After I wrote earlier this week that the Red Sox might be better than you think — right, the one headlined “Red Sox might be better than you think” — the response was, well, let’s call it predictably divided. Maybe 40 percent of the e-mailers and Twitterati had some level of optimism for the ’13 Sox.
The rest suggested, some more creatively than others, that I was seeing things through carmine-colored glasses. Which is cool. My optimism is genuine and rooted in research and reason, and no, I certainly do not mind that it stands out against the backdrop of frequent, lucrative half-contrived Chicken Little caterwauling around here.
But I do also feel like further elaboration may be required to explain why I believe, with sincerity and logic, that the Red Sox will be a much better team this season. (Go ahead, I’ll wait while you insert the usual caveat about unforeseen catastrophes here).
My point, in taking that player-by-player spin through what the 25-man roster looks like roughly six weeks before pitchers and catchers report, was that Ben Cherington’s free-agency repair work has at the very least given them legitimate major league depth.
Exaggerating the importance of this may not be possible. In bringing in the likes of Shane Victorino, Stephen Drew, Ryan Dempster, David Ross, Joel Hanrahan, Koji Uehara, and eventually Mike Napoli, at the very least they’ve acquired proven competence. Sure, one or two won’t work out — there will be a 2002 Tony Clark in the mix.
But this is a team, as Peter Gammons noted recently, that got 5 wins, 20 losses and a 7.13 out of 31 starts from Aaron Cook, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Zack Stewart. It’s a team that gave more than 1,600 total plate appearances to Pedro Ciriaco, Scott Podsednik, Ryan Sweeney, Nick Punto, Mauro Gomez, James Loney, Marlon Byrd, Ryan Kalish, Darnell McDonald, Ryan Lavarnway, and Jose Iglesias. Some of them were adequate, and some could be better than adequate this year, but that is a lot of playing time for players who didn’t provide a lot of hope. It’s a wonder 2012 Tony Clark didn’t get a few September at-bats.
One superstar, one we-gotta-do-something-big commitment to Josh Hamilton, wasn’t going to solve all that went wrong last season. They needed to find complementary quality amid the necessary influx of quantity, and they have.
My theory is that so many of those who are skeptical about Cherington’s offseason approach stopped paying attention right around the time the Dodgers presented their unfathomable gift of a truly fresh start, and in assessing the misery of last season look at the record rather than how they wound up there. Which, in short, was an unprecedented ravaging of injuries, and under-performance by established, star-level players, concepts which are not mutually exclusive.
The Red Sox were five games over .500 on July 1. They were at .500 at the All-Star break. There reasonable was hope of a hot streak, of legitimate playoff contention. But the injuries never ceased and the hot streak never came. Jon Lester was chronically ineffective in by far the worst season of his fine career, Jacoby Ellsbury had a prolonged recovery from his second high-impact injury in three seasons, and Dustin Pedroia’s numbers suffered when he tried to play through a hand injury.
Pedroia led the Red Sox in bWAR — but his 4.7 was the lowest team-best number since Fred Lynn’s 4.5 in 1980. Under-performance was a factor, but it was injuries that destroyed them. The Red Sox used a franchise-record 56 players, required 42 transactions involving the disabled list, and lost nearly 1,500 total player-games to injury.
David Ortiz, one of two major league hitters with an OPS over 1.000 in more than 350 plate appearances last season, played one game after July 16. The Red Sox were 22-49 in his absence. Will Middlebrooks, the slugging rookie third baseman, played his last game Aug. 10. The Red Sox were 13-35 thereafter.
Bobby Valentine’s remark that he had the worst roster in the history of baseball in September was snide, typical, and unnecessary, but let’s just say the Red Sox’ 16-42 record after Aug. 1, with a -109 run-differential, was a reasonably accurate representation of the talent they were putting on the field. I say that with no offense intended to the 42 hits in 181 plate appearances flawed fan-favorites Ciriaco and Daniel Nava provided in September/October.
The 2013 Red Sox need John Farrell to help Lester find his form. They need Ellsbury, the best position player in the AL two years ago, to avoid collisions at all costs. They need Pedroia to … well, to be himself, though it wouldn’t hurt if he took a maintenance day from time to time. They’re counting on the return to form of previously accomplished, trustworthy players, they’re counting on a deep and versatile bullpen to prevent them from going 17-22 in one-run games and 2-10 in extra innings again, and they’re counting on the influx of proven if imperfect veterans to be at least competent in supporting roles. It’s not flashy, but it makes all the sense in the world.
Oh, and one more thing: Bobby Valentine’s no longer around to continuously show off his patented parlor trick of making everything worse. Wouldn’t you say that alone is reason enough to know that 2013 is going to be much better?