How do you classify the 2010 Boston Red Sox campaign to date? Any answer has to be qualified, but how does this differ from any baseball season?
Success and failure in baseball depends on many factors, including the proverbial 'bad bounces', health and injury, as well as over/underproduction by players, coaches, and management.
Although the franchise has a fiduciary and 'moral' duty to win every year, even Theo Epstein acknowledged 2010 to be a 'bridge' year.
Transactions have to be judged over the long haul. So far, the insertion of numerous fill-ins, ranging from Darnell McDonald, Daniel Nava, Eric Patterson, and most recently Ryan Kalish has overall exceeded expectations. Adrian Beltre has simply been a revelation. Few Red Sox in their wildest dreams could have anticipated the contribution of Bill Hall, and Marco Scutaro has for the most part stabilized the shortstop position. Acquiring Jarrod Saltalamacchia at lottery ticket prices gives the Sox additional flexibility in the off-season.
Conversely, the bullpen has often been fragmented, Mike Cameron can't be awarded a grade other than incomplete, and aside from April, Jeremy Hermida looked like Tarzan and played like Jane. The free agent gem, John Lackey, has pitched inconsistently and in bad luck at times.
We have to remember the front office's patience with promising arms like Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, both of whom would be top of the rotation starters for every team in baseball. Daniel Bard has a trajectory that places him just outside all-star status. Felix Doubront has shown himself to be more a prospect than a suspect. We can only hope that Josh Beckett regains the form and consistency that marked his early career.
How could Terry Francona receive anything except for consideration for AL Manager of the Year? He has worked with an inconsistent lineup, an underachieving bullpen, and simply kept the team either in or at the fringes of competition with two hands tied behind his back.
John Farrell seems next in line to inherit a major league managing job. Numerous Sox pitchers have developed new pitches (e.g. Lester and Buchholz with the cutter) and it's difficult to know how much impact pitching coaches can have on grizzled veterans.
Tim Bogar might be the salt of the earth. I don't know him, but overall the "send 'em in, Tim" approach recalls the Wendell Kim era. DeMarlo Hale excelled at the third base coaching job, and if the season has anything worth saving, maybe he belongs back there.
I call this the Mark Belanger category. Belanger played in six ALCS and four World Series, all the while hitting a career .228. Yet in 1969 he hit .287 and he won eight gold gloves. Belanger didn't always hit, but he certainly knew how to help his club win.
Of course, the problem with the over/underachievement and incomplete list is injury. The Sox have had major injuries at every position except short, third, and right field. I have to use the "porn standard", that is, I know it when I see it.
David Ortiz ("Still the One")
Darnell McDonald, a career resurrection
Jason Varitek (didn't expect much coming in)
Kevin Youkilis (top 5 offensive player in the AL)
Dustin Pedroia (injury a major factor)
J.D. Drew (average, but not mediocre)
Daisuke Matsuzaka (the enigmatic one)
Victor Martinez, injury a contribution
Jacoby Ellsbury, injury his primary 2010 contribution
How much of these 'categories' reflect "randomness' versus 'trend' is questionable. My sense is that any objective categorization of Jonathan Papelbon's career would show 'negative trend', based on blown saves (maybe random), WHIP ratio (nonrandom), and strikeout to walk ratio (nonrandom). I'd be inclined to assign Beckett and Lackey to randomness. Is Adrian Beltre the Seattle underachiever, the Boston overachiever or someone in between? These are the decisions that management has to wrestle with in planning future contracts, acquisitions, trades, and disposition.
The players who have 'helped' themselves most this season are: Beltre, Hall, Kalish, McDonald, Bard, and Doubront. Nobody can label Lester or Buchholz as surprises, because as Yogi Berra would say, "you can see a lot by just watching".
Overall, with 50 odd games left, the Sox still have a chance for the playoffs. All things considered, the glass is half full...if you're drinking the Kool-Aid.