Why you shouldn’t count the Red Sox out yet

March 6, 2020

It has been a wild off-season for the Boston Red Sox. They went from trying to trade Mookie Betts, to saying there is no way, and then eventually trading him. In that trade, they sent David Price and Mookie Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers in one of the biggest trades in Major League Baseball (MLB) history. Following this trade, some said it was safe to say that the Red Sox are dead in the water next season. Yet, according to Spotrac, the Red Sox have the fifth highest payroll in baseball for the 2020 season. 

How could a team with that high of a payroll be considered out of the running for the World Series before the season even begins? The reason is the same reason why they had to trade Betts and Price. Boston paid huge contracts to players that either underperformed in the 2019 season or are too injured to play enough to make their contract worth it. So, the Red Sox are paying an absurd amount of money with no chance to win the World Series. However, there is a lot of talent left on this team and if some things go right, they still have a shot. 

First off, it is impossible to say that the Red Sox are going to be better in the 2020 season than in the 2019 season because they no longer have Betts. Optimistic Boston fans are going to say that the Red Sox are somehow better off without him. This is completely false. Betts is a top five player in all of baseball, so getting rid of him is not immediately going to make the team better. However, the replacement may be well on his way to becoming a star. Alex Verdugo was the key trade piece that was sent from LA to Boston, and he may be a lot better than people think. 

Before going in depth into baseball stats, a brief description of the average values and relative meaning for the following stats. According to Baseball Reference, the average batting average in 2019 was 0.252, and over 0.300 is approaching elite status. RBI’s are runs batted in, and this stat defines how many runs a player drives in by getting a hit with a person on base. According to Rotochamp, in 106 games last season, Verdugo hit 0.294 with 44 RBI’s and 12 home runs. That is not extremely overwhelming, but it is pretty solid at age 23. His 2020 projections have him hitting 0.290 with 60 RBI’s and 15 home runs. Again, that is not nothing. That is significantly better than what people are giving the Red Sox credit for. He additionally plays stellar defense in the outfield, nearly comparable to Mookie Betts. 

The big issue here is that those stats do not measure to what Betts has put up with in the past couple years. Without Betts’ hitting, is the Boston offense completely dead? The answer is no. Rafael Devers hit 0.311 last season with 32 home runs and 115 RBI’s. Those numbers are crazy good and especially so, considering he’s only 23 years old. He is only going to get better. J.D. Martinez also had 105 RBI’s with 36 home runs last year. Not to mention Xander Bogaerts with 117 RBI’s and a 0.309 batting average. The Red Sox can clearly still hit without Betts. They have players that can produce on the offense, but the most questionable part of the team is the pitching. 

Last season the Red Sox were 19th in pitching earned run average (ERA), the number of runs a player lets in every nine innings, with 4.70 just a season after they were eighth, according to ESPN. So, what happened? Pretty much everything went wrong. Their ace Chris Sale was injured for a large portion of the season, and when he did pitch, he was not great. 

4.47 ERA was the average last season, according to Baseball Reference. ERA’s between three and four are strong, and the closer you get toward two, you approach a level of incredible pitching. It is very uncommon for a starting pitcher to have an ERA below two but if a player has an ERA under two, they are among the best pitchers in all time of baseball. Sale had a 4.40 ERA with a record of 6-11. The Red Sox ace was struggling big time. 

Just a season after Nathan Eovaldi pitched incredibly in the playoffs, he would allow 45 runs in just 67.2 innings. His ERA was 5.99. At the trade deadline, the Red Sox attempted to address the starting pitching issues by trading for Andrew Cashner from the Orioles. That did not work out at all as he ended the season with 6.20 ERA and allowing 37 runs in just 53.2 innings. The bullpen was not great either as they were 18th in the bullpen ERA. Their bright spot was Brandon Workman, who had an incredible 1.88 ERA as he allowed a miniscule 15 runs in 71.2 innings. He was easily one of the best relievers in all of baseball. 

So how do the Red Sox have a chance? According to USA Today, the Red Sox are projected to finish third in the AL East with a record of 84-78 behind the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays. How could a team that finishes third in their division possibly have a chance at winning the World Series? Firstly, the Red Sox weren’t horrible last season. Despite the disappointment, Boston still had 84 wins. They were not as atrocious as they were portrayed to be. The reason why they were seen so poorly is because they won the World Series the year before. Players such as Brandon Workman, Matt Barnes, Eduardo Rodriguez, Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts showed flashes of superstar potential, so they may get even better next season. All these players are either in their primes or are close to entering them. A team with that much star potential definitely still has a chance to be incredible. 

The big question is, “what is happening with Chris Sale?” A season after being completely dominant, he appeared to have lost his touch. Home runs really hurt him in 2019 as he let in 24 in just 147.1 innings. But there were flashes of his old self. Fox Sports recorded Sale striking out batters at an elite rate of 13.3 per nine innings. If he had pitched enough innings, he would have been second in all of baseball among starting pitchers behind only Gerrit Cole. Rotochamp has him with a 3.11 ERA next season and a 13-6 record. He is likely to return closer to his 2.11 ERA elite self, but anything better than last season is going to be a big help for the Red Sox. 

Nathan Eovaldi is another player who needs to step up and return to his old self. Baseball Reference says his career ERA is 4.30, which is not incredible. But as recent as the 2018 postseason, he had an incredible 1.61 ERA. He has nasty pitches, so it is possible for him to be a solid pitcher. Even if the offense stays at least at the level it was last season and the pitching gets to being slightly above average, what happens with the Rays and the Yankees is going to be important for them to let alone make the playoffs. If all teams play to their max potential, the division is going to be extremely competitive and it may come down to which team has the least number of injuries. If the Red Sox make the playoffs, their hitting and a possibly improved bullpen give them a real shot at going all the way. The season is not over just yet. 

Menu Title