Red Sox

We got one thing right about the 2023 Red Sox: Their defense is atrocious

Five Red Sox position players are already negative in defensive runs saved.

Masataka Yoshida unsuccessfully reaches for a fly ball in front of the Green Monster scoreboard.
Masataka Yoshida and the Red Sox haven't looked very good in the field during their 3-4 start. Barry Chin/Globe Staff


If we were all to target a low point for the 2023 Red Sox, and how else could we possibly spend our time with a scant 174 days until the playoffs, I think we could actually find a solid consensus.

Thursday afternoon in Detroit, off a home sweep to the Pirates, Chris Sale having just begun his start with eight consecutive balls.

May it be the moment a 2-4 team — which, let’s be honest, should’ve been 1-5 — made some semblance of a stand. And may we remember, after a mound visit and Sale’s striking out the side, Alex Cora’s place in helping turn it all around.


Citing “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” in quipping to Sale about his “bold strategy” to open what became a 6-3 win.

In Sale’s mind, it was rad.

“That’s what makes AC great. That’s why we love him,” Sale told reporters. “He obviously knows this game about as good as anybody I’ve ever met. But also knows how to handle people and personalities. And just knows what to say and when to say it sometimes. That helps.”

Most outside the clubhouse also love Cora, the utility man who helped Dustin Pedroia find his footing, stewarded a historic season in his first as manager, and offers the sort of ceaseless braggadocio that resonates with a region that adopted “they hate us because they ain’t us” as credo five minutes after the first Thanksgiving.

“This group knows what we can do,” he told the Globe this spring, “but the world doesn’t.”

A week-ish in and we still don’t. Unless, of course, hit well, pitch only in relief, and be an absolute tire fire in the field is the answer. (Yes, tire fire is an analytics term.)

“We have to get better in every aspect of the game. I think we made strides in certain aspects of the game. We struggled last year in a lot of things and we have to clean that up,” Cora told reporters in the first press conference of training camp. “We play in the toughest division in baseball. But as I’ve always said, if we go out and play good baseball, you get a chance. That’s what we’re going to try to do.”


They ultimately may, baseball seasons being long stories. But boy, this has felt close to an eight-consecutive-balls kind of start.

Defensive metrics are still notoriously erratic, but they line up with what the eyes have told us. Five Red Sox position players — Masataka Yoshida, Adam Duvall, Rafael Devers, Reese McGuire, and Kiké Hernández — are already negative in defensive runs saved, with Christian Arroyo and Alex Verdugo sporting negative UZRs.

That spares one field regular: Triston Casas, whose been on the wrong end of two of three Hernández throwing errors in just seven games. (Thursday’s came on as routine a play as a shortstop will get.) It all adds up to a brutal minus-10 DRS, easily the worst in the majors. (San Francisco and Oakland are both minus-6.)

Other metrics peg others as the worst, but all generally offer the same assessment. Combine that with the league-worst 14 steals allowed without a catch — a function of the pitchers as much as McGuire. The lower-end pitches per plate appearance (though, to be fair, they’ve risen into the league’s top half in laying off stuff outside the zone).

It’s only equated to two unearned runs, both in the Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to Pittsburgh, but we know it’s not that straight a line. The batting average on balls in play against the Sox staff is .304, fifth-worst in MLB. Those behind the pitchers wear their share of that.


“Do we have to be on point and is there a small margin for error? I believe so,” Cora told the Globe in the spring. “Everybody knows it. The division is the same way.”

Tampa and the Yankees have allowed 13 and 14 runs, respectively, in a combined 10-2 start. (The latter doing it without either Carlos Rodón or Luis Severino in the rotation.) The Sox get their first shot against the former next week, with Wander Franco looking against everyone like the terror he’s been against the Red Sox in his short career.

These Sox look like more or less the group we thought we’d see. Verdugo has taken to the leadoff spot, Duvall has hit moonballs as promised, but they’ve underwhelmed and seem unable to do the easy stuff well.

“We’re going to be better on the little things,” Cora told 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Tony Massarotti during camp, according to a conversation relayed earlier this week. “Last year, I think we were leading the majors on forgetting how many outs there were. I think we were leading the majors in number of signs that we missed.”

They’ve not been yet. It’s, frankly, a bold strategy.

And we’re seeing how it’s paying off for them.


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