April 18, 2021

Boston Red Sox 2019: What Went Right

October 5, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

Thanks to social media and endless emails I receive from the Boston Globe, NESN, WEEI, and The Athletic Daily it’s clear everyone is still bewildered by what happened to a team that won a franchise-best 108 games last year, then steamrolled through the postseason only to follow it up with a third-place finish that found them 19 games behind the hated Yankees. There’s plenty of blame to go around. Dave Dombrowski, former President of Baseball Operations, was the first person sent packing and he didn’t even make it through the whole season before he was replaced by a trio of Red Sox executives. Dombrowski’s sin wasn’t that he let Craig Kimbrel test free agent waters—no one was going to meet his outrageous demands and the closer had to wait until June before signing a three-year deal with the Cubs worth $43 million—it was that he used money to pay World Series heroes Nathan Eovaldi and Steve Pearce rather than acquire a true closer.

Eovaldi struggled with injuries and when he was healthy, management couldn’t decide how to use him. He went from closer to set-up to middle man to the rotation, and wasn’t particularly good in any of them. Pearce played in only 29 games but that allowed the Sox to see what they had in rookie Michael Chavis, and without a true closer journeyman Brandon Workman seemingly came out of nowhere and had a season for the ages, albeit too late to save the campaign from Matt Barnes (8 Blown Saves), Ryan Brasier (4 BSv), and Marcus Walden (4 BSv). There are some who wish manager Alex Cora was in the same taxi taking Dombrowski out of Boston, but I’m not one of them. He took a calculated risk by limiting the innings his starters threw in spring training and it backfired. They all came out flat and when the dust had settled Boston was 3-9 with a six-game deficit. The closest they got to within three games of first was on May 12 after a third straight beating of the Seattle Mariners, but that was all she wrote as the Yankees and Rays pulled away from the rest of the pack.

But enough about that. What went right? (In no particular order.)

The left side of the infield: This just in. Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers are really good at baseball. And their offensive numbers are so similar it’s almost creepy.

Team Batting
SS Xander Bogaerts 26 155 698 614 110 190 52 0 33 117 4 2 76 122 .309 .384 .555 .939 140 341
3B Rafael Devers* 22 156 702 647 129 201 54 4 32 115 8 8 48 119 .311 .361 .555 .916 133 359

Bogaerts is signed through 2025 and Devers won’t be eligible for free agency until 2024. The former isn’t flashy on defense and doesn’t have league average range, let alone Andrelton Simmons range, but he’s steady and has committed only 73 errors at shortstop in seven seasons. Devers is flashier but more error-prone as evidenced by his 60 career miscues in 324 games, but after committing eight errors in April he settled down and committed only 14 more the rest of the way. Whether these two ever approach these numbers again is anyone’s guess, but even if they fall off a bit they’ll be a dynamic duo in the foreseeable future.

Christian Vazquez: I’ve been around long enough to know not to get too excited about Vazquez’s sudden power surge. Home runs per game were at an all-time high of 1.39 across all of baseball and 1.43 in the American League. Last year’s Yankees set a new team record for homers with 267, breaking a mark that had stood since 1997 when the Mariners crushed 264 long balls. The Yanks’ record was obliterated this year by the Minnesota Twins (307), the Yankees themselves (306), the Houston Astros (288), and the Los Angeles Dodgers (279). In 1977, the Red Sox slugged their way to an MLB best 213 home runs; this year that number would have tied Baltimore for 24th best. Yes, it’s all relative, but Commissioner Rob Manfred is considering ways to change the baseballs to dampen the out-of-control Bugs Bunny numbers batters are putting on the back of their bubble gum cards. It’s possible Vasquez finally hit his stride as he entered his prime and hit more balls in the air than ever before, but whenever a guy goes from 10 career homers in 922 at-bats to 23 in 482 some eyebrows are going to raise. Still, it was fun to watch.

Brock Holt: Our generation’s Jack Rothrock, Holt is a fan favorite due to his ability to play every position on the field and play them well. I’m still waiting for the day he pitches and catches so he can say he played all nine, but I digress. When healthy, Holt was a revelation this year and was slashing .350/.397.453 in mid-July. None of us expected that to last but he was still hitting .329 with a .403 on-base percentage as late as August 27 before he fell off a cliff and batted only .233 in his final 24 games. To make matters worse, he was at .303 with two games to go, but one hit in his last eight at-bats dropped his average to .297. Still nothing to sneeze at and his 101 OPS+ certainly doesn’t jump off the page, but if every team had at least one Brock Holt the world would be a better place.

Mookie Betts: Ah, social media, how I loathe you sometimes. If Red Sox fans are to be believed, Betts had an average season and should be traded now before he enters free agency in 2021. Actually I agree that he had an average season, not by average standards but by Mookie Betts standards. His career OPS+ is 134 and Betts’ 2019 OPS+ was 135. In other words, he was vintage Mookie without the MVP Award. As I mentioned to one clown who called Betts’ season average, Mookie’s career OPS+ matches those of three pretty good outfielders—Al Kaline, Joe Medwick, and Paul Waner. Like Kaline, he’s a Gold Glove waiting to happen and I’ll be surprised if his one-error-in-132-games-in-right-field ledger doesn’t earn him another this year. He’s just the seventh player in the last 50 years to score at least 129 runs in consecutive seasons, and his fifth straight 40-double season puts him in a five-way tie for third place behind Medwick and Wade Boggs, who achieved the feat in seven straight. He may not have been as good this year as last, but he was an All-Star, will get MVP votes for the fifth straight season, and will most likely win his fourth Gold Glove.

J.D. Martinez: Despite his lowest OPS+ since 2013, Martinez continues to hit like Jim Rice 2.0 and enjoyed his fourth season of at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs, finishing with 36 and 105, respectively. Martinez can opt out of his contract and that would leave a huge hole at a Designated Hitter spot that’s been on lockdown since David Ortiz arrived in 2003. The flip side is the Sox will be off the hook for the remainder of his massive contract and maybe they can use that money to sign Mookie long term or acquire a new DH. Or both.

Michael Chavis: Some will argue Chavis doesn’t belong here and I wouldn’t put up a strong counter argument—his average was too low, he didn’t reach base enough, and his strikeouts (Holy God, those strikeouts) were so far through the roof he whiffed 33.3% of the time. Forget three true outcomes, he’s Dave Kingman without the gaudy home run totals. But he was the elixir the Sox needed when it became obvious Dustin Pedroia wasn’t going to make it through April, let alone an entire season. The rookie was shot out of a cannon and belted six homers with 13 RBIs and 12 runs in his first 14 games before he cooled off. Still, he continued to battle and only a late-season swoon and injury kept him from posting an OPS+ above 100. But the main reason he’s on this list is because he played three different positions and didn’t embarrass himself at any of them. He’s no Pedroia at second or Mitch Moreland at first, but he finished in the black in Total Fielding Runs Above Average and that’s good enough for me. Here’s hoping he’s not the next Will Middlebrooks.

Eduardo Rodriguez: In a season full of injuries, disappointment, and Rick Porcello all but killing his chance at a decent long-term deal in free agency, Eduardo Rodriguez stepped up and became the face of the pitching staff. In four big league seasons, the southpaw had been a mixture of tantalizing potential, frustration, and injuries before he put it all together in year five and became one of the American League’s best pitchers. He went 19-6 and should have won 20, but a Bogaerts error and Matt Barnes blown save resulted in a no-decision in the last game of the season. He led the AL in starts (34) and set career-bests in starts, innings, strikeouts, and ERA+ at 126. He also paced the circuit in walks with 75, but his BB/9 of 3.3 was just a hair above his career mark of 3.2 so it’s not as if he suddenly couldn’t find the plate, it’s that he was finally healthy enough to pitch a full season. And he won’t be 27 until the beginning of next season.

Brandon Workman: Cora admitted that had he known Workman was going to have a season for the ages he would have been the closer from day one. Yeah, and if my aunt had balls she’d be…well…you know. The 30/31-year-old allowed an eye-popping 3.6 hits per nine innings, the second fewest among all relievers (minimum 50 innings and no starts) in HISTORY. Only Aroldis Chapman in 2014 allowed fewer. In fact, Workman’s entire season could have come straight out of a Disney movie—10-1 with 16 saves and a 1.88 ERA, 104 strikeouts in 71 2/3 innings, K/9 went from 8.1 in 2018 to 13.1 in 2019, 256 ERA+, allowed only one home run to the 286 batters he faced, and the list goes on. Workman has been very good over the last three seasons even if his epic 2019 campaign is removed—since 2017 he has a 2.59 ERA in 149 games with a 180 ERA+, allowed only 5.9 hits per 9 while fanning 10.5 per 9. He might be the frontrunner for the closer job next season, but I think we should wait and see. Because…

Darwinzon Hernandez: Yes, this is a reach and I can already hear the vitriol coming my way, but hear me out. The almost-23-year-old has mainly been a starter throughout his career and he dominated the Dominican Summer League at only 18, then did the same, albeit in a small sample size, in the Arizona Fall League at 21. The Sox called him up and he made his debut as a middle reliever on April 23 against Detroit and threw 2 1/3 scoreless innings while fanning four of the 12 batters he faced. He went back to the minors and was recalled to make his first start on June 11 against Texas. He didn’t fare well and allowed three earned runs in three innings, thanks in part to five walks, but he showed flashes of dominance and fanned seven of 18.

He was sent down again, but came back for good on July 16 as a middle reliever/set-up man and appeared in 10 games before allowing his first earned run since his return. He allowed only four hits in nine innings and struck out 18 of the 38 batters he faced. But then he became Jekyll and Hyde and began mixing in stinkers—1IP, 4ER vs. the Angels on August 10; 0.1IP, 3ER vs. the Yankees on September 9; 0.1IP, 3ER vs. the Rays on September 20. In those three outings, his ERA was a horrendous 53.89, but in his other 24 outings since his mid-July call-up, he pitched to a 1.57 ERA. At 16.9 K/9 he certainly has the stuff to be a closer, but his 7.7 BB/9 brings back memories of Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams and that’s not a good thing. Still, I liked the flashes of brilliance enough to include him on this list and I hope he sticks with the team out of spring training.


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