When Does “It’s Still Early” No Longer Apply?

The baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint. With 162 games, plus more if your team is good enough to make the postseason, players are bound to go through ups and downs, hot streaks and cold streaks, and the phrase, “it’s still early” is often thrown around liberally throughout April and May. But when exactly does that saying lose its weight and no longer apply?

Boston is 35 games into 2018. That’s 21.6%, almost 1/4, of the season gone, and right now that question pertains to 3 Red Sox in particular, Andrew Benintendi, Christian Vazquez and Carson Smith.

Benintendi had an excellent rookie year, in which he finished 2nd in ROY voting, in 2017, hitting .271 with 20 HR, 90 RBI and 84 runs scored. He’s followed that up with what can only be considered a disappointing start to 2018. In 32 games so far, he’s hitting just .244 with only 1 HR. His strikeout rate is up to 18.3% (17% in 2017), his SLG is down to .390 (.424 in 2017), and he’s sitting at just above average with a 0.2 WAR, thanks in large part to his above average defense in left field. He’s had some nice games, like his 3-5, 1 RBI, 2 runs performance vs. Texas last week and his 2-5, 3 RBI, 2 runs game against Baltimore in mid-April, but for the most part he’s looked ineffective and at times even a little lost at the plate.

(Photo credit: Boston Globe)

Christian Vazquez was inked to a 3-year extension this past offseason in a move that clearly suggests that Boston sees him as the catcher of the future. Many pundits anticipated a breakout year for Vazquez after he put together a very solid 2017, but he’s failed to deliver thus far. He’s currently hitting just .196/.253/.239, he’s been one of the most ineffective bats in the potent Red Sox lineup, and he’s averaging only an 87.2 mph exit velocity, ranking 249th out of 363 qualified MLB hitters.

Lastly, Carson Smith has become arguably the least trusted arm out of the bullpen after entering 2018 with high expectations. After posting a 2.31 ERA with Seattle in 2015 and a 1.35 ERA in September of last year with the Sox, Smith was perceived to be a late inning guy who could help bridge the gap between the starter and Craig Kimbrel in the 9th. In 2018, though, he has a 4.09 ERA and a 1.55 WHIP in 11 IP while walking almost 5 batters per 9 innings. Some of his numbers, like his 11.45 K/9 rate, point towards a turnaround coming soon, but up to this point he’s been far too poor.

Maybe 1 or 2 or even all 3 of these guys will come around and find a way to put it all together and produce, maybe they won’t, but so far it hasn’t been great, begging the question posed above, when does “it’s still early” no longer apply?

(Header photo credit: Lifestyle Sports 101)

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