Analysis

Red Sox fielding woes catching up with them as AL East race tightens

The Red Sox head into Thursday's game with an MLB-leading 54 errors.

Rafael Devers Red Sox
Rafael Devers. Colin E. Braley/AP
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It’s hard to be mad about where the Red Sox are in the standings so far.

The team currently sits atop the AL East, leading the Tampa Bay Rays by half a game, and is tied for the third-best record in baseball after a start few experts predicted coming into 2021.

What’s more: The Sox still boast a top-10 offense despite some dropoff from their early-season performance. They also have some of the league’s best offensive players in Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, and a resurgent Rafael Devers. Bogaerts and Devers in particular boast the highest WARs at their respective positions largely due to their offensive dominance.

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While the Red Sox could use a spark offensively, especially at the top of the lineup, hitting and scoring runs isn’t the problem.

The team’s defense is slowly starting to look like one.

Though Boston’s overall defensive WAR for the season doesn’t look like anything to worry about — the Sox are firmly in the middle of the pack — they’ve had some games to forget in the field of late.

The Red Sox come into Thursday’s action leading Major League Baseball with 54 errors and have the second-lowest fielding percentage (.980).

They’ve committed at least one error in seven of their last 10 games — including another Wednesday night from Kiké Hernández that allowed a run to score — with three of those games including multiple miscues.

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And even as the team has multiple players among the best at their position on offense, they conversely have some dubious distinctions on defense across the diamond.

The Red Sox have four players leading the league in errors at their main positions: Devers at third base (12 errors), Bobby Dalbec at first base (6), Christian Vázquez at catcher (6), and Hunter Renfroe in right field (4).

Devers’s 12 errors tie him for the fourth-highest total in the league; San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis leads with 16. Meanwhile, Renfroe’s four errors tie him for second among all outfielders behind St. Louis’s Tyler O’Neill (5).

Vázquez has played more games and recorded more putouts than any MLB catcher, suggesting he’s had more chances than most. But no other catcher near the top of the games-played/putouts-recorded list has nearly as many errors.

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The team’s pitching staff, which has struggled of late and is adjusting to life without sticky substances for gripping the ball, is suffering as a result.

For the month of June, Boston has allowed more unearned runs (15) than any team except for the San Francisco Giants (18). The next team after the Red Sox is the Washington Nationals (11).

The fielding issues aren’t the sole reason Red Sox pitchers have struggled lately. Their fielder-independent pitching (4.98) and earned-run average (4.91) for June paint a grim picture.

But the pitching staff’s seeming regression toward the level most people anticipated coming into this year certainly doesn’t need help from errors behind it.

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The Red Sox still have a team worthy of playoff contention and an offense that never relents. But to truly be a player in October, they need to play better in the field.

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