Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

DEFENSE RULES THE DAY

THE RECONSTRUCTED SOX DEFENSE SHOULD HELP THEIR PITCHERS AND REDUCE RUNS SCORED AGAINST THEM

The Sox made a smart move by committing to only a one-year, $3 million dollar deal with shortstop Alex Gonzalez. The free agent had been seeking a two-year deal worth a reported $10 million. The Sox don't need to be committed that long, or for that much, to a guy who has a such hard time handling the bat. That's because they have young Dustin Pedroia, their No. 1 pick two years ago, waiting in the wings. He should be ready to go in 2007.

Gonzalez, who will be 29 at the start of spring training, is a defensive whiz who struggles at the plate. He's .245 career hitter with a career on-base percentage of just .291. But Gonzalez made some nice improvements last season with the Marlins. His 31 walks were just two off his career high and, more impressively, his strikeout total shrunk from a career-high of 126 in 2004 down to 81. Continuing that trend, his on-base percentage increased to .319 while his batting average rose to . 264.

Working with hitting coach Ron Jackson should be of great benefit to Gonzalez, and could help continue the improvement of his stroke. In each of "Papa Jack's" first 2 years with the club, the Sox led the majors in runs, batting average, doubles, extra-base hits, total bases, on-base percentage and slugging.

Jackson's tutelage should also aid the reemergence of third baseman Mike Lowell, who along with Gonzalez constituted the left side of the Marlins infield for the last several years. Lowell was the 2005 Gold Glove winner after committing just six errors in 135 games at third. And in 2004, Lowell set a NL record for the fewest errors (7) by a third baseman playing in a minimum of 150 games. But after being a consistent offensive force for the previous five seasons, in which he averaged 25 homers, 95 RBI and a .280 average, Lowell had an off year offensely, experiencing career lows in batting average (.236), home runs (eight) and RBI (58).

What's impressive about Lowell's stats in those previous years was that he was able to be so productive playing in what is known as a pitcher's park, Dolphins Stadium. Fenway Park, as well as Jackson, should help Lowell's return to form. You've got to figure that he really wants to prove himself to his new teammates, coaches, as well as the Boston fans.

One way or the other, the Red Sox defense figures to be significantly improved this season with Lowell, Gonzalez, Mark Loretta at second, and JT Snow at first. If Kevin Youkilis proves to be as able at first as he was at third, then he will provide solid defense as well. And with Alex Cora coming off the bench late in games when the Sox hold a lead, or to rest a starter on any given day, the Sox should be in fine shape. Even with his below average arm, Coco Crisp should also be an upgrade in center over Johnny Damon, who may have the weakest throwing arm in the Majors.

Copyright © 2006 Kennedy's Commentary. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

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