Recapping 2018: Boston Red Sox Edition | The Process Report

Recapping 2018: Boston Red Sox Edition

With the end of the regular season comes a time for reflection for the majority of baseball fans. What went right? What went wrong? You probably have a few ideas where your teams fell short or exceeded expectations, but what about a completely emotionless point of view? Throughout this season I have shown what batter and pitcher production looks like when we regress balls in play to look more like what the players should have seen using exit velocity and launch angle. The offseason will be no different as I take a team by team look at how the season fared for the team, while going a little deeper on a handful of players from each. The order will mirror the final team rankings running in reverse order so you can expect to find some depression leading to elation here. It’s going to take some time, but I would like to get one to two of these out each week which should allow for every team being covered before our glorious game returns to continue threshing our hearts. Here’s a link to the report for this club from last offseason. Here’s the final results:

Past:

30 – 21: BAL CWS MIA TEX KCR SFG SDP DET MIN CIN

20 – 11: ARI LAA PIT CHC SEA ATL NYM TBR COL PHI

10 – 1: MIL TOR STL WAS OAK CLE NYY  HOU BOS

The World Series-winning Boston Red Sox ran their run to four of the last 19 seasons with a good deal of their success owed to all the young talent they were able to reap during their run of three last place finishes in the division from 2012 to 2014. Of course, the off year was one of the four championship winners so even the downtimes worked out ok. Inflation-adjusted three-year payroll trends show a fairly constant progression with this past season approaching $240 million on Opening Day. Folks make a lot of noise about when a five-year plan goes awry, but 2018 was the fifth straight year the team won as many or more games. Boston was able to maintain a high level of consistent winning prior to the more recent lull, though several of their best players hitting free agency in the next year or two might mean more volatility is on the way.

A balanced team, it was the hitters that came out a little bit ahead trailing only the incredible Oakland offense when it came to production. A good deal of that later mediocre stretch can probably be chalked up to getting guys some rest here and there once the division was pretty much in hand. The earlier run has no such excuse, but this was a team that was consistently well above average. Their brief bad runs saw the average or a little worse, but more than made up for by the much more frequent, and further from the average, good runs.

Leading the way was Most Valuable Player Mookie Betts, though this site preferred Mike Trout. Betts came out of the gates on fire looking to make up for an injury-plagued, woeful 2017. His success is predicated on a phenomenal job of avoiding strikeouts, and he doesn’t need to trade the walk to get there as he was almost never below average, and often well above. A lot of players do a good job of putting the ball in play with some of them even running (well) above average walk rates, but Betts rounds out the elite skillset by also being a phenomenal ball-striker. The exit velocity is a tier below the elite mashers, but he consistently hit the ball very hard, while also avoiding putting it on the ground too often. All those liners and above are likely to go for hits with extra bases always on the menu thanks to his good speed. Betts is a complete player as a strong defender in right field making him the perfect building block for any team. All of whom will get their opportunity to make him a very rich man after the 2020 season.

Mookie Betts

While Betts hopes to stay healthy and productive to land his next fortune we come to a J.D. Martinez who has already gotten his. It would be hard to have asked Martinez to be any better at the dish as he pushed Betts on both a rate and cumulative basis. He struck out a bit more than the average while walking as often as his peers, but makes up for the more pedestrian non-contact rates by obliterating everything he does put between the chalk. Production was well above average over the entirety of the year even as his exit velocity fell off from elite to merely very high. Where Betts had one ball over 100 MPH you can see a dozen or more for Martinez, and he seems to do a good job of carrying that high velocity to the higher launch angles that truly differentiate sluggers like this. Last year’s freakishly good health stands as an outlier compared to much of his career, though he doesn’t need to be a full load guy to be one of the best in the game. This past year merely shows he’s in the rarified air when he can stay in the lineup.

J.D. Martinez

Shortstop Xander Bogaerts also enjoyed a bounce back year after injuries derailed him for most of 2017. He will be a free agent after this upcoming season, but the team has already gotten well more than their money’s worth from one of the better hitters at a premium defensive position. Like the last two he shows a pretty small platoon split making him a contributor day-in, and day-out. Generally striking out at a better than average clip is a good start, and walked enough to offset the deleterious effects of the punch out during his lesser runs. His exit velocity was persistently very good, though did show a shelf later in the season where weaker contact ensued over the rest of the season. Most of his hardest contact comes south of the nitro zone leading to a rash of doubles and hard singles, though he can also throw some pokes out there, too, when the pitcher cooperates. He showed almost no ill effects from an early foot injury, though some hand and finger issues down the stretch might have been the cause for his dwindling exit velocity.

Xander Bogaerts

Platoon first baseman Mitch Moreland continued to pummel righties while being unplayable versus same-handed lefties. Expected production showed some staircase going from well above to essentially average, though actual production fell off incrementally as we wind on down those steps. He strikes out a bit more than the walk rate justifies on it’s own, though he’s not far off the average for either. His bigger issue was the fall off in exit velocity over the course of the year with shelves corresponding well with production. He kept the ball off the ground pretty well helping to hide some of his abysmal speed with tons of liners at high velocity. He’ll be back again next year, though might be one of the weaker links in a solid lineup.

Mitch Moreland


Relatively, Andrew Benintendi looks like a much more volatile hitter with tremendous peaks rivaling his more prolific teammates, but also the kind of below average runs those other players never even came near. The leveling off of production look fairly linear from the incredible peak, and slow enough that he still spent most of the season as a solid contributor. The tails are a different story with both happening to coincide with his lesser walk periods. Additionally, while his exit velocity was very stable over the course of the year it did come at a fairly routine level. The biggest issue, however, was steadily putting the ball on the ground more and more often with the end of the season approaching the much maligned Yandy Diaz territory. The ability to play a solid outfield means he will never need to hit as much as pure slugger types, but the lineup is a lot more dangerous when the good version of Benintendi is showing up.

Andrew Benintendi

Picking up the slack for Benintendi’s slide was Jackie Bradley Jr. who plays about as strong of a center field as you could ask out of a player. His actual production showed a fairly slick incline over the course of the year, though his expectations showed him as a very strong hitter. When these things did meet up again it was in the a little better than average range. When things are going rough it’s usually due to a high strikeout rate that a solid walk rate cannot make up for. The contact concerns were more than made up for with hard contact that mostly comes on a line or down. Two places that allow him to leverage his good speed. Injuries have always been the knock even dating back to his career as a Gamecock, though when healthy the performance speaks for itself. Even if it’s easy to get overlooked in such a deep lineup.

Jackie Bradley Jr.

A couple more players that saw less than fulltime, but still a good deal were Brock Holt and Rafael Devers. Holt is the older of the two and more of a super-utility player who can fill gaps, while Devers is the former hot prospect who has underwhelmed a bit during his acclimation process while still being young enough to expect him to iron things out. Holt looks like an averagey batter in every way. Strikeout rates are in line with the pack, and he’ll walk a bit more than the rest of the league, but not overwhelmingly so. His game is predicated on spraying liners with the occasional turn and burn. The exit velocity incline was nice to see, but neither the lower beginning or the higher end are anything to write home about. Representing the other side of the coin, Rafael Devers is a thumper with strikeout issues. Over the course of the season he didn’t have any strong forays above the average while having some longer stretches where he was a good bit below. Not something you want to see from a guy who might not be a butcher in the field, but is more sous chef than head. The exit velocity tailoff over the season looks fairly unbroken, while there is a semblance of tradeoff here as the strikeout rate went from brutal to closer to average. The first half portends a guy that can hit the ball hard in the upper third of players, which shows up noticeably on the spray chart. The majority of his hardest contact is on the lower angles that can lead to hits, but rarely leave the yard, and anything on the ground that doesn’t get through is going to be an out owing to his bumbling speed.

Brock Holt

Rafael Devers

Catcher was an absolute nightmare at the plate with few signs of that improving, but another weakness was second base where Dustin Pedroia’s career is likely over even if he has to keep putting his name on the form in order to receive the rest of his contract. Eduardo Nunez was re-signed to help fill that gap, but a litany of knee issues have reduced his ability to contribute so that he is no longer a reliable player even in a niche role. He will continue to see run, though may end up in a platoon situation with Brock Holt at second base.

Eduardo Nunez

The batters may have been second best in the league, but the pitchers were right there, too, placing sixth by xwRAA. The staff showcased a wonderful first half that had one stretch where things got out of hand, but otherwise ran from average to much better. The second half showed troughs pushing to the same depths, but more consistently running closer to the average, and far more spikes into the worse than average territory. True ace Chris Sale missing time down the stretch might be the simple explanation, as well as a team setting the cruise control a bit after locking up the division relatively early. While many teams have pivoted to more work for their good bullpens, the Red Sox maintain tradition giving much of their work to the hands of the few. Rick Porcello and David Price joined Sale in facing at least 600 batters, and backend starters like Eduardo Rodriguez and Brian Johnson saw the most work amongst the lesser quality arms.

As mentioned previously, Chris Sale missed some time down the stretch to help rest an ailing shoulder, but up until that point he was the consensus favorite to win the Cy Young. The shortened workload might have removed him from that contention, but having him more healthy and ready to go was no small thing for the team that ended up winning it all. His charts below are utterly disgusting most notably in his strikeout rate going from the drool-worthy 30% level to flirting with 50% over much of the second half essentially making him the starting pitcher version of Josh Hader. Keeping the walk rate at average or below makes the gap even more enormous, but he goes further by also inducing weak contact usually on the ground or popped up. His utter obliteration of lefties means rest for most of those handed opponents, but he was also 30% better than average against righties. Durability will always be the concern for a guy that resembles a coat-hangered shirt placed atop a broomstick, but Sale stands atop the mountain as one of the very best pitchers in the game.

Chris Sale

Backing the stud ace was a couple of relief options that were rode hard and put away wet. The lesser known of the two, Matt Barnes, racked up a bit more production due to a slightly greater workload, but few things separate him from Craig Kimbrel. Both strike out a ton of guys in the upper 30% range, and both struggle with the walk as they refuse to give into batters preferring to issue a walk rather than groove a pitch. Kimbrel’s walk rate especially went nuts over the course of the season as batters realized he was utterly refusing to enter the zone unless he wanted to. Barnes more consistently sat at the a little worse than average section, which is probably fine in a relief role. Kimbrel showed concerning performance masked by better than expected results on balls in play, while Barnes saw more true results that still place him slightly better than the league. The casual fan like knows who Craig Kimbrel is, and is likely decrying why the team isn’t bringing him back, but they’re essentially doing the lesser heralded Matt Barnes. The issue, of course, is that any team is better with both.

Matt Barnes

Craig Kimbrel

The rotation depth extended to Eduardo Rodriguez and Rick Porcello who slot in as higher end mid-rotation guys, and ran fairly similar numbers on the season. Porcello showed some susceptibility to damage from lefties, but Rodriguez showed virtually no handedness split. On the other hand, Porcello was a true work horse leading the staff in batters faced, while Rodriguez again missed time due to a knee issue that perennially limits his workload capacity. A shame, as he looks like the better option when healthy. He’ll strikeout and walk a few more than Porcello, and they had nearly identical ball in play results including similar slight overperformance. Porcello is more average or worse over long stretches, but makes up for it with the volume he provides that can allow a manager to more aggressively utilize the relief corps on other days. Rodriguez was more average or better, but comes with the expectations for a less than full time load. The rotation depth provided by these two might look worse elsewhere, but the luxury of Sale is that they’re pushed down the chain enough that their responsibility doesn’t need to be maxed out.

Eduardo Rodriguez

Rick Porcello

The wealth continues as the fourth primary starter, David Price, was pretty similar to Porcello in bottom-line results, but got there in a different way. Between the 700+ batters faced and average or better production it’s easy to call him a third mid-rotation or better starter pitching out of a slot where some teams have to throw tons of spaghetti. There were a couple of troubling runs in his line, including the very start of the season, but when things were going well he showed out as one of the better pitchers in the game. Especially down the stretch when he really seemed to hit his stride to put together good start after good start. This is when his strikeout rate was flirting with 30%, though previous affairs had been more kiss and run. The walk rate started around the average, but the last two-thirds or so show a guy consistently well better. Like the other two he showed some overperformance on his balls in play, likely a nod to the very good outfield defense the team could run out nightly, but unlike those guys his expected looked to be a bit worse than average. A byproduct of all that aggressiveness in the zone that can lead to short at bats and walk avoidance when things are going poorly for him it’s likely due to less sharp command that sees his pitches in the zone getting flared for hits and occasionally pounded out of the park.

David Price

The last group is represented by the kind of back end arms that work better in swingman roles, but can help fill gaps as spot starters, as well. Drew Pomeranz was truly and justifiably very bad, such that, he played his way out of town. On the other hand, Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez worked much better as guys that can come get outs, but maybe not as many as you would like. Johnson was pretty good against lefties while Velazquez gave the team solid performance versus righties with both showing weaknesses against opposite-handed hitters. It’s likely that they could form a fine fifth starter combined if the team is willing to let Johnson start versus lefty-heavy lineups and Velazquez catching the good righty orders. Maybe that’s a piggyback situation, but it probably works better to leave one of them available as an emergency starter or mop up guy in blowouts on the other days continuing to mix things up to keep them stretched out enough to ensure twice through workloads. Lastly, Joe Kelly was not reviewed because he is a thug that is going to be in prison someday.

Brian Johnson

Hector Velazquez

Drew Pomeranz

Below you will find the rest of the prominent players from this past season and how they broke out in four different ways. I will save the commentary here as the charts speak for themselves once you’ve got an idea of what you’re looking at, and by cutting down on the verbiage it allows for looks at more players. Each chart looks at a rolling 100-plate appearance (or ball in play) average with the top left showing each player’s true and actual wOBA* over the course of the season. Top right shows the rolling strikeout and walk plus hit by pitch rates, and the bottom left shows the exit velocity and launch angle combinations for every ball in play. Lastly, the bottom right quadrant shows each player’s exit velocity and launch angle over the course of the season. Feel free to start a conversation on twitter if you have any questions or want to talk about any of these players. More than happy to have those chats.

Steve Pearce

Hanley Ramirez

 

Ian Kinsler

 

Christian Vazquez

Blake Swihart

 

Sandy Leon

 

 

Nathan Eovaldi

 

Heath Hembree

 

Joe Kelly

Brandon Workman

Steven Wright

 



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