Red Sox Have Too Many Outfielders

The Boston Red Sox will soon face some tough roster decisions. With Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury currently on rehab assignments, things are about to get crowded in Boston’s outfield. Considering the team’s terrible luck with injuries, it’s crazy to think that one of the Red Sox’s weakest spots has now become a strength. And though Daniel Nava is playing out of his mind and Cody Ross is exceeding expectations, the outfield alignment could change dramatically in the next couple of weeks.

The Red Sox have dealt with a number of injuries in the outfield this year. Because of that, the team has been relying on Ryan Kalish, Daniel Nava and Cody Ross as everyday starters. But things are going to change very soon. Scott Podsednik has already made a couple of rehab starts, and Ryan Sweeney looked great while taking batting practice a few days ago. Both players are expected to return in early July. At the same time, Ellsbury and Crawford are on rehab assignments and are expected back some time after the all-star break.

Provided they are healthy, both Ellsbury and Crawford should immediately reclaim their starting roles. Ellsbury is coming off an MVP-caliber season in which he hit .321/.376/.552 and played great defense in center field. While Crawford’s performance was unimpressive last season, he’ll get a to show the Boston fans that he was worth his seven-year, $142 million deal.

So that leaves one starting spot for five players.

Player PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA WAR
Ryan Kalish 42 0.250 0.286 0.300 0.266 -0.4
Daniel Nava 176 0.294 0.411 0.462 0.385 1.9
Scott Podsednik 70 0.387 0.409 0.484 0.402 0.7
Cody Ross 205 0.287 0.358 0.575 0.390 1.9
Ryan Sweeney 183 0.292 0.330 0.404 0.319 1.0

Kalish is an easy bet to be sent down. He’s young — and he’s part of the team’s future — but his performance doesn’t justify keeping him on the roster this season. Podsednik is probably the next player to eliminate. He’s been great in 70 plate appearances, but he’s playing way over his head. He was acquired to be a stopgap while Crawford and Ellsbury recovered. Now that they are almost ready, Podsednik is expendable.

Sweeney’s performance has been admirable this season, but he hasn’t produced at the same level as Ross or Nava. Sweeney could stick around as the team’s fifth outfielder, but that depends on how the team plans to use Brent Lillibridge. Lillibridge can play multiple positions, and his versatility could make him a more useful option than Sweeney. At the same time, Lillibridge has hit just .157/.211/.171 this season.

That leaves Nava and Ross for the final startingspot. Both players have performed well this season, and neither deserves to be benched. The Red Sox do have an option, though. Nava has shown a rather large platoon split this season. He mashes righties to the tune of .340/.455/.530, but has been awful against lefties, hitting just .186/.308/.302. Ross, on the other hand, has been great against lefties this season and has hit .316/.403/.737. That could make for a pretty decent platoon.

In this scenario, though, Ross would get slightly penalized. While he’s been great against lefties, he’s also hit righties at a .274/.336/.500 clip. That’s good enough for a 121 wRC+. It also should be noted that Crawford isn’t a great hitter against lefties. Over his career, Crawford’s wRC+ is just 82 against left-handed pitchers.

There’s no reason easy solution here. Nava and Ross would make for an effective platoon, but at the expense of much less playing time for Ross. While that’s not entirely fair for Ross — who doesn’t have an extreme platoon split — that would be an easy way to maximize value at the position. If Crawford struggles in his return, or Nava begins to regress, the team can turn to Ross more often against right-handers. It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s an enviable one. For the first time this season, the Red Sox outfield is in good shape.



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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.



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Simon
Guest
Simon

Given that Nava isn’t really a .340/.455/.530 hitter against righties, would they not be better just to keep Ross, and use Sweeney as a 4th OF who can play all the OF positions in a pinch?

Derek R-C
Guest
Derek R-C

This is such a bad argument. He HAS been hitting .293/.408/.463 in the past 180 PA.

The point you are trying to make is that he will regress to a lower level because of his .345 BABIP. All I see though is a 13.3% BB and 16.7% K rates that are inline with his career minor numbers. He is hitting a 23.5% LD rate as well.

What stat out there says that he is not a good hitter?

Yirmiyahu
Member

I don’t know how much you know about Nava, but most folks in baseball don’t think he’s a good hitter. He went undrafted, played indy ball, and didn’t sign with the Sox until he was 25 years old. Scouts have never been impressed. And he was DFA’d and cleared waivers this spring. This is not a guy who’s supposed to have a major league career.

Let’s look at the stats in context. His career minor league stats are massively inflated by him playing at age-inappropriate levels. And as a pseudo-rookie at the big league level, he’s not getting many strikes thrown at him. When pitchers realize that a) he can’t hit for power, and 2) he won’t swing at bad pitches, they’ll start throwing more strikes and his walk rate is going to plummet.

Having said all that, I still think Nava is a worthwhile major leaguer, just not nearly as good as he’s been playing this year.

RC
Guest
RC

“he can’t hit for power,”

You can say a lot of things about Nava, but this is absurd.

He’s got a .170 iso in the majors this year, had a .150 ISO in AAA, .204 in AA, and .174 in A+.

This is what he is. He’s got enough pop to be dangerous.

He’s walked at a 13% rate at every level. He’s got 370 MLB PA at basically that level. This is who he is.

His rate stats have all improved as hes gotten more PA too (his 180 PA this year, vs last time, BB% up, K% down, ISO up, etc).

There’s very little reason to believe that Nava can’t hit MLB pitching.

Bob Zaffrann
Guest
Bob Zaffrann

Whoa. Put down the Kool Aid and walk away. While the Sox no doubt appreciate the tremendous production Nava has given while their OF has been decimated, they are well aware that he is not a MLB corner outfielder. He has plate discipline, but has below average power and defense. He also has no future upside. At age 28 in 2011, repeating AAA, he went .268/.372/.406.

Great results, with a .346 BABIP, over 46 games at age 29 is a meaninglessly small and luck-driven sample and doesn’t change anything.

Yirmiyahu
Member

Nava isn’t really a .340/.455/.530 hitter vs righties, but Cody Ross isn’t really a .274/.336/.500 hitter vs righties either.

There’s a couple of problems not mentioned in the article. One is that 5-of-7 of these guys can’t hit lefties at all. The exceptions are Ellsbury (a lefty with pretty even lifetime splits) and Ross (a righty with extreme splits).

Another problem is that while Nava’s done well in LF (he seems to have learned the quirks of the wall), he shouldn’t really be in Fenway’s large RF. He’s got no range and his arm is only average. Of course, Valentine has played Adrian Gonzalez in RF. But Nava will lose a lot of value if moved from LF to RF.

During the offseason, the arrangement on paper was Crawford, Ellsbury, and a Sweeney/Ross platoon in right. That still makes the most sense to me. And Nava’s a perfect sell high trade candidate anyway.

Derek R-C
Guest
Derek R-C

Except other teams don’t want to trade for him

RC
Guest
RC

The thing about Nava, is that despite never really being a prospect (hes too old, with his route through the independant leagues), hes hit like this at every level.

IE, he may not end up a .950 OPS hitter, but I’d be really surprised if hes below .850.Kid can hit.

whatever
Guest
whatever

I agree with the Nava comment; He will not continue hitting like that against righties. I do think that perhaps Ross can at least continue hitting close to his current tripple slash considering he is playing half his games in Fenway as an extreme pull hitter. Right handed pitchers have to respect him more in Fenway then they did in the Marlins old stadium or San Francisco.

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