Friday, January 8, 2010

Epstein optimistic about Hall turnaround

For as much weight as Theo Epstein puts in statistics, he's not about to dismiss the bat of acquisition Bill Hall just because his production has declined in each of the last three seasons.

Even if Hall doesn't hit 30 home runs -- or, for that matter, 10 home runs -- he brings something to the table that Epstein values highly.

"Bill Hall is someone who, for us, provides tremendous versatility and some pop from the right side," Epstein said after introducing third baseman Adrian Beltre at a press conference on Friday. "We've been looking for years now for someone who can play solid defense at a number of positions -- including in the outfield and in the infield. We think Bill Hall represents that for us. He's really pretty good wherever you put him on the field."

If the Red Sox go with 12 pitchers on their staff -- something they've done just about every year even if it isn't necessarily their preference -- that leaves them with four bats off the bench:

1. Backup catcher (Jason Varitek)
2. Utility infielder (Tug Hulett or Jed Lowrie)
3. Fourth outfielder (Jeremy Hermida)
4. Catch-all reserve (Hall)

The Red Sox a year ago had a fourth outfielder (Rocco Baldelli) as well as a fifth outfielder with the ability to play first base (Mark Kotsay). That, though, left the Red Sox with only one reserve with the ability to play second base or shortstop -- and even that counted on the ability of Kevin Youkilis to play both infield corners.

In this case, though, Hall can spell J.D. Drew against tough lefties -- something Hermida isn't necessarily going to do given that he swings from the left side -- and also play shortstop or third base if the injury bug strikes the Red Sox infield.

The issue, again, is the fact that Hall has seen his OPS tumble from .899 four seasons ago to .598 last season. His OPS+ of 58 last season would have been worst in the major leagues if he'd had enough at-bats to qualify.

Epstein declined to speculate about the reason for the decline.

"There are different theories out there, but I don't want to pick the guy apart before we even have him," he said. "Let's get to spring training and let him work with (hitting coach) Dave Magadan, who's a fan of Billy Hall's, and see what kind of work they can do together. I know Billy is working hard looking for answers himself. ...

"He's pretty darned good at moving all over the field. He's got natural defensive abilities -- athleticism, good hands and a strong arm. If we can get the bat back on track and get him enough playing time to get the bat back on track, which I think is important, you're looking at a pretty valuable player."

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