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Evolution or Revolution: Boston Red Sox

 

Evolution or Revolution is a series from Stats Perform that examines whether a team needs a few tweaks or a fundamental reboot. In our first MLB edition, we focus on the Red Sox’s disappointing season, whether they should rebuild or retool, and what moves could get them back on track. 

By: Taylor Bechtold

Let’s get this out of the way: We don’t believe the Boston Red Sox will embark on a lengthy rebuild. It’s just not in the organization’s nature, and not likely to be within the fan base’s level of patience.

The Red Sox have shown signs that they might take that lane, like trading Mookie Betts and David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers for three top prospects in February. And then shipping out Kevin Pillar, Josh Osich, Mitch Moreland, Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree in four deals at the Aug. 31 trade deadline.

So should they at least consider tearing it down even more?

Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, who took over in September of 2019, insists that won’t be the case after the team finished 24-36 – last in the AL East – and missed the playoffs for a second straight season following a three-year stretch in which they averaged 98 wins and won the World Series in 2018.

“I think we need to put ourselves into position to make as many moves that further that goal of having a consistently competitive championship-caliber team as we can,” Bloom told MLB.com. “We do that by being very active in conversation. We do that by making sure that we’re covering every possibility or at least as many possibilities as we can. Regardless of whether that turns into two moves or 20 moves, we just need to be ready.”

J.D. Martinez and the Red Sox are looking to put a disappointing 2020 season behind them.

And so the Red Sox have set their sights on quickly moving past their 2020 nightmare in which top starters Chris Sale (Tommy John surgery) and Eduardo Rodriguez (myocarditis) were sidelined, and slugger J.D. Martinez and outfielder Andrew Benintendi had forgettable years. It certainly didn’t help that Boston’s bullpen tied for the fifth most blown saves (11) in baseball while allowing an MLB-worst .281 batting average.

With Alex Cora back on the bench after serving a suspension for his role in the team’s sign-stealing scandal and Bloom looking to replenish the roster in free agency, let’s take a deeper dive into the issues Boston needs to address this offseason.

MOOKIE’S NOT COMING BACK

After hitting .304 with 36 home runs and leading the Red Sox with a Raw Value+ of 158 in 2019, Martinez was one of many high-profile stars that slumped last season. He batted .213 with seven homers and an RV+ of just 81 – far below the league average.

As a reminder, Raw Value+ (RV+) examines how a hitter performs throughout each pitch of an at-bat rather than just the end result, while Raw Value- (RV-) does the same from a pitcher’s perspective.

Boston Red Sox, 2020OffenseRotationBullpenOverall
Adjusted Team Rankings24292628

Benintendi went 4 for 39 (.103) with 17 strikeouts and just one RBI before going down for the season with a strained rib cage. He had batted .276 while totaling 49 home runs and 245 RBIs over the previous three seasons. Xander Bogaerts was one of the bright spots, hitting .300 with 11 home runs and an RV+ of 119 – easily the highest on the team.

Overall, the Red Sox led the American League with a .265 batting average but they also tied for the fifth-most strikeouts and finished last in the AL with a .190 average in close and late situations. We define close and late as seventh inning or later with the batting team ahead by one run, tied or with the tying run on base, at bat or on deck.

Rafael Devers kneels at the plate after striking out with the bases loaded in September. The Red Sox had MLB’s 24th-ranked offense, according to our model.

According to our Adjusted Team Rankings, which are calculated using a model that combines each club’s Raw Value data into a single ranking system, the Red Sox had the 24th-ranked offense in MLB last season. Earlier this month, they declined to extend an $18.9 million qualifying offer to center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., who hit .283 with seven homers and had an RV+ above the league average (106).

While the offense likely isn’t the biggest area of need, Boston could use a steady presence at second base considering former MVP Dustin Pedroia has only been able to play nine games over the past three seasons due to injury. Over that time, Red Sox second basemen have hit .246 – 24th in the majors – with just 25 home runs – tied for 28th. Could they make a push for former Yankee DJ LeMahieu?

A PITCHING STAFF IN SHAMBLES

Without Sale and Rodriguez, the starting rotation might have been doomed from the start. It ended up 25th in the majors in ERA at 5.34 and was MLB’s 29th-best rotation, according to our model. Only the Detroit Tigers were worse.

Nathan Eovaldi led the rotation with a 4-2 record and a 3.72 ERA in nine starts, but Martin Perez was 3-5 with a 4.50 ERA over 12 starts and the team declined his $6.25 million option earlier this month. Zack Godley went 0-4 with a 9.49 ERA over his seven starts and 13 other pitchers started 32 games.

Boston could be in a similar predicament early next season with Sale expected to miss the first couple of months and Rodriguez’s status uncertain. As a result, the Red Sox have been rumored as a potential destination for NL Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer and veteran left-hander Jon Lester, who won two titles while pitching for the Red Sox from 2006-14.

They’ve also been mentioned in connection to free-agent closers Liam Hendriks and Brad Hand after having to endure similar troubles in the bullpen. The unit finished 14th in the AL with a 5.79 ERA and was the 26th-ranked pen in the majors by our metrics.

STATS PERFORM’S VERDICT: EVOLUTION

It might be easy to suggest Bloom should break up the team and sell the pieces after last season’s performance, but it’s clear he has no intention of doing that.

The reality is that Boston still has some good, young position players to build around with Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Alex Verdugo, Benintendi, Christian Vazquez and top prospect Jeter Downs. And it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Martinez rebounds from his uncharacteristic 2020 season.

Having moved clear of their competitive balance tax concerns, the Red Sox can likely afford to address their needs on the pitching staff. Expect them to be better next season, and it’s possible they might even be back in contention with the right moves – whether it be two or 20.

 

Data modeling provided by Lucas Haupt.

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