By Dick Flavin
Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate
and New York Times Best Selling Author
HOW DID THEY DO IT?
I’ve been noodling with some statistics found amidst the ashes of the Red Sox season,
and they lead to a single question: How in the name of Abner Doubleday did they get as
far as they did?
I’m not an analytics guy, so let’s confine ourselves to old fashioned numbers, batting
average, home runs and runs batted in, okay? Comparing the numbers from seasons 2016
and 2017 leads to the inevitable conclusion that, offensively, this year’s edition of the
Red Sox - what’s the word? Oh yeah - they stunk.
Let’s go through the line up postion by position, shall we? As Bette Davis famously said,
“Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”
Designated Hitter: In 2016 David Ortiz had a farewell season for the ages, Batting .318
with 38 homers and 127 runs batted in. This year his DH replacement, Hanley Ramirez,
hit .242 with 23 home runs and only 62 runs batted in, that’s a drop off of 76 points in
batting aaverage, 15 homers and an astounding 65 RBIs. Oof!
First Base. Last year Hanley thrived playing first, putting up numbers of .286/30/111.
This year Mitch Morelaand took over at first and his line was .246/22/79, much less
production. Not good.
Second Base. Dustin Pedroia had numbers of .318/15/74 in 2016. This year his balky
knee kept him on the sidelines a lot but he seemed to be having a comparable seaason.
However when he returned to the line up late in the year after more knee problems he had
slowed considerably at bat and on the base paths and his numbers slipped to .293/7/62.
Pedroia is warrior who for years has willingly given up his body to gain an edge for his
team, but how much is left in the tank?
Third Base. Last year Travis Shaw held down the post and put up so-so numbers of
.242/16/71. In 2017 he had a career year, but it was for Milwaukee, not Boston. For the
first two thirds on this season third base was a black hole for the Red Sox. Then along
came Rafael Devers, who in just 58 games produced a line of .284/10/30. He has power,
especially for a twenty year old, and he has a flair for the dramatic. Let’s hope that it
continues into next year when pitchers will surely make adjustments against his him.
Shortstop. Xander Bogaerts seems headed in the wrong direction. In the 2015 he hit .320,
last year he was down to .294 and this year he was at .273. Additionally, his home runs
were down from 21 to 10, and his RBIs declined from 89 to 62. He’s still young but his
name no longer comes up in discussions about elite shortstops. We can only hope that
he’ll turn that around.
Left Field. In 2016 Chris Young was out there most often, putting up numbers of
.276/9/24. Then Andrew Benintendi came up late in the year and hit .295 with 2 home
runs and 14 RBI in only 34 games. This year the job was Benintendi’s and he hit 20
home runs and drove in 90, though his batting average was a somewhat disappointing
Center Field. Last year Jackie Bradley, Jr. produced a line of .267/26/87. He was down in
all categories this year at .245/17/63. Granted, runs prevented are an important
consideration, but the last time I checked games were decided by who scores the most.
Right Field. Mookie Betts’ batting average fell (gulp) 54 points this year, from .318 to
.264. He was also down in home runs (31 to 24) and RBIs (113 to 102). One wonders
about his wrist and what the prognosis is. In 2001 Nomar Garciaparra, who had led the
American League the previous season by batting .372, hurt his wrist and was never again
the same hitter. Get out the worry beads.
Catcher. Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon share the duties behind the plate and they
have two different stories to tell. Vazquez had a career year this season, batting .290, up
from .227 in 2016. Leon’s career year was last season, when he hit .310, this year he was
down to .225. Looks like a wash to me.
As a team this year’s Boston Red Sox underperformed the 2016 edition by 24 points in
batting average, 40 home runs and 101 runs batted in, yet they won the American League
East. How did they do it?
Pitching had a little something to do with it. Chris Sale and Drew Pomerantz had brilliant
seasons, but, let’s face it, they were cooked by the time the playoffs came around. In fact
they were done medium-well by Labor Day. That’s David Price’s history, too, though not
this year because he was on the shelf for most of it. Price, Sale and Pomerantz are all
built like thoroughbred horses, lean and lithe. And, like thoroughbreds, they tend to fade
in the longer races. The baseball season is a long, long race. Something has to be done to
manage their innings during the year.
Are we about to see the dawn of the six-man pitching rotation? If those starters each had
seven or eight fewer starts over the course of a season with an extra recoverey day
between each start, which could translate into fifty or so fewer innings pitched, would
that keep them fresher for the playoffs, when it really counts? Maybe.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox need some bats in the line up, and they need them badly.