Five Red Sox Stories From 2015: The Bigs

by Mark Gallant | Posted on Thursday, October 8th, 2015
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Boston Red Sox Mookie Betts celebrates after scoring with teammate Xander Bogaerts in the fifth inning of American League baseball action against the Toronto Blue Jays in Toronto on Monday, June 29, 2015. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

                                     (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

What a roller coaster season it was for the Red Sox. Despite essentially being out of the postseason race by the All-Star break, I had no trouble tuning into the game each night to watch. Honestly, the first half Red Sox and the second half Red Sox looked like two different teams. Did the season go the way I thought it would? Not at all. I was optimistic at the start of the season and I’m still optimistic now. The farm system, which I covered last week, is probably the best in baseball, and with one of the most well-respected and reputable big-wigs in the industry in Dave Dobrowski now at the helm, there’s certainly a bright future ahead.

Before looking forward to the offseason and 2016, let’s look back at 2015 and highlight (or lowlight) what happened along the way.

1. Betts and Bogaerts…or is it Bogaerts and Betts?

Where do I begin with these two?

First off, they should be the two cornerstones of this franchise moving forward. Although there shouldn’t be “untouchables” in theory, Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts should be off limits. There are plenty of high-end prospects the Red Sox can use for trade chips instead.

Back to this season. Both played at an all-star caliber and really kept this team playing at a respectable level for a large portion of the season.

After the woes Bogaerts saw in 2014, I don’t think anyone expected him to improve by such a wide margin, both offensively and defensively. Especially defensively, in my opinion. We all figured he would be a productive hitter, but considering the Red Sox had already pushed him over to third base for parts of the previous two seasons, there were clearly doubts about whether he could be a major league shortstop. He answered that question this year by posting the 9th highest runs saved out of 23 qualified shortstops in the majors.

At the plate, he improved his average by 80 points and fell just short of 200 hits. He put his power on the back burner in the process, but it’s a tool that he clearly possesses and can tap into as he matures as a hitter. He finished the year with a bWAR (baseball-reference) of 4.6, tied for 17th in the AL, and an fWAR (fangraphs) of 4.3, tied for 14th in the AL.

Although Betts produced at a very similar rate in his limited time in 2014, we weren’t sure how he would do in his first full season as an everyday center fielder. Remember, Betts was a second baseman until a couple months into last season, so he’s still very new to the outfield. However, his athleticism allowed him to play an above average center field, ranking above players like Mike Trout and old friend Jacoby Ellsbury.

His quick hands at the plate more than account for his small frame, as he was able to finish the year with 68 extra base hits, 16th most in the majors. Turning 23 just yesterday, Betts is one of the most exciting young players in the game and can bring the crowd to their feet at the plate, on the basepaths, or in the outfield. Betts finished the year with a bWAR of 6.0, 7th in the AL, and an fWAR of 4.8, 10th in the AL.

2. Ramirez and Sandoval were…not good

The two big acquisitions the Red Sox made in the offseason were Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. I thought Ramirez would mash at Fenway Park, especially when he came into spring training looking bigger than David Ortiz. I didn’t really understand the Sandoval signing, but they needed a third baseman and they had money to spend. Looking at the lineup as a whole, I thought it would be one of the best in the league. They ended the season with the fourth most runs in the majors, but these two weren’t the reasons why.

NOBODY thought they would be as bad as they were. Out of 441 American League players with a plate appearance this season, Ramirez ranked 439th in fWAR at -1.8 while Sandoval sat in 440th at -2.0, just a fraction better than Victor Martinez. Pretty much half of Ramirez’s production came in the first month of the season, as he just wasn’t the same player after his collision with the wall in early May that sidelined him for a few weeks. In the second half of the season, Ramirez hit .183 with 0 home runs. What else is there to say? The Red Sox have told him to lose 15-20 pounds according to reports, but it should be interesting to see if he is even on the team by the time spring training rolls around.

Sandoval also started the season much better than he finished it, but there weren’t many good takeaways at all for the third baseman. He gave up switch hitting early in the season after looking like a Little Leaguer from the right side of the plate, which immediately takes away some of his value. His defense, which had been surprisingly good for his size in San Francisco, was the worst among third basemen in baseball. In fact, his -15.7 runs saved is almost twice as bad as Brett Lawrie‘s -8.7, the second worst total.

In the second half of the year, Sandoval hit .210 with a .602 OPS and 3 home runs. Although he was a little unlucky with a .270 BABIP this season, it’s pretty understandable considering his hard hit% was just 24.5%, 6% lower than his career average.

By the end of the year he had fallen apart, leaving a game due to dehydration and missing the end of the year due to pneumonia. Perhaps improving his health might be the first step towards improving his production on the field.

3. Starting pitching a work in progress

Plenty of people jumped all over ex-GM Ben Cherington for assembling a starting rotation that didn’t include an ace. Obviously it was a mistake, but this team could have contended for a playoff spot with the starting pitchers Cherington provided at the beginning of the year. The main problem, in my mind, was the defense and bullpen.

From a results standpoint, the starting pitching was bad. Rick Porcello and Joe Kelly ended the season with ERAs just under five, and the only starter with an ERA under 3.50 was Clay Buchholz, who once again was unable to make it through an entire season.

Looking a bit deeper, though, shows that the starters should have been better. In order of most starts, Wade Miley, Rick Porcello, Joe Kelly, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Clay Buchholz and the following xFIPs: 4.08, 3.72, 4.08, 4.05, and 3.30. Essentially, xFIP takes away defense to look at what a pitcher’s performance should have been. It looks at strikeouts, walks, and fly balls allowed. It differs from FIP in that it looks at how many home runs a pitcher should have allowed by regressing their HR/FB ratio to the league average of about 10%. In short, the Red Sox starters should have been better on paper and should have better luck next season. Also, pretty much every starter looked much better towards the end of the season than they did during the first half.

While I still think they need an ace, and I think Dave Dombrowski will go out and get one, the rest of the rotation should be good enough to contend.

4. Surprise contributions

There were a few names that ended up being a big part of the 2015 Red Sox that I wasn’t expecting. Jackie Bradley, Travis Shaw, and Blake Swihart.

Bradley has had plenty of opportunities to prove himself in the big leagues. He played almost all of 2014 in the majors and had an abysmal OPS of .531. With a glut of outfielders to begin 2015, Bradley was pretty much out of an everyday job. Lucky for him, Ramirez played his way out of left field and Shane Victorino was traded to the Angels, giving him yet another chance to prove himself.

And what’d he do? Put up a Ruthian month of August in which he slashed .354/.429/.734 while still providing elite defense. While that month was certainly an outlier, he was still able to hit four home runs in September along with a .767 OPS. He has shown great power to the opposite field, something that he had never shown before. He used the Green Monster to his advantage, knocking doubles off of it and on a few occasions, clearing it completely. If the Red Sox feel like that was a fluke, they can trade him while his value is high. If not, he’s made his case for one of the starting outfield jobs next year.

Shaw was someone who I didn’t think could be a big league contributor. In the minors, he showed his power off by hitting 19, 16, and 21 home runs, respectively, over the past three full seasons, but was really only a .250ish hitter. He was never really touted as a top prospect, though.

His .274/.331/.491 line with 13 home runs in 65 games with the Red Sox was very impressive and pleasantly surprising. His swing creates great loft and allows the Red Sox to have another lefty power bat in the lineup to complement David Ortiz. I think his numbers may regress a bit, but still provide great value compared to the potential future first baseman Hanley Ramirez.

Swihart was brought up earlier than he should have been. It’s easy to see why. He is still a bit raw as a catcher and has defensively at times, particularly blocking balls in the dirt and keeping them in front of him. Yet, he also showed why he was so highly praised. An athletic, switch-hitting catcher who can hit like he can at his age is something you don’t see in baseball. It will be interesting to see how they deal with the catcher situation because Christian Vazquez, the superior catcher, will be back next season. They may need to decide what they value more and trade what they value less. Do they want a pitch framing wizard with excellent skills behind the plate or an athletic hitter who should be a decent catcher in his own right?

5. Front office frenzy

While the performances on the field brought almost every emotion imaginable to Red Sox fans, what may matter the most going forward are the changes that were made in the front office.

Ben Cherington out, Dave Dombrowski in. Even though former assistant GM Mike Hazen is actually taking Cherington’s spot, it’s clear that Dombrowski is captaining the ship. Cherington brought Boston a World Series, which is something I think we forget at times. He also brought us a handful of last place finishes, which is something that is unacceptable in Boston.

By adding Dombrowski and Frank Wren to a strong group of baseball operations officials, the Sox should have a good combination of old school and new school approaches towards building the ballclub.

I’ll preview the offseason a bit more in depth as we get closer to free agency, but expect it to be exciting.

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Mark Gallant
About the Author

Mark has contributed to isportsweb, the Yawkey Way Report, Fansided's Chowder and Champions, and The Hockey Writers. He is also the host of the weekly radio show Top Shelf Sports on Bryant University's WJMF radio. Follow him on Twitter @TopShelfSports5

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