(cue appropriate Ennio Morricone music)
Part One -- The Good
(1) Dustin Pedroia
"Sophomore slump" our collective asses. The reigning Rookie of the Year picked up precisely where he left off last year, playing solid (and sporadically terrific) defense while providing precisely what Theo, Bill James, and their dark, Satanic statistical mills (not to be confused with bench coach Brad Mills, of course) wanted from his bat: a decent OBP (.344) and good contact-hitter ability (which complements #2's getting-on-base skills... but more on that anon). Plus, he's provided us with some of the worst acting ever in the history of the universe via his series of Sullivan Tire commercials. He's not perfect -- you'd still like to see him work pitchers more and get more walks (only 10 in 182 plate appearances), but seeing as how some ROYs crash and burn in year 2 (yes, I'm looking at you, Eric Hinske), you've gotta be pleased with Pedroia continuing to play at the level of "one of the better 2B in the AL".
(2) Jacoby Ellsbury
(3) Kevin Youkilis
Would rank higher on this list, except he's already considered to be an All-Star (or near-All-Star) level player. I don't think anyone expected Papi numbers out of him, though, nor did anyone reasonably foresee a situation in which the statement "Youkilis is batting fourth" would not result in guffaws and heavy wagering on the opponents.
Coco Crisp -- A guy in a bad situation through no fault of his own, but who has responded to it with class (no complaining) and solid production (he's finally looking like the hitter he was in Cleveland). Although a certain segment of the fanbase (read as: the functionally retarded typical WEEI caller) hates him, he's not the outfielder who should be traded away ASAP. That would be the guy whose name rhymes with "Hey, He Poo!"...
Kevin Cash -- The hatred of Mrs. Ankiel notwithstanding, Cash has been exceptionally productive as Tim Wakefields
sperm knuckleball receptacle this year, providing some surprisingly solid hitting (.375 AVG, .435 OBP) and acceptable defense (only 6 PBs and 3 errors) in his limited appearances. Remember: he's paid the minimum. That's value. Or at least better value than Doug Mirabelli would have been.
Later today.... the bad, and the ugly.