- Jeremy Lundblad, ESPN Stats and Information
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Saturday marks the official midway point of the Boston Red Sox's season, as they take the field for their 81st game. Defined as much by injuries as it was by great performances, perhaps no first half in recent memory has caused such dramatic swings in expectations. It provided a slew of bizarre trends, unique numbers and eye-popping statistics.
First with the position players, let's dive into the numbers behind a roller-coaster first half.
He's second in the majors with a .349 batting average and has the top OPS at his position. Clearly, much can be said about Beltre at the midway point of the season. So, here are just some of the finer points with help from STATS LLC:
• .340 batting average with two strikes -- second best in the AL over the past 20 years (Placido Polanco had .350 in 2007). Over the past 20 years, Nomar Garciaparra (.331 in 2000) is the only Red Sox player to hit over .300 with two strikes.
• .400 batting average with two outs -- highest by an AL player since Ichiro hit .407 in 2001. Over the past 35 years, Garciaparra's .376 in 2000 is the best among Red Sox players.
• .390 batting average with runners in scoring position -- leads the AL and is the highest by a Red Sox player since Manny Ramirez hit .435 in 2002.
You can understand why this stat exists, but that doesn't make it any better. Cameron has now gone 54 straight plate appearances without a walk. That's 14 straight games, his longest stretch since 1999. Perhaps he's trying to endear himself to the fans he's yet to win over. Or maybe he's looking to take full advantage of his chances knowing he's unlikely to be in the lineup the following day. Regardless, it's clear Cameron has taken a noticeably more aggressive approach at the plate. As a result, even though he's on pace for his highest batting average since 2006, it would be his lowest on-base percentage since 2003. Defensively, injuries have limited Cameron, who has minus-6 runs saved this season, according to Baseball Info Solutions. Red Sox center fielders as a whole are at minus-9, the second worst in the majors, ahead of only the Dodgers.
The Cal Ripken of the Red Sox outfield, J.D. Drew has twice started 14 straight games this season. That's not to say he's been particularly healthy. Drew has already missed time due to vertigo, neck stiffness and a hamstring strain. But Boston's cavalcade of outfield injuries has pressed Drew into action when he otherwise may have been given a game off -- particularly against tough lefties. In the past, Terry Francona did an excellent job of deciding which lefties to rest Drew against, and Drew responded by hitting .277 against southpaws over the previous two seasons. No such luxury has been possible this season. The result? Drew is on track for 164 plate appearances against lefties, a number he's topped only once in his career. He's hitting just .186 with a .518 OPS against lefties, both easily career lows. That has masked a tremendous season against right-handed pitchers, versus whom Drew is hitting .309 with a .959 OPS.
What's the biggest difference between the 2010 Bill Hall (.744 OPS) and last year's version (.596 OPS)? Just look at his numbers with two strikes. Last season, Hall hit .094 with two strikes, the worst for a major leaguer since Reggie Abercrombie and old friend Mark Bellhorn both hit .086 in 2006. But in 2010, Hall is hitting .198 with a .651 OPS with two strikes. Those are actually quite reasonable numbers when you consider the league averages are .185 BA and .538 OPS. All that says nothing of Hall's true value: his versatility. He's started a game at five different field positions, the most by a Red Sox player since Damian Jackson (six) in 2003. Oh, and Hall also pitched a perfect inning.
David Ortiz leads the Red Sox with an RBI every 4.2 at-bats this season. Would you believe that Jeremy Hermida is actually second? It's true, at least among those with 100 plate appearances. Despite hitting just .217, Hermida's RBI per 5.1 at-bats is better than Kevin Youkilis or Adrian Beltre. Of course, there is a very simple explanation. With runners in scoring position, Hermida is hitting .302 with 13 of his 30 hits on the season. When there's nobody on second or third, he's hitting a mere .179.
Going into May 29, Victor Martinez was hitting just .262 with a .770 OPS. Not exactly the numbers Boston wanted from its No. 3 hitter. Even worse, he'd thrown out only six of 62 would-be base stealers. That 9.7 caught-stealing percentage would have been the fourth worst in the AL over the past 20 years. That day against the Royals, Martinez nabbed Scott Podsednik, the first baserunner he'd caught in nearly a month. Including that, he's caught five of the past 24 base stealers (20.8 percent), and his bat has followed in tow. Before getting injured, Martinez hit .354 in June, best among all catchers. The connection between his catching and hitting should not be discounted, particularly when you consider how much better he has hit while behind the plate. When catching, Martinez is hitting a robust .312 with a .891 OPS. In his other 25 at-bats, he's managed just one hit. Over the past 35 years, the only Red Sox player to hit over .300 while catching was Carlton Fisk (.316 in 1977).
Perhaps the definition of a replacement-level player, McDonald has proven to be an adequate stopgap to a decimated outfield. With a .728 OPS, he falls just below the league average of .746 in center field. However, breaking down his at-bats, it appears McDonald could actually benefit from becoming an even more aggressive hitter. Consider that in at-bats ending within two pitches, McDonald is hitting .500 (24-for-48) according to Inside Edge, far exceeding the league average of .333. In fact, it ranks second in the majors behind David Wright (.513) and just ahead of Justin Morneau (.483) and Joe Mauer (.474). Not exactly bad company. But as you probably guessed, it all falls apart for McDonald after that second pitch. In at-bats of three pitches or more, McDonald is hitting just .172 (21-for-122) when the league average is .229. This would be less of a problem if it translated into walks, but he has only 14 on the season.
A case could certainly be made for David Ortiz as the best hitter in the game since the beginning of May. His 16 home runs are tied for the most in the majors and only Josh Hamilton has more RBIs. But no one has a higher OPS than Big Papi's 1.066. Much of that is due to the best May of his career (1.152 OPS), which ironically came after his worst-ever April (.524 OPS). All of this bodes well for the rest of the season when you consider that Ortiz has had a higher second-half OPS in every season he's been in Boston.
Over the 14 games before Dustin Pedroia fractured a bone in his foot, he was hitting .491 with a 1.397 OPS. That was good enough to bring up his average from .248 to .292. While that would still be his career low, Pedroia was on pace for career highs in home runs, RBIs and OPS before getting injured. Yet, even those numbers don't fully explain how valuable he'd been to the lineup. Consider the following: At the time of his injury, no player in the majors had seen more pitches (1,482) or fouled off more pitches (294). Prior to his injury, he was on track to see 3,213 pitches this season -- or 390 more than he saw last season. Since 1988, no batter has faced more than Bobby Abreu's 3,159 in 2005. Those numbers add up when it comes to chasing starting pitchers, and are yet another reason why Pedroia is the peskiest hitter in the game.
Not since Jody Reed have the Red Sox had a hitter quite like Scutaro. That may sound like faint praise, but it most certainly isn't. Don't forget, Reed led the majors in doubles in 1990 and finished 18th in the MVP voting. Like Reed, Scutaro is a tremendous contact hitter with a discerning eye. No one in the majors swings and misses less often than Scutaro, who does so with only 5.3 percent of his swings. That's the lowest for a Red Sox hitter since Wade Boggs in 1992. Reed's career best was 5.4 percent in 1988. At the same time, Scutaro doesn't swing at 64.8 percent of pitches, which ranks sixth in the majors. To find that kind of plate discipline, you again have to go back to 1992 when Boggs (65.2 percent) and Reed (65.1 percent) teamed up atop the order. That combination of contact and restraint has brought Scutaro success atop the order, where he's filled in capably for Jacoby Ellsbury. Consider this: Scutaro has a .310 batting average and .391 on-base percentage when leading off an inning.
Going into the season, you would have been hard-pressed to find someone who would have predicted this: At the midpoint of the season, Varitek has more home runs than the catchers from exactly half the teams in baseball, including the Yankees. And though Varitek's sample size is a bit small, no catcher is averaging more home runs per at-bat. While Varitek's batting average is up by .054 from last season, that is actually mitigated by his miniscule walk total. But as a backup catcher, his rediscovered power is merely a bonus. His true value is handling the pitching staff while Victor Martinez rests. Just ask Jon Lester (1.88 ERA with Varitek behind the plate) or Daisuke Matsuzaka (2.89).
Somehow, despite playing on one the most covered teams, a case can be made that Youkilis is among the most underappreciated stars in baseball. Since 2008, only Albert Pujols (1.082) and Manny Ramirez (.989) can top Youkilis' .965 OPS. He's on track for career highs in home runs and OPS. His current pace would put him at 127 runs, the most in Boston since Wade Boggs (128) in 1988. In May, Youkilis had 31 walks, the most in a calendar month for a Red Sox player since Carl Yastrzemski's 33 in June 1968. Even with only seven walks in June, he's on pace for a career high in that category, while sporting the lowest strikeout rate of his career. Most impressive of all is what Youkilis is doing against left-handed pitching. His 1.404 OPS against lefties is the best in the American League over the past 35 years. Only Juan Gonzalez in 1996 can top his .877 slugging percentage against southpaws.
• Jacoby Ellsbury -- Despite having played in only nine games, Ellsbury actually had a streak of seven consecutive games reaching base. That's longer than any streak put together by McDonald or Hermida.
• Mike Lowell -- How has Lowell adjusted to being a part-time player? If he played the day before, Lowell is hitting .286 (10-for-35). If he didn't play the previous day, his average plummets to .156 (7-for-45).
• Daniel Nava -- Nava has seemingly come from nowhere to hit .372 with 11 RBIs in his first 15 games. The past two Red Sox with at least nine RBIs in their first 15 career games: Morgan Burkhart and Creighton Gubanich. Those two combined for just 10 RBIs over the rest of their respective careers.
• Jonathan Van Every -- He's pitched in each of the past two seasons for the Red Sox. He also has a home run in each season. The last Red Sox player who can make that claim? Sonny Siebert in 1971 and 1972.
• The pitching staff -- The Red Sox pitching staff finished interleague play hitting .313. Their .743 OPS tops Boston's combined outfield production (.729 OPS). Sure, it's in just 24 plate appearances and means next to nothing. But, hey, bragging rights count for something.
Jeremy Lundblad is a researcher with ESPN Stats & Information. He provides statistical analysis for ESPNBoston.com.