipline in his second season in Triple-A. Weeks has shown himself to be overmatched and oft-injured over his professional career, but the switch-hitter is once again tantalizing with leadoff hitter walk/contact and speed skills in the Minors. Keep an eye on both players.