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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Should the Red Sox be concerned about Will Middlebrooks?

It’s been a little over a calendar year since the Red Sox called up Will Middlebrooks to the majors. Kevin Youkilis went on the DL, and Middlebrooks took over and won the hearts of Boston fans, even in the midst of a miserable season for the Sox. In his first 41 games, he hit .326/.365/.583. It was a fantastic line, especially for a rookie. His performance, coupled with injuries to Youkilis, caused the Red Sox to trade the veteran to Chicago for some mediocre prospects. Since that trade on June 24, Middlebrooks finished up the year .244/.277/.423 in 34 games. Not the largest sample size, but also not a thrilling performance.

Still, Middlebrooks was a fan-favorite last year, a lone bright spot on a bad team. A quick glimpse at Middlebrooks’ 2012 peripheral stats show that maybe the team jumped the gun on handing him the hot corner position for the foreseeable future. His Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP; an indicator of luck) was .335, which shows that more of his batted balls dropped in for hits than normal. His strikeout rate was high, and his walk rate was low. However, this is pretty standard for a rookie.

2013 has not been kind to Middlebrooks. Despite his 3-homer game in Toronto early in the year, he hasn’t done much to earn confidence in Boston. In 32 games, he’s hit .192/.228/.375. Simply put, that’s terrible. However, I submit that it is not yet time to panic. While it seems that Middlebrooks has been around for a while already, it’s important to note that he still has only played 107 games in his career, and only has 413 plate appearances. That’s not even close to a full season. His numbers since the Youkilis trade have been poor, but he is just 24 years old, and a lot of his struggles can be attributed to a low BB rate and high K rate—not something that is a death sentence for a young player.

The Red Sox have even less reason to panic due to XanderBogaerts, a young infielder coming up in the system. Bogaerts is a stellar 20-year-old prospect in AA Portland, and while he currently plays shortstop, he is projected to move to either 3B or LF. This alleviates some of Boston’s concern when it comes to Middlebrooks; there is a valid backup option waiting in the wings. However, don’t give up on the kid yet. A left-side infield of Middlebrooks and Iglesias is still an attractive possibility for the next 5-10 years.

David Kramer

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