Struggling Red Sox still All-Star-worthy

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Whether you’re still basking in the glow of Boston’s third title in 10 years or you’ve invested your heart and soul in this year’s band of underachievers, you’ve likely been frustrated by the 2014 Red Sox.

The pitchers have done their job, but the defense behind them and more notably, the hitters, have failed to deliver on their offseason promise. With the All-Star Game around the corner, let’s take a look at what Red Sox, if any, deserve to be there.

We’ll start with the finisher. For better or worse, Major League Baseball still requires that each team be represented in the Midsummer Classic and really bad teams are often represented by a saves-compiler.

Koji Uehara has done far more than compile saves, though he does have 18. Prior to a few June hiccups, he was the best reliever in the American League and even after giving up three home runs in a week, his 1.19 earned run average is the best in the league. He strikes out well over a batter an inning and walks less than one ever seven innings. Opponents are hitting just .165 against him, and his 0.72 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) is fourth in the AL. This should come as no surprise, as Uehara’s career WHIP of 0.82 is by far the best in baseball history. No pitcher is better suited to close the All-Star Game than Koji.

The rest of the Red Sox bullpen has been great as well, particularly Andrew Miller, who’s striking out more than a batter and a half per inning, but there’s only so much room for relievers in the All-Star Game, so we’ll limit it to the best.

In the rotation, two pitchers have strong cases. Jon Lester’s 9-7 record won’t blow you away, and his 2.92 ERA ranks just 12th among AL starters, but his underlying numbers are better. Lester has struck out more than four times as many batters as he’s walked, and his 2.84 FIP (Fielding-Independent Pitching) ranks sixth. Adjust for the tough environment in which he pitches his home games and he’s second in the majors in pitching WAR (per fangraphs). John Lackey looked like an All-Star as well until his turns in Seattle and New York, when his ERA ballooned to 3.62 and his FIP jumped back over 3, dropping him to 13th in the league.

The AL All-Star pitching staff will probably include nine starters. Felix Hernandez, Masahiro Tanaka, and Yu Darvish are imperatives. I would round out the team with Lester, Mark Buehrle, Dallas Keuchel, Garrett Richards, Phil Hughes, and Scott Kazmir. John Farrell should also give serious consideration to Cleveland’s Corey Kluber, Detroit’s Max Scherzer and Lackey. Neither Boston pitcher is a lock, but Lester seems like a decent bet.

On the offensive side of things, it’s harder to give the Red Sox much credit. David Ortiz has 19 home runs and lots of star power, but he’s also batting just .249 and adds no value with his glove or legs. Nelson Cruz leads the fan voting at designated hitter, and Victor Martinez would be a better choice than Big Papi if Farrell wants two DHs on his team.

Mike Napoli’s offensive numbers are good (.279/.394/.465), but he’s missed some time with injuries and even if he had been healthy, it’s hard to compete with what Edwin Encarnacion, Miguel Cabrera, Brandon Moss and Jose Abreu have done this season.

By Wins Above Replacement, Dustin Pedroia has been the best position player on the Red Sox this year, accumulating 2.2 WAR. He’s also a fan favorite, but even with Robinson Cano shipped out west, he still stands in Pedroia’s way in fan voting. Furthermore, Ian Kinsler is having a stellar first season in Detroit, leading second basemen with 3.5 WAR Brian Dozier has 15 homers and 15 steals in Minnesota and Houston’s Jose Altuve leads the AL with a .347 batting average. There’s no room for Pedroia and his league-average bat this year unless he gets a lifetime achievement bump.

A month ago, when Xander Bogaerts was a shortstop, he looked like the best all-around shortstop in the American League. Of course, the starting gig is out of play with Derek Jeter propped up, Weekend at Bernie’s-style, for one last tour around the league, but Bogaerts looked like a reasonable choice as a reserve until the move to third base. Since June 4, when Stephen Drew played his second game with the 2014 Red Sox, Xander is 9-for-82 with just two extra base hits, a miserable .110/.141/.159 slash line. Meanwhile, Drew has hit an almost identical .133/.161/.183 since joining the team. Bogaerts has plenty of All-Star appearances in his future, but 2014 won’t be one of them.

The outfielders are hardly worth talking about, as Jackie Bradley, Jr., who has 50 hits and 77 strikeouts, actually leads the regulars in WAR with 0.6. Brock Holt is worth mentioning, as he leads the team in batting average (.321) and has made great plays all over the field as a utilityman, filling in for various wounded Sox. Let’s not forget, though, that Holt has still played just 48 big-league games this year, notching just 63 hits and 15 walks. Likely All-Star outfielders Mike Trout and Jose Bautista have reached base 140 and 146 times, respectively. Alex Gordon, Michael Brantley, Adam Jones, Yoenis Cespedes, and Melky Cabrera have had All-Star-worthy seasons as well.

At this point, it looks like only Koji Uehara and Jon Lester are worthy of a midseason trip to Minneapolis. With another great start or two, John Lackey might steal a spot, but he might just steal it from Lester. Short of a courtesy nod to Ortiz or Pedroia, it’s hard to see any other Boston player representing the league that’s been showing the Red Sox up for three months now.

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