Reliving the 2017 Season: Boston Red Sox Edition | The Process Report

Reliving the 2017 Season: 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 team. The order will mirror next June’s draft slotting 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 two to three of these out each week which should allow for every team being covered before our glorious game returns to continue threshing our hearts.

Past:

30 – 21: DET SFG PHI CWS CIN NYM SDP ATL OAK PIT

20 – 11:  BAL TOR MIA SEA TEX TBR LAA KCR STL MIN

10 – 1:  MIL COL NYY CHC ARI

Perennially, fans of the Boston Red Sox are permitted to dream large. Enormous expectations can often lead to fantastic depths when not met as the team has as many last place finishes as divisional championships over the last six years. The 2017 season was no different after a thorough gutting of the farm system imported a couple of stud arms. Things worked out about as well as the could in the case of Chris Sale, but not so much when it came to Tyler Thornburg. As you can see here, the pitching was rarely an issue. At their worst they looked like an average team, but that was a fairly short stretch with the rest of the time spend in the pretty good range.

The bats, however, were another story. They, too, rarely crossed over the average line, but in this case their time was mostly spent in the below average area. The four best stretches also came with outsize observed results that made the bats look even better. The vast majority of their season showed a positive run differential leading to solid justification for being amongst one of the best teams in the game. This is a great example of when a strength is so good that it can help carry a weaker unit. Even if the team fell short of their ultimate goal.

It isn’t hard to see why they had so much success on the bump. An enormous strikeout percentage was amongst the league elites, but unlike some of those other K-machines the Red Sox could also boast a well better than average walk rate. It came with slightly better than average production on balls in play, which perfectly mirrored the observed results. Add it up and they were around 105 runs better than average. The bats showed lesser, but still strong peripherals with a slightly better than average walk rate coming along with very strong strikeout aversion. There just wasn’t any authority to speak of when it came to their balls in play. The strong plate discipline kept the team from being a complete mess, but it wasn’t enough to offset the woeful production on balls in play. Thus the 62 runs below average taking a sizeable bite out of how good the pitching fared.

Starting with those arms you should need little introduction to Chris Sale, one of the best lefties of recent memory and a guy that is capable of complete dominance every time out. His fellow starters backed him with above average, but not crazily so, production. Eduardo Rodriguez and Drew Pomeranz showed fairly similar lines on their way to combining for around 15 runs better than average. In an abbreviated season David Price was fairly strong if not quite near past dominance. He walked more than usual with more of an average strikeout rate, but suppressed quality contact reasonably well. Double his workload and production and you’re looking at a fine season. Doug Fister filled some of that gap well enough, while Rick Porcello maintained health, but not at the same level that earned him a Cy Young in the prior season.

Backing up the starters was a relatively non-descript bullpen that featured two relief aces for when it mattered. Few can match Craig Kimbrel who put a weaker 2016 behind him with an electric ’17 that saw him strike out half the batters he faced while running a better than average walk rate. His contact was exceptionally hard, but since it didn’t show up like that in reality it looked like another great season for the future hall of famer. His dominance over-shadowed the strong campaign from Matt Barnes who also struck out a ton, but with much weaker expected production on balls in play. The walk rate was a little higher, but walks aren’t the end of the world when everything else looks so pretty. Lefties Robby Scott and Fernando Abad gave the team fine options when they were available, and former starters Joe Kelly and Brandon Workman showed solid transitions to the bullpen. Deadline acquisition Addison Reed firmed everything up nicely down the stretch, as well. The team was generally quick to cut bait with the arms that weren’t working out well with Brian Johnson getting a little more leash that he probably deserved.

Everytime I see Chris Sale reach back from that Randy Johnson-esque, nearly sidearm slot that features pitches seemingly being released from behind the back of a left-handed batter I question how he ever gives up a hit to a lefty, or anyone, for that matter. It took a mountain to bring the man to Beantown, but despite the heavy cost no one should have been disappointed by these results. He approached mortality for a fairly long stretch early, and then again to close out the season, but in between he gave the production of a reliever over a heavy workload. Every team should want a pitcher like this, but only one team can have him. The late season tail off could be due to that heavy workload, but with a long offseason since the team didn’t go far in the playoffs he should have had ample time to reload. I would expect more of the same going forward.

When healthy, Drew Pomeranz has been a solid mid-rotation option. That had hardly been the case prior to 2017, but this past season saw what he could do when able to stay on the field. He’ll walk more than you would like to see, but that is a byproduct of sticking with his excellent curveball. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the batter for not chasing yet another breaker out of the zone, but that sort of microscopy might cause you to miss just how very good he was last year. There were a couple runs where he was worse than average, but not appreciably so. The close to the season left something to be desired, especially when you compare the entire second half to the very strong first, but nobody should be expecting him to be an ace. One observation about the lesser second half is that this is roughly about when he was making his second full tour of the show after coming over to the American League mid-2016. Perhaps batters were starting to adjust to his unique approach to pitching, or perhaps it was a product of fatigue. It’s enough to make me hesitant to go whole hog buying him, but at the right price he would be fine in most rotations, fantasy or otherwise.

People have been waiting for Eduardo Rodriguez to put it all together since the team traded Andrew Miller for him during one of the many last place finishes. Various lower body injuries, including knee issues, have held him back from showcasing all that promise, but 2017 should give all of us enough of a glimpse to realize he has the talent to pitch in this league. He got off to a strong start before his bum knee started to give him fits again. You can see this show up fairly well during his worst performance of the season. Going to the disabled list for six weeks seemed to have done the trick as the rest of his season shows a very strong return even if observed results were outlandishly worse. Hard to believe he will pitch this upcoming season at the tender age of 24, but if he is able to keep his legs under him then you’re looking at one of the more underrated pitchers in the game. He is someone I would love to sneak off another team’s roster before they lock, and would have little problem pushing him to double digits in an auction.

The 2016 Cy Young winner seems to have made a conscious choice to throw more straight fastballs instead of his quite good sinker this past season while amping up his slider usage at the expense of his change up. That speaks to a pitcher that no longer wants to pitch to the bottom of the zone, perhaps, as a response to league leaks that the bottom of the zone would be getting a lot less friendly. He quickly realized that the top of the zone ain’t exactly paradise, either. Worse results, particularly early, showed that maybe that wasn’t such a good idea. He started to rein it in over the rest of the season looking like an average pitcher that delves into both the good and the badlands, but the interesting thing will be to see if he returns to the type of pitch mix that plays more to his strengths. I’ve never had a lot of fantasy love for Porcello, but he might be a fine wild card once you get firmly into dollar days.

The first year of the post-David Ortiz era saw the team get fine production from their first base and designated hitters Mitch Moreland and Hanley Ramirez, respectively, but few other players really stood out. Fans probably weren’t all that happy with either when you see the wide gaps between observed and expected results, which might be here to stay considering we are looking at immobile players that like to pull the ball. If true, then the team has a lot of work to do to upgrade upon good, but not great options at those positions. The bigger issue was seeing Mookie Betts go from a cornerstone of the offense to a merely good contributor. Few should have expected Andrew Benintendi to be a superstar in his first full season, but showed himself to be an above average hitter. Coming in exactly at the average was Dustin Pedroia who seems to be in the final stages of a career that should leave him a little light of the Hall of Fame.

While the hit-first guys showed strong production on balls in play, the entire rest of the lineup showed such soft production on balls in play that you have to think this is part of their internal process. The high walk rates coming with average or better strikeout rates are a fine base, but virtually everyone on the team saw weak production from their contact, and while walks get guys on, it is base hits that get them in. So it goes with the rest of the lineup that saw Jackie Bradley Jr. as a fine enough option given his glove and a plethora of others that overperformed expectations in small samples. The catchers look like a mess with Christian Vazquez at least providing some semblance of good defense, but the same cannot be said for journeyman Sandy Leon. Lastly, Xander Bogaerts had previously shown a preternatural ability to put balls in holes, which mostly has masked over the fact that he doesn’t really hit the ball with much authority. That aspect was even more apparent this year with a sub-.300 xwOBA*, though he is yet another that runs a strong enough strikeout to walk to countenance some of the ball in play woes.

Mitchy Two-Bags earned his nickname early due to an ability to sting liners into the gaps of an outfield that gets bigger the more you move from left to right. He showed a little bit of underperformance early on, but his strong expected production meant those gaps were still in acceptable territory. However, a toe injury that eventually bled into his knee caused a fairly linear downturn in the middle of the season, which drove those observed versus earned gaps to become even larger. His boxscore line over that middle of the season shows a guy that was unplayable, but the team stuck with him and he eventually got everything back into that above average area. Putting up a true wOBA* north of .370 is going to give the team all it needs, but you can see that those times were much more sporadic as the season wore on, something that is kind of a calling card for the masher as he has yet to put up a season with more than 600 plate appearances. The team must have felt that the injuries were the leading cause of his poor play over the second half as they have elected to bring him back on a solid free agent deal. The bigger questions for the team aren’t whether he will get hurt, that seems like a given, but how long will he be affected by those maladies and will they be able to replace his production in the interim, however long that is.

In his third full season Mookie Betts continued to avoid the strikeout like he owed it money, while steadily increasing his walk rate. His contact ability is obviously exceptional and he pairs it with solid strike zone judgement that allows him to get and hit pitches when the count is in his favor. The thing is, when he does put the ball in play it isn’t like he hit it with incredible authority like in past years. The park does very well to accentuate his gifts and equally provides service in masking that his style of game might not play too well in other parks. You can see a steady producer over the first half that saw far better actual results. A mid-season cliff dive still saw him as more below average than bad, and things steadily improved from there even if his real results were a good deal worse. He closed the season on a particular high note so it isn’t like he was a total schlub or anything. Granted, fantasy realms care not for park effects, but this feels like a good player that you have to pay a great player price to get, which is probably why I have never owned him. Additionally, stolen bases carry more weight in traditional fantasy leagues than in reality. All of this leading me to believe that Betts is a better fantasy player than real life player. It will be interesting to see if the team elects to extend him now that he has hit arbitration or if they, like me, view him as a nice piece to enjoy, but not something you want to marry forever.

Much like Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi showed solid production over the course of the season, but no great heights of which to speak. He rarely actively hurt the team at the dish, but he was also more above average than good throughout the season, and more good than great at his peaks. The couple of slumps don’t really worry me as every player goes through slumps and he generally rebounded well. At such a young age there is still time to get in on the ground floor of what could be a fine career, but I wonder how much power potential exists in that bat. He showed a ton of variation in his launch angle cresting 20 degrees over 50-ball in play samples on multiple occasions only to sink back into the single digits nearly as often. Perhaps, he can elevate more in the future, but it certainly appears that the current team philosophy is being driven by hitting liners in the event that you weren’t able to work a walk. There might very well be another gear here, but I’d rather see it first than buy with that expectation necessary to justify the cost.

Hanley Ramirez rarely has fans for long. He has moved around a bunch, both on the field, but also off it as teams have enjoyed his stay without extending it too much. A myriad of injuries perennially cause him to miss some of the season and when he comes back it is usually at a reduced level. All that talk, though, misses that the guy can still hit even at his advanced age. A strong start was interrupted for a decent spell, but then he was right back up to that .370ish twOBA* that shows good contributions no matter your position. The end of the season left a lot to be desired, and you can see that most of his second half was littered with the type of underperformance that gets fans to show their ugly side, made worse when it’s the only one they truly have. He’s not what he was, who is, but he should make for a fine stream option if you can pull him out of dollar days and then cast him off once the annual injury bug takes a bite out of his contributions.

Leaderboards

We’re almost there and you’re now starting to see the top of the leaderboards gaining new faces with each new report as we’re finally getting to the very best of the best. Below you will find the top and bottom 20 pitchers and hitters before moving on to team aggregate lines, and ultimately each team combined xwRAA contributions.

 



Leave a Reply

#layout { padding-left:20px; }