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« Casper Wells, Skip Schumaker Put up Zeros in Blowouts | Main | The Annual Summer Inner City Classic »

Will Middlebrooks learn? Will the Red Sox?

When I was a kid, I felt like my dad was always teaching me something new about baseball.

One of the things he had to keep reminding me of is to contain my excitement about rookies when they first come up to the bigs. There were no such things like the sabermetrics and in-depth analysis that we have today, but he would always warn me, "Wait until the youngster goes around the league a second time. Wait and see if he can hit the curveball, because if he can't, the whole league will find out about it soon enough. And then we have to see if he's mature enough to be a big leaguer and make adjustments on and off the field."

Talk about a lesson in "Baseball Curb Your Enthusiasm."

But, the man knew what he was talking about, and he was right more often than he was wrong, and if he were around today he would talk about this in regards to Will Middlebrooks, who the Red Sox just sent down to Pawtucket not just because Jose Iglesias is hitting, but because the league caught up with him.

Middlebrooks was a Red Sox sensation at third base last season until a pitch broke his wrist on August. He had joined Boston in early May when Kevin Youkilis went on the disabled list with one of his numerous injuries to his back and he wasn't helped by mini-feud with one-and-done manager Bobby Valentine. For the PawSox, Middlebrooks had been hot hitting .333/.380/.667 with nine home runs and 27 RBI. 

Middlebrooks got off to a hot start to his MLB career.

Then he got hotter. He was named the American League Player of the Week for the period ending June 24, 2012 after batting .625 (10-for-16) with three doubles, three homers, 10 RBI and six runs scored in six games. 

On June 24, Youkilis was traded to the White Sox. The Red Sox had drank the Kool-Aid.

Not the whole story

When Middlebrooks' season ended in August he had what appeared to be pretty good numbers. The 23-year-old was hitting .288 with 15 home runs and 54 RBI in 75 games. He was fourth on the team in both home runs and RBI and his .835 OPS was good for third best.

But that really doesn't tell the whole story.

In Middlebrooks first 40 games, ending June 23, Middlebrooks was hitting .331, had a OBP of .368, and was slugging .592 with nine homers and 33 RBI.

Middlebrooks was slamming fastballs at a .380 pace and as you can see he owned the outer half of the plate hitting the fastball at a .478 pace.

While he was hitting well overall, the key was going to the opposite field, when he did that he was hitting .545.

The Rest of 2012

But, Middlebrooks season didn't end until August and as Youk was traded, the rookie hit his peak. Call it coincidence, hubris, or the second time around the league, but Middlebrooks was not the same batter in his final 35 games of 2012.

Middlebrooks was a .240/.276/.416 hitter with six homers and 21 RBI in 35 games.

He was now hitting the fastball at a .204 rate and when the fastball was on the outer half, he was hitting .174 and .192 on all pitches.

As for going to the opposite field? He was now hitting .227 and from the upper grandstands you could hear my father's "I told you so."

2013 was more of the same

Red Sox Nation started the 2013 season with a high degree of confidence that Middlebrooks was All-Star bound. Their enthusiasm knew no bounds when in the sixth game of the season, he slammed three homers amongst his four hits. But that really was more a reflection of the troubles of R.A. Dickey's struggles than Middlebrooks' success.

Middlebrooks was sent down with .192/.228/.389 numbers.

He was hitting .184 on the fastball and .163 on the pitch on the outer half of the plate and .153 overall on pitches on the outer half.

He was still only hitting .220 to the opposite field.

The bottom line

In the 88 games since last June 24, Middlebrooks hit .210 with a .246 OPS and he was slugging .299 with 15 homers, 46 RBI and 93 whiffs.

Don't be fooled, Jose Iglesias is the Red Sox third sacker today because Middlebrooks needs to learn how to make the adjustment to pitchers who made the adjustment against him.

And if the Red Sox have learned anything, that's what to watch for with Iglesias, and Daniel Nava as they make their plans for the second-half run in 2013. 

And all you Yasiel Puig fans out there: chill.

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Reader Comments (1)

While I appreciate your sentiment here, the platitudes your father spouted were neither "right" nor "wrong". Baseball is an extremely complicated game, and isolating success from failure takes a lot of work, both statistical and qualitative.

How much of this is due to "pitchers adjusting to him", especially considering how many pitchers found instant success against Middlebrooks without having faced him before? How much of this is a player going through his own struggles, which has little to do with what opposing pitchers are doing? What about Middlebrooks changing his approach, either because of last year's injury or due to overconfidence? Did you consider that Middlebrooks looked like a different hitter in spring training? Most importantly, what is the source of his extremely low BABIP this year?

This looks to be about far more than just "the kid got the jump on the league, they adjusted to him, and he didn't adjust back"...half the time, that's not even the truth. It's also foolish to call it "drinking the Kool Aid" that Boston traded away Youkilis and played Middlebrooks...the latter had truly nothing left to prove in the minors and was ready to earn big-league experience, while being cost controlled, and the former was on the decline and injury prone and part of the many clubhouse distractions on the team (outside of Middlebrooks's struggles, 2013 proves Boston was right in every way: Youkilis has struggled and been hurt, and the far improved clubhouse has transformed the team).

Most absurdly, please don't ever speak for a fan base again. Who thought Middlebrooks was "All Star bound"? Boston fans were looking forward to a good defender at the hot corner with power, but are educated enough in the ways of baseball to know that that is a far cry from "All Star".

I don't even know why you included "Will the Red Sox?" in your title here? The team has made all the right decisions with Middlebrooks so far. You mention Nava and Iglesias...please promise me you won't say "I told you so" if and when Iglesias hits a massive cold streak...the team knows what he is right now (NOT anywhere close to a .400, or even .300, hitter), hence why they didn't want to make him the full time 3B replacement and avoided it for as long as possible, and Nava has played his way into the job, not just been handed it.

This is an excellent topic to investigate, but man, I'm surprised by just how shallow this analysis is in spite of its use of heat maps and stats.

July 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDro

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