With two game-winning hits against the New York Yankees over the weekend, Red Sox infielder Pedro Ciriaco seemingly cemented himself a roster spot going forward, in addition to finding a permanent soft spot in the hearts of the Boston faithful for his Yankee-killing ways and hustling play.
But as great as Ciriaco's been for the Sox thus far, and as loud as the cries may be getting for him to take over the regular shortstop role, Ciriaco is nothing more than a utility infielder at best, who, quite frankly, is just plain playing way, way over his head.
It's not that Ciriaco doesn't have some useful tools. He has great speed, the ability to bunt and can play both of the middle infield spots — dynamicism not to be undervalued for a team which has had to deal with so many injuries. However, the most straightforward way to pin Ciriaco's value is the fact that over 3,502 career minor league plate appearances, the infielder owns a .656 OPS, including a .649 mark in three years at the Triple-A level.
Basically, there's nothing in Ciriaco's eight-year body of work in professional baseball to suggest that he's capable of continuing to play at the level the Red Sox have seen so far.
The most obvious warning sign that Ciriaco is a fringe major league player at best was the fact that he couldn't even stick on a wide-open Pirates roster when he came up for cups of coffee in the 2010 and 2011 seasons. Amazingly, Ciriaco also seemed to raise his play in 23 games for Pittsburgh last year, knocking ten hits in 33 at-bats.
Still, even Ciriaco's pair of game-winning hits Saturday and Sunday evenings provide an apt metaphor for the 26-year-old's relative luck in his Boston career. Saturday's RBI triple in the eighth inning off of Yankees closer Rafael Soriano, for instance, was a ball that was misplayed by center fielder Curtis Granderson and should have been caught for the second out of the inning. And the infielder's Sunday bloop was just that — a fluky hit that was more attributable to random chance than sustainable skill.
Speaking of random chance, the facts and statistics absolutely back up the notion that Ciriaco is not capable of sustaining his current level of play — no player would be. For those not familiar with Sabermetrics, a player's batting average on balls put into play (BABIP) will always trend to the .300 mark — this is true for all players, regardless of skill set. A pitcher, too, will always see his opponents' BABIP trend to .300. Well, Ciriaco's mark in the 2012 season is .411, meaning that he's getting hits at an absurd rate, and that he's been very, very lucky.
No player in the history of baseball has ever sustained a .400 BABIP over any extended period. Albert Pujols can't do it, Barry Bonds couldn't do it, Babe Ruth couldn't do it — and Pedro Ciriaco won't continue to do it. And when he falls, he doesn't have the power skill set to keep his bat productive. If Ciriaco's not hitting singles, he's not hitting at all.
And it's not just Ciriaco's bat that's troubling. He has received more games at shortstop than at second base over the course of his minor league career, but doesn't seem particularly adept at either. The double play, specifically, is where Ciriaco has shown major issues with his footwork around the bag, often times taking extra steps or failing to shovel the ball out of his glove quickly. It's already cost the Red Sox a couple double plays, and nearly cost them a couple more.
Manager Bobby Valentine clearly recognizes the limitations of his young infielder, having intimated as such consistently throughout interviews.
"You're seeing him at his best and obviously every player has some flaws," Valentine said after Sunday's win. "I don't necessarily see him as a starting player every day, but he can do it if we need him to."
As a manager, perhaps it's not the most political move to hedge on a player who just won you games on consecutive nights, but they're honest comments, and telling. Valentine knows that Ciriaco is playing over his head right now ("every players has some flaws"), and that Mike Aviles is the better option at shortsop.
Again, all this is not to devalue Ciriaco completely as a player, as he clearly has some skills that can help the Red Sox going forward. However, continuing to give him regular at-bats isn't tenable going too far into the future.
As Valentine said, you're seeing Ciriaco at his best right now. Just enjoy it while you can, because he can't keep it up for long.