Red Sox Report Card: Dishing Out Midseason Grades After Great First Half

There are plenty of high marks to go around


Jul 13, 2021

Despite the post-mortems after three games, the Boston Red Sox had an excellent first half. Sure, they limped into the All-Star break, but the first three-plus months nevertheless provided compelling, entertaining baseball.

As such, our latest report card is far more positive than our previous three versions.

With teams taking a breather for the Midsummer Classic, we went ahead and dished out midseason grades for the Red Sox players and coaches. It wasn’t easy, as the Red Sox have enjoyed some overachieving. Still, we’re confident in the results.

Let’s get into it:

Grade: B
Christian Vázquez got off to a hot start, hitting .458 with a pair of homers over his first seven games. He’s cooled off since then, however, entering the All-Star break with a .261 average to go along with four homers and a surprising eight stolen bases. Ultimately, you’ll take that kind of production from a catcher all day. He also remains one of the best defensive catchers in baseball, and has the fourth-highest Fangraphs WAR among all big league backstops.

Kevin Plawecki also has been solid, when healthy, and Conor Wong looked decent in his limited opportunities. Catching fortunately remains a strength for this team.

First base
Grade: C-minus
There’s no way around it: The Red Sox need more from Bobby Dalbec, and whomever else plays first base in the second half.

Boston first basemen delivered an MLB-worst -1.3 Fangraphs WAR in the first half. Dalbec, Marwin Gonzalez, Danny Santana and Michael Chavis all failed to provide consistent, reliable production. Dalbec came the closest, hitting 10 homers in the first half, and has shown the most promise. But his strikeouts remain a huge concern. Defensively, he, and everyone else, are fine, but nothing exceptional.

How Boston proceeds at the position will be a storyline worth monitoring. At the very least, Dalbec’s struggles against right-handed pitching likely will serve as an impetus for the Red Sox at some point adding a left-handed first baseman.

Second base
Grade: C
This is a weird one. Going into the season, Kiké Hernández seemingly was set up as the everyday second baseman with Christian Arroyo serving as a bench option and Gonzalez filling in when necessary. Now, Hernández essentially is the everyday center fielder — and excelling in the role — while Arroyo is the primary second baseman, when healthy.

The Red Sox might be content with that configuration moving forward. Arroyo was a revelation when healthy in the first half, hitting .264 with five homers while playing above-average defense and showing a flair for the dramatic. He needs to keep it up, though.

Grade: A-plus
The easiest grade on this list. Xander Bogaerts was the best shortstop in baseball — sorry, Fernando Tatis Jr. — in the first half, and was a worthy starter for the American League All-Star team.

He led all shortstops in batting average (.321) and ranked near the top in most offensive categories, while also playing solid defense. Bogaerts finished the first half with 15 homers and a 3.9 WAR. Plus, besides Alex Cora, Bogaerts is the face of the franchise and the leader in the clubhouse.

Third base
Grade: A
Another easy player to grade. Rafael Devers was awesome in the first half, also earning an All-Star nomination for his efforts. He led all big league third basemen in homers (22), RBIs (72), slugging percentage (.564) and Fangraphs WAR (3.5).

Devers also made great strides in the field, finishing the first half with the eighth-highest Fangraphs defensive rating. He did commit an MLB-high 13 errors, but most of those were made early in the season.

The 24-year-old is a legitimate star, and still is getting better.

Grade: B-plus
This would be a different (worse) grade if we were judging Boston’s outfield based on its performance over the first month. However, for the majority of the first half, Red Sox outfielders were quite good.

Hunter Renfroe turned in an All-Star-caliber first half, hitting .263 with 13 homers while being arguably the top defensive right fielder in the game. Alex Verdugo was all-around solid, and emerged as an emotional leader for the team. Hernández struggled for a while but caught fire at the end of the first half, entering the break with a .237 average and 11 homers, as well as an apparent grip on the leadoff spot.

Left field was an adventure, with the initial Gonzalez-Franchy Cordero platoon eventually giving way to a consistent Verdugo-Hernández-Renfroe alignment. All told, Red Sox outfielders compiled a 3.4 Fangraphs offensive WAR, good for 18th best in baseball. Again, that number is despite a rocky first month-plus.

The big question: Will top prospect Jarren Duran join this group in the near future?

Designated hitter
Grade: A
J.D. Martinez was arguably the hottest hitter on the planet over the first month, hitting .351 with nine homers and a laughable 1.175 OPS in April. In the ensuing 59 games, he hit .278 with nine homers and an .824 OPS.

So, he cooled off a bit. Still, he was a force in the middle of the lineup throughout the first half, and more than deserved his spot on the American League’s All-Star roster.

Starting pitching
Grade: B
If this grade were based solely on numbers, it probably would be much lower. Red Sox starters combined to post a 4.47 ERA in the first half, good for 10th-worst in baseball. But we’re going to base this grade — and only this grade — on how the rotation performed relative to expectations.

Nathan Eovaldi (All-Star), Nick Pivetta and Martín Pérez all gave Boston a chance to win on most days they pitched. In many cases, they were much better than that. Eovaldi’s 3.66 ERA was tops on the staff, and Pivetta flirted with a sub-4.00 ERA before entering the break with a 4.30. That Pérez provided seven wins and a 4.04 ERA was one of the great surprises of the first half.

Eduardo Rodriguez and Garrett Richards were different stories. Rodriguez never looked comfortable in the first half, as evidenced by his 5.52 ERA. Richards was, and seemingly will remain, a total wild card.

Ultimately, the Red Sox will need more from their starters if they want to make a deep postseason run. But the first-half performance of the rotation was a major reason for Boston entering the break tied for the league lead in wins.

Grade: A-minus
You can poke holes in any bullpen, and the Red Sox relief corps is not immune to criticism. But, at this point, Boston can confidently say it boasts one of the best bullpens in baseball.

Anchored by All-Star closer Matt Barnes, the Red Sox bullpen tied for the fourth-best WAR in the first half. The 3.57 ERA ranked eighth. Boston relievers combined to go 21-10, a sign they both preserved leads and kept games close long enough for the offense to make a comeback.

In addition to Barnes, Adam Ottavino, Hirokazu Sawamura, Josh Taylor and, especially, rookie Garrett Whitlock were great in the first half. Darwinzon Hernandez even proved to be a reliable piece in the middle innings.

And reinforcements surely are on the way. Whether they be in the form of a minor league callups, trades or even Chris Sale remains to be seen.

Coaching staff
Grade: A
Cora has a made an enormous difference — there’s no disputing that. He’s reinstalled a swagger and confidence that went dormant for a while, but always was there. Cora also has done a masterful job managing the bullpen and positional depth.

But hitting coach Tim Hyers deserves some praise, as does pitching coach Dave Bush.

Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images
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