Red Sox Analysis

Handing out Red Sox superlatives at the halfway point

First-half MVP, biggest disappointment, and more.

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The Boston Red Sox wrapped up the first half of their 2023 season with a 6-2 loss to the Miami Marlins on Wednesday. After 81 games, they're 40-41 and in last place in the loaded American League East.

With a .500 record and a modest +8 run differential, the Red Sox earn the "most mediocre team" superlative to this point in the campaign. They've managed to keep themselves in the Wild Card conversation, but all signs currently point toward an 81-81 finish. They've hovered right around .500 all season. They're not a bad team by any stretch, but they're well behind the league's powerhouses.

Manager Alex Cora perfectly summed up the current state of the team after Tuesday's loss to Miami.

"40 and 40, yeah. I mean, no more, no less. Like I said, we're not great. We're not bad. We are where we're at," he told reporters. "Obviously, we've got a long ways to go. ... We've just gotta be better, man. That's the bottom line. We've got a lot of work to do."

Before we start the second half, it's time to hand out more superlatives for the most mediocre team in baseball. From Team MVP to biggest disappointment, here are the Red Sox players earning superlatives at the 2023 season's midway point.

MVP: Alex Verdugo

Verdugo has been the Red Sox' most consistent player this season and it really isn't all that close. There have been low points, like getting benched for a lack of hustle earlier this month, but overall he has taken a significant step forward in Year 4 with the club.

As of Thursday, Verdugo leads Boston in batting average (.302), on-base percentage (.374), OPS (.845), hits (88), doubles (26), triples (4), and fWAR (2.3).

The 27-year-old has also made tremendous strides defensively. The right fielder is in the 78th percentile in outs above average and 88th percentile in outfielder jump, per Baseball Savant. He's fourth among MLB right fielders with seven defensive runs saved.

Best pitcher: Brayan Bello

The Red Sox' former top pitching prospect has stepped up as the de facto ace in his first full big-league season. Through 12 starts, Bello has posted a 3.27 ERA while striking out 62 hitters in 66 innings.

The 24-year-old leads the team in pitching WAR and is beginning to earn the reputation of a Yankee killer. In two consecutive starts against Boston's archrival this month, he amassed a 1.93 ERA with 11 strikeouts in 14 innings.

Bello has emerged as the Red Sox' most reliable starter and the best part is he still has another level to reach. Once his command improves, Boston may have its ace for years to come.

Best reliever: Chris Martin

While Kenley Jansen has been rock-solid as the Red Sox' closer, Martin has been the go-to guy out of the 'pen. The 37-year-old veteran has been as advertised following a sensational stint with L.A. Through 24 appearances this season, Martin boasts a 1.90 ERA and an 0.93 WHIP. He has walked only two batters and allowed only one home run in 23 2/3 innings.

During what's been an up-and-down season for the Red Sox pitching staff, Martin has been the one constant.

Most improved: Jarren Duran

The third year is the charm for former top Red Sox prospect Jarren Duran. The 26-year-old outfielder was the subject of trade rumors after a disappointing second season in the bigs but seems to have finally put it all together in 2023.

Duran's improvement at the plate has allowed him to put his blazing speed to good use. He can stretch a routine single into a double with ease. His 21 doubles on the season trail only Verdugo (26).

Duran is slashing .292/.347/.441 with three homers, 27 RBIs, and 15 stolen bases in 61 games played. His defense in center field, a major issue a season ago, has taken a noticeable step forward as well.

Biggest disappointment: Kiké Hernández

Hernández confidently entered the season as Boston's starting shortstop following Xander Bogaerts' departure and Trevor Story's untimely elbow surgery. That experiment lasted about two-and-a-half months.

The Red Sox moved Hernández off the starting shortstop role due to the veteran utility man's abysmal defensive performance. He still leads all MLB shortstops with 14 errors, including 12 throwing errors. As our John Tomase explained, Hernández and the Red Sox' shortstop woes are costing the team wins.

Hernández hasn't fared much better at the plate as he's slashing just .227/.287/.341 through 72 games. While he never was expected to be Boston's star, Hernández's struggles have been bad enough to where it doesn't feel right to pick anyone else for this superlative.

Biggest surprise: James Paxton

Entering this season, Paxton had made only six starts since the end of 2019 due to a myriad of injuries. The veteran southpaw missed all of 2022 due to Tommy John recovery and a torn lat, so he entered the 2023 campaign with minimal expectations.

Now, he's right there with Bello as arguably the top starter in the Red Sox rotation. Paxton owns a 3.19 ERA and 1.02 WHIP with 54 strikeouts and only 11 walks through eight starts this year. Injuries remain a concern as he was pulled from Saturday's game with a knee issue, but he's on track to make his scheduled start on Friday.

Best offseason addition: TIE - Masataka Yoshida and Justin Turner

I couldn't make a decision on this one, so I'll leave it up to the readers to break the tie.

Masataka Yoshida and Justin Turner have been everything the Red Sox hoped they were getting when they signed them to contracts over the winter. Yoshida came over from Japan and signed a five-year, $90 million deal while Turner left the Los Angeles Dodgers to sign a two-year, $21.7 million pact with Boston.

Starting with Yoshida, the 29-year-old outfielder's elite bat-to-ball skills have translated from the Nippon Professional League to MLB. He's third on the team in hits (80) and RBIs (39), and second in batting average (.297), OBP (.371), and OPS (.836).

Turner continues to slug at age 38. The two-time All-Star is hitting .275/.351/.444 with 11 homers and 41 RBIs while giving the Red Sox much-needed veteran leadership in the clubhouse.

Both players have been key to the Red Sox staying afloat in 2023, so it's tough to pick just one of them for the "best offseason addition" superlative. The worst, however, is a no-brainer...

Worst offseason addition: Corey Kluber

The Red Sox signed Kluber, a two-time Cy Young award winner, to a one-year contract worth $10 million. They were well aware that Kluber's days as an ace were well behind him, but it still seemed like a reasonable deal coming off his solid 2022 campaign with the Tampa Bay Rays.

It turned out to be a disaster. Kluber was demoted to the bullpen in late May after struggling mightily as a starter and didn't fare much any better in a relief role. In 15 appearances (nine starts), he has a 7.04 ERA and 1.64 WHIP. He's dead last on the team with a -0.9 fWAR.

Kluber is currently on the injured list with what the team is calling shoulder inflammation. I wouldn't be surprised at all if we've seen him throw his last pitch for Boston.

Best moment: Yoshida hits solo HR and grand slam in same inning

Yoshida put the league on notice on April 23 vs. the Milwaukee Brewers. He belted a go-ahead solo homer early in the eighth inning, then stepped up to the plate later in the frame and crushed a grand slam. He's the first Japanese player in MLB to go deep twice in the same inning.

The eye-opening performance officially broke Yoshida out of his early-season slump. Since then, he has been a vital part of the Red Sox lineup.

Boston went on to beat Milwaukee, 12-5.

Worst moment: Chris Sale's latest injury

Many wrote Sale off before the season due to his extensive injury history, understandably so. Prior to this season, the veteran southpaw made only 11 starts since the end of the 2019 campaign due to a variety of injuries. Hoping for a healthy, ace-like season out of him in 2023 was a pipe dream.

Sale was rusty to start the year, but he found his groove in the month of May. In five starts from April 30 to May 26, he went 4-0 with a 2.23 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 32 1/3 innings The Red Sox appeared to have their ace back, though the high chance of an injury constantly lingered in the back of everyone's mind whenever he took the mound.

Sure enough, Sale exited his June 1 start vs. Cincinnati with a shoulder issue and has been out ever since. He's currently on the 60-day injured list due to a stress reaction in his left shoulder blade and will undergo another MRI on Thursday. While he's expected to return to the mound at some point this season, it's tough to have any faith in him staying off the IL at this point. Knowing he still has ace-like stuff when healthy only makes his lack of durability even more frustrating.

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