For Boston Red Sox fans, the American League standings look upside down. As play begins on April 18, the Red Sox are three games behind and in a last-place tie with Tampa Bay Rays at 7-9 while the New York Yankees lead the way at 10-6. As a full-time teacher, I am used to assigning grades based on the performance that I see. After 16 games, or one-tenth of the season, here is my first Red Sox progress report of the 2014 season.
Starting pitching: B
Red Sox starters are currently sixth in the American League in ERA. The top three starters, Jon Lester, Jake Peavy, and John Lackey, have pitched as well as expected. Peavy has not won or lost yet, but he leads the starters with a 1.93 ERA after three starts. Lester is next at 2-2, 2.17 ERA, and Lackey is 2-1, 3.86. Those three get an A to A+. The problems lie in positions 4 and 5. Clay Buchholz has not pitched anywhere near his 2013 form. He is 0-1, 5.51 in three starts so far. Felix Doubront is 1-2, 6.75. I expect both to step it up before long and improve their performance and grades (D and F) by the next report.
The bullpen is just as strong as it was last year with nearly the same staff. They lead the American League with a 2.37 ERA and are 5 for 6 in save opportunities (the Yankees are 8 for 8) but have a 2-3 record. Now that Koji Uehara is over his shoulder tightness, he is pitching like he did last year. He, Craig Breslow, Chris Capuano, and Junichi Tazawa have not allowed a single run in 22.1 combined innings. Burke Badenhop (7.36 ERA) and Edward Mujica (10.38) have had a lot of trouble so far, but Mujica does have two saves.
I judge offense mostly by runs scored. The Red Sox rank tenth in the league with 56 runs in 16 games, an average of 3.5. They are fourth among division teams with the Yankees leading at 4.0 runs per game. Last year, the Red Sox led all of baseball with 5.27 runs per game. Granted, 16 games is only one-tenth of a season, but if they do not start producing more, they could have a much tougher season. Getting Shane Victorino back soon will certainly help. Dustin Pedroia will hit like his usual self when his wrist heals, and David Ortiz and Mike Napoli can go on home run/RBI binges at any time.
The Red Sox are ninth in defense. They have a .982 fielding percentage and have committed 11 errors in 16 games. Compare these numbers to the league-leading Baltimore Orioles, who have a .994 fielding percentage and have committed three errors in 14 games. The Yankees are third in defense: .990, six errors in 16 games. The errors have led to seven unearned runs allowed, which is tied for the league lead.
Using a teacher’s grading scale, this overall grade averages out to a C, maybe C+ at best if I give extra credit to Grady Sizemore for playing above expectations (273, 2 HR, 5 RBI) to start the season. I would also consider the injuries that have kept Victorino and Will Middlebrooks out and led to Pedroia’s very slow start (.231, 1 RBI, 1 SB).
It is very early, and the Red Sox can and will improve their performance and grades as the season progresses. For now, though, they have had a poor start, especially considering that they are the defending World Series Champions.
Follow Raymond on Twitter @RayBureau.