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BOSTON (CBS) — In baseball, the word “luck” has crept too far into analysis of players, with the notion of BABIP (batting average on balls in play) being more a function of good or bad fortune than it is of good or bad contact. In that sense, the concept of “luck” being the main determinant of baseball outcomes is a steaming hot pile of hogwash.
Still, with that being established, the Red Sox are rather lucky to have won the past two games.
More specifically, it was more the result of a fortunate decision by Bobby Valentine on Tuesday that led to Will Middlebrooks resting and Ryan Sweeney playing right field. Sweeney made a spectacular sliding catch to rob Brennan Boesch of a hit in the second, and he later made a great play by catching a laser to the warning track off the bat of Miguel Cabrera that would have scored two runs. Had either of those balls fallen, there’s no telling if Daniel Bard would have been able to get out of the jams that would have followed, and there’s no telling if the Red Sox would have gone on to win 6-3. Fortunately for the Red Sox, they didn’t have to find out because Sweeney made some above-average plays.
Jon Heyman: ‘Too Tempting’ To Play Gonzalez In Right
Cut to Wednesday night. Adrian Gonzalez was the starting right fielder. The Gold Glove first baseman has rightfully received much praise for his willingness to play the outfield in order to get Middlebrooks and Kevin Youkilis into the lineup at the corner infield positions. He’s shown a tremendous team-first attitude, one that is frankly refreshing to see in the age of the spoiled superstar. That’s all well and good, but he proved Wednesday night why he’s a horrible choice for Valentine to put into the cavernous right field at Fenway Park.
With Boston clinging to a 4-3 lead and the Tigers having two on with two outs in the seventh, Matt Albers induced a towering, shallow fly ball to right field off the bat of Cabrera. The ball may have traveled about 260 feet down the right-field line, and Gonzalez had a long way to run, perhaps somewhere around 150 feet. Gonzalez, though, is almost definitely the slowest outfielder in Major League Baseball, so by the time he got to the ball, he had to go into a desperation slide to try to make the catch. He failed, with the ball hitting him in the gut as he slid on the warning track, and he wildly threw the ball back into the infield as the tying run jogged home.
Consider that to be overwhelming evidence that Gonzalez manning the spacious right field at Fenway is a major liability for the Red Sox. You need only look one night earlier to see how crucial a couple of plays in the outfield can be to winning a ballgame.
Now, at the same time, Gonzalez proved just minutes later why he needs to remain in the lineup. It was just a few days earlier when Valentine removed Gonzalez from the lineup for defensive purposes after the sixth inning with the Sox holding a 1-0 lead over the Rays. Tampa quickly scored a pair of runs in the seventh, and when Scott Podsednik batted in Gonzalez’s place with the Sox trailing 2-1 in the eighth, he popped out. On Wednesday though, he stayed in the lineup, and he was able to stay on an offspeed Phil Coke pitch enough to drive the ball deep into right field to score what proved to be the game-winning run. Gonzalez was out ahead of a pitch on his front foot but was able to incredibly keep his hands back and drive the ball about 360 feet to right field, something maybe a handful of men on the planet could have done, and it led directly to a Red Sox win.
Consider that to be overwhelming evidence to the significance of keeping Gonzalez in the lineup.
But who should come out of the lineup? Youkilis? Middlebrooks? Well, neither. Middlebrooks hit an absolute rocket over the Green Monster in the fourth inning (it was the fastest ball to leave any ballpark all season), giving him six home runs in his first 24 games as a major leaguer. Later, Youkilis homered over the Monster himself to give the Sox a much-needed late insurance run.
Consider that to be overwhelming evidence that you need all three players in the lineup if you want to win.
Hell, add in David Ortiz’s bomb to center field, his 12th homer of the year, and you know you can’t just throw one of these three into the designated hitter spot, either.
So what’s the solution? Well, there’s no one, simple solution that will result in an ideal defensive alignment, but there are some better options.
For one, if Valentine or Ben Cherington or whoever is so adamant that Gonzalez stay in the outfield, then he must be put in whatever field has the least room to run (right field in Baltimore, left field at Fenway, right field in Philly, etc.). Granted, had Gonzalez been in left on Wednesday, it’s doubtful he would have thrown out Alex Avila at second base the way Daniel Nava did on Wednesday, but the Sox must be willing to sacrifice the possibility of a great play being made in order to guarantee a routine play is made.
If Gonzalez can indeed resume his Gold Glove position at first (he made a ridiculous scoop on Tuesday night, too, that contributed to a victory), then it wouldn’t be the worst thing to put Middlebrooks in the outfield. He said he’s never played out there in his life, but he’d be a better option than Gonzalez solely based on his speed. It’s not a good long-term plan, but if keeping Youkilis in the infield is solely to prove to interested trading partners that he’s healthy, it is a solution that could work for a month or so until a deal is made.
Basically, it comes down to Valentine and the Red Sox facing an odd situation. Admittedly, there’s no easy answer. But moving around two Gold Glovers in order for a rookie to stay at his natural position is a curious one.
The Red Sox are 8-3 since Gonzalez made his first start in right field in Philadelphia on May 19, but they’re playing with fire. They got burned (albeit briefly) Saturday night against Tampa, and they nearly got burned again on Wednesday.
Putting Gonzalez in right field at Fenway Park was an experiment worth trying, but it’s now proven to not be a dangerous, dangerous choice. It’s time for the Sox to move on to Plan B. Whatever it is, it’ll be a better option than this.