Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Brock Star All-Star?

Holt has had an All-Star impact on the Sox this year (CBS Boston)
If you had predicted before the season that a) the Red Sox would have only one All-Star representative and b) it would be Brock Holt, you might have been committed to an insane asylum shortly thereafter.

For starters, Holt lacked the track record and name recognition of more talented (and expensive) teammates such as David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Pablo Sandoval, and Hanley Ramirez. An everyday player for the first time in 2014, Holt had tailed off mightily in the second half, posting a .548 OPS after the All-Star Break. Holt had been exposed and worn down, making his All-Star caliber first half (.834 OPS) look like a flash in the pan. As such, he seemed better-suited for a bench role and did not crack the team's Opening Day lineup. Finding steady playing time, let alone standing out on Boston's star-studded roster, seemed unlikely.

And yet, the 27 year-old Holt has find a way to do both. He's appeared in 66 of the team's 84 games to date, becoming a regular in John Farrell's lineup card. That's largely a byproduct of the versatility that has allowed him to play every non-pitching and catching position, though I'm sure he'd do either if you asked.

Of course, Farrell has to find a way to get Holt into the lineup everyday because he's been arguably Boston's best player. His 3.1 bWAR rank second on the team only to Mookie Betts (FanGraphs has him third after Betts and Clay Buchholz), and his .383 OBP leads the Sox. He's 10th in the AL in bWAR, seventh in OBP, and ninth in triples with four.

It's not just his elite production which makes him among the team's most valuable players to date: it's that versatility. His ability to play anywhere and everywhere gives Farrell the flexibility to rest a different regular every night if he so chooses. The breathers players receive while Holt holds down their positions can at least partially explain why seven Sox have played at least 80 percent of the team's games thus far. The best medicine for a long baseball season may, in fact, be Brock Holt.

Holt also acts as an emergency dressing, capable of filling in when players inevitably go down. He's already filled the void left by injured All-Stars such as Shane Victorino in right and now Dustin Pedroia at second. His all-around abilities ensure a seamless transition when a player is lost for an extended period of time, preventing Farrell from relying on an inferior replacement and lessening the need for Ben Cherington to seek help on the trade market or prematurely promote a minor leaguer. Who knows how many nights of sleep Holt has saved for his superiors?

Not only has he been one of Boston's best players, but he also brings his best everyday regardless of where Farrell plays him or slots him in the batting order. A true sparkplug, he provides tremendous energy and enthusiasm on a daily basis, which is truly invaluable to a slumping, frustrated group like the Red Sox. He's great for morale, and you can't ask for more out of a player.
As good as Holt has been, Betts (and Buchholz) have been better (Buffalo Sox)
Now for the real matter at hand: as Boston's lone All-Star representative, has Holt--as the title suggests--been Boston's best player thus far? Did Ned Yost, manager of the AL squad, make the right call in selecting him?

The numbers say no. B-R has Betts leading the Sox in WAR, while FanGraphs has Buchholz pacing the club with Betts second. Two Red Sox are batting over .300, and neither one is named Holt. His two home runs are one fewer than Alejandro De Aza has hit since joining the Sox, even though De Aza has been with the team only a month. Holt leads the team in OBP and positions played and...that's it.

Betts would have been a better choice. Not only has the 22 year-old phenom been Boston's most exciting player, but he's also been unequivocally better than Holt. His OPS (.799) is virtually the same as Holt's (.807), but he's maintained it over 99 additional plate appearances. In fact, Betts leads the team in games played as well as plate appearances, plus hits, doubles, steals, and total bases. He's also second on the team in RBI despite seeing the lion's share of his at-bats at the top of the order and the rest towards the bottom when he was briefly moved down. Not surprisingly, he leads the Sox in both baserunning and offensive value.

Even more impressively, Betts has done all this not only as a second-year player, but also while manning center field in all but four of Boston's games. No major leaguer has played more games in center than Betts, who ranks fourth in the bigs in putouts and assists. He's been one of the league's smoothest center fielders despite coming up as a second baseman, only to be converted following Jacoby Ellsbury's defection to New York.

One could also make the case that Clay Buchholz, who just pitched the team's first complete game of the season, was more deserving of the honor. A two-time All-Star (most recently in 2013), Buchholz has re-established himself as team ace in the wake of Jon Lester's exit and a miserable 2014. He hasn't just been the best pitcher on the Red Sox: he's been one of the best pitchers in the American League. He's currently in the top 10 in pitcher bWAR, innings pitched, strikeouts, walk rate, and K/BB ratio. He's also flashing the league's lowest home run rate--truly impressive considering he pitches half his games in front of the Green Monster--and fourth-best FIP.

Dustin Pedroia (.306/.367/.452) would have been a better choice, too, if not for his hamstring strain, but his injury and strong competition at the keystone (Jason Kipnis, Jose Altuve, Brian Dozier) ruined his chances. Pedroia, 31, is also much more accomplished, having made the All-Star team four times before to go along with his Rookie of the Year, MVP, two World Series rings, and four Gold Gloves. Now in his 10th season, he is a fixture in Boston and well-known by baseball fans across the world for his towering success in spite of his diminutive stature.

And what about Xander Bogaerts, maybe the best and clearly one of the top two shortstops in the American League this year (the other being onetime teammate Jose Iglesias)? It's possible the fans will elect him in the Final Vote (consider this my plug!), but that seems unlikely given that a Royal--Mike Moustakas--is on the ballot alongside him.

So while Holt was not a bad choice, there are several Red Sox who have been better than him this year. One of them should be making the trip to Cincinnati next week instead.

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