One Month Checkup
One month later, let’s review my opening day overview of where I thought the Red Sox stood heading into the season.
Talk about cutting to the chase. The offense has been pitiful, a .228/.279/.342 team slash line is good for a 79 wRC+, which is 28th/30 MLB teams. There is a deluge of offensive woes revolving around the inability to get on base, not hitting for power, and not being able to lay off pitches outside the strike zone. When they do manage to get a rally going, they respond with a .205/.234/.324 line with runners in scoring position, which is 43% worse than league average for that situation and last in MLB.
Devers has not taken another step forward offensively, in fact, for a time he was swinging at 50% of pitches outside the strike zone. Thankfully, he seems to be getting that under control, in his past 10 games he’s only chasing 38% of the time. When he was at his best last year that number was in the mid-to-low 30s. Hopefully this is a sign of impending fireworks. Devers still has the most hard hit (95+ mph) balls in baseball this season, but his home run stroke has yet to get going as his average launch angle is only 8%, down from 13% in 2021. Devers should be the least of the Red Sox worries, especially with his nice defensive work this year, but he’s probably the biggest organizational issue until the team steps up and signs him to a contract extension.
Dalbec’s promising spring training and new two strike approach didn’t carry over into the regular season. After 89 plate appearances, he’s batting .139/.225/.215 with a 32% strikeout rate and 31 wRC+. In the past, even though he didn’t make much contact, when he did it was absolutely elite. So far this year, it’s been mediocre at best. Last season his barrel rate and average exit velocity were in the 98th and 91st percentiles, this season they are in the 50th and 32nd percentiles. It’s nearly impossible to imagine a worse start.
Amazingly, the bullpen was the early bright spot for the team. Whitlock was deployed in key multi-inning spots, and most of the pen fell in line getting the job done. It all fell apart when Whitlock moved to the rotation when Houck had to go on the restricted list. A handful of games were lost due to this move, and the short inning relievers continue to melt down regularly. Right now, Red Sox relievers are walking in from the bullpen drenched in gasoline with no room for error provided by the offense.
Eovaldi has been excellent, even with his crazy home run rate, and the rest of the rotation has mostly got the job done. They currently rank 8th in MLB with a 3.28 ERA. One issue has been starters averaging under 5 innings per start, but so are 14 other teams. It’s most likely a dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t situation: the starters have been good because they get them out of games before they tire and are seen multiple times through the order, but that ends up causing stress on the bullpen. There are some underlying metrics on the starting rotation that look pretty wobbly, but you have to prioritize crises.
The defense has been okayish. It’s still early to have a good grasp on that. Bradley Jr. is in the conversation for best defensive outfielder in baseball so far. The team is currently 20th in turning ground balls into outs, rather than their historically low levels of the last couple of years. Devers has been very steady, he’s made his usual splash plays while being much better on the routine ones. Story is at -1 Outs Above Average, early in the season he seemed in between on every throw decision, unsure if to fire the ball or lob it. It’s seemed better of late with firmer throws, and his athletic ability is evident, but the late switch to second base was clearly not instantly smooth as expected. With Story the headlines are going to revolve around his offense until that gets ironed out. Bogaerts ranks 31st/35 shortstops with -4 Outs Above Average. He ranked in the 3rd percentile in 2019, 2nd percentile last year, and is in the 2nd percentile early on in 2022. The early season Arroyo in RF experiment wasn’t graceful and was abandoned for a while, but he’s recently got a couple of starts back out there.
It’s clear that the roster was not fortified enough, and that should absolutely not be the case with a top payroll and being over the luxury tax. Strahm looks like a good find by the scouting staff, but how different would the team look if they went the extra mile for say Ryan Tepera instead of the bargain in Diekmen (whose contract was nearly universally praised when signed)? If you knew Casas was going to get multiple looks at AAA teams, how was there not a real safety net brought in at first base? It seems obvious that the team was counting Dalbec and Barnes to perform at very good levels and have been burnt by their struggles.
With continued losing, the team can easily shed enough salary to get under the CBT threshold for the season, but that’s depressing to think about during the first week of May. Next winter’s free agent class isn’t good, even with Carlos Correa reclassifying into it. If the Sox end up dumping all their impeding free agents, for the first time in a long time, I don’t think I’ll have a clue where they are heading with moves. Again, way too early to think about this shit.
Moving on to a couple of other topics…
— I get asked fifty times a day about Casas’ arrival, but the team’s comments about him make it clear that Boston’s struggles aren’t going to be a driving force in his call up. They understandably want as solid of a foundation built as possible. Casas’ 2021 was spent bouncing around between AA, all the Olympic stuff, AAA, and the AFL, it’s probably a good thing to have him settled in one spot for a bit. He’s still extremely young, this season he’s had 1 plate appearance against a pitcher that’s younger than he is in AAA. Bringing him up when it looks like he needs to be the savior of the season would be brutal, but as the weeks go by, will there be a season to salvage?
— Bogaerts has been the team’s best player, but is his open market value increasing or decreasing through the first month of 2022? Last fall, I suggested offering him 6/$180M for his ages 30-35 seasons, the Red Sox reportedly offered him 4/$90M for his ages 30-33 seasons this spring. How’s his contract trending? That may be worth a deeper dive.
— According to Fangraphs, Red Sox relievers have 30 meltdowns so far. The next three teams have 25, 21, and 20. The Yankees, Mets, Brewers, Cardinals, and Dodgers each have 10 or fewer. A meltdown is a relief appearance that lowers a team’s win expectancy by 6% or more. A shutdown increases a team’s win expectancy by 6% or more. This is an alternative way of looking at reliever effectiveness that never really caught on, but I’ve always kind of liked and keep an eye on.
— I’ve been considering moving the majority of my “content” from twitter to this site for a while. As my account has reached a tipping point of growing steadily on its own, the majority of mentions/conversations have drifted from thoughtful and funny to annoying and flooded with unrecognizable accounts that clearly aren’t interested in statcast era baseball or the minutiae of all things Red Sox. I’m not sure if it’s still possible to curate an enjoyable experience. Nothing is imminent, and it may never happen at all, but that’s a peek behind the curtain at something under consideration.