The Current Red Sox Youngsters Are Key to the Team's Long-Term Success

Barring a miracle, Boston isn't going to be playing October baseball, which turns the focus to 2015 and their struggling young players.

Boston Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington cheered just one year ago after his team came out of nowhere to win the World Series, and is taking responsibility for Boston's struggles this year.

Sitting at 43-52, he appeared on WEEI radio in Boston yesterday and admitted many of the moves he made in the off-season just haven't panned out.

"I think obviously our biggest issue, at least up until very recently, has been offensive production. I think our pitching has been good enough to win, we just haven’t produced offensively."

How true that is.

2014.246 (13).323 (6).371 (15)367 (15)68 (13).309 (12)
2013.277 (2).349 (1).446 (1)853 (1)178 (5).347 (1)

As you can see in the chart above, last year the Red Sox led the American League in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, runs scored and weighted on-base average (wOBA), were second in batting average, and fifth in home runs. This year, they're last in runs scored and slugging percentage, 13th out of 15 teams in batting average and home runs, 12th in wOBA and sixth in on-base percentage.

Many of the veterans are either performing below their career averages or have been hurt. Dustin Pedroia's OPS is .729, compared to a career .815 mark. David Ortiz' OPS of .844 is far below last year's .959 and his career mark of .926. Shane Victorino, a key player in last year's title run, has just 99 plate appearances thanks to a hamstring injury and slipped disk in his back. Stephen Drew has been awful (.212 wOBA) in 101 plate appearances, and the Grady Sizemore experiment sure didn't work out (.276 wOBA in 205 plate appearances).

Daniel Nava, who has seen most of the plate appearances in Victorino's absence, has an awful OPS of .639, and the recently-released A.J. Pierzynski, with his .277 wOBA, was clearly an inadequate replacement for Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

It's certainly understandable why some would be worried about Pedroia, Ortiz and Victorino. Their ages (30, 38, and 33, respectively) dictate those concerns. But perhaps of greater concern is the slow start by so many of the younger, highly-touted players the Red Sox were hoping would step up in 2014.

Brock Holt279.327.371.463.3661.572.2
Jackie Bradley Jr.306.227.305.311.280-0.881.3
Xander Bogaerts367.235.311.348.296-0.640.1
Will Middlebrooks82.197.305.324.286-0.240
Mookie Betts37.235.278.382.293-0.13-0.2

The Red Sox were hoping Jackie Bradley would be able to take over center field for the departing free agent Jacoby Ellsbury, who signed with the New York Yankees. But so far, Bradley has been borderline terrible, with a nERD - our metric that measures how many more runs a lineup full of that player was worth over a 27-out game - of -0.88 and a wOBA that ranks 23rd out of 30 qualified American League center fielders. Ellsbury's wOBA, by the way, is eighth among AL center fielders.

Starting shortstop Xander Bogaerts was expected to replace free agent Stephen Drew, but his 0.1 fWAR (11th among 12 qualifying shortstops), nERD (-0.64), and wOBA of .296 (eighth among AL shortstops) forced Boston to re-sign Drew two months into the season. Since the start of June, Bogaerts is hitting .134/.175/.216, with a 3.5% walk-rate and 28.0% strikeout rate. There is a ton of talent there, and the odds are he'll start playing better at some point. If not, there are 29 other teams that would line up to trade for him.

The Red Sox hoped Will Middlebrooks, last year's starting third baseman, would take the next step forward this year after hitting 17 bombs in 374 plate appearances last year. However, injuries have allowed him to accumulate just 82 plate appearances this year, meaning Boston still doesn't know what they have in him. The next few months, provided he's healthy, will go a long way to determining what Middlebrooks' future is, and whether that future is with the Red Sox.

One of the reasons Middlebrooks could be feeling some heat is Brock Holt, who has 279 plate appearances at the hot corner this year, and is the one younger player who has actually produced for the Sox this year. Among American League third basemen with at least 250 plate appearances, Holt's .366 wOBA and .834 OPS are fifth-best. Middlebrooks is expected to return soon, meaning Holt will likely be forced into being a super-sub for the Sox, able to play pretty much everywhere else on the diamond.

Hopes are high that 21-year-old rookie outfielder Mookie Betts will turn out to be a player whose game matches his phenomenal name. His Major League sample size (37 plate appearances) is too small to make any real judgments about him, so ignore that -0.13 nERD and .293 wOBA for now. He's still learning the game hitting at the bottom of the Red Sox lineup, but should see plenty of at-bats in the second half in which to get more acclimated to Major League pitching.

Boston is going to approach the last three months of the 2015 season seeing which pieces they feel are a part of their future, particularly the younger players mentioned above. There's a lot of talent there, and the Red Sox hope much of that talent will start show up in the box scores and on the field.