Life of a Sportsaholic

This blog is intended to be insight into my life as an irrational, stats-driven, obsessive sports fan in Boston. I am a fan of all types of sports with an emphasis on Boston teams and am a proud UConn alum.

Tag: xander bogaerts

Red Sox Defense Is a Hot Mess

AP Photo/Chris O’Meara

After another 4-error effort on Monday night, I’m officially ready to call the Red Sox defense a disaster so far in 2017. On the surface the numbers are scary and it gets even worse as you dig in. Warning: Look away if you are afraid of bad defense.

The Red Sox rank last in errors in the AL (23) and 28th out of 30 teams in the MLB. Even worse, they are dead last in the MLB in fielding percentage (.975) and there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight. The Red Sox have committed at least 1 error in 14 of their 25 games (56%). They have committed multiple errors in 5 of their 25 games (20%) and are on a particularly bad stretch lately with at least 2 errors in 4 of their last 6 games (2 of those games with 4 errors each).

Let’s look at the culprits:

Marco Hernandez, who we all know should not be a starting 3rd baseman on a contending team, now has 5 errors in 19 games. Of all the culprits, he’s the only one with a semblance of an excuse: he’s not an everyday MLB player and is only playing thanks to the injury to Pablo Sandoval. Anyone miss Travis Shaw?

That brings me to Panda, who is 2nd on the team with 4 errors. All we heard coming into the season was how Panda was recommitted and in excellent shape. How did that work out? He has played in 16 games this season (currently on the DL) and is on pace for 35 errors (assuming he conservatively plays in 140 games), which is atrocious. He has always had an occasional error problem, finishing with 10 or more every year since 2009, but this year it seems to be the worst yet. Combined, that’s 9 errors coming from the hot corner this year.

Then we get to a pair of players with 3 errors a piece: Xander Bogaerts and Mitch Moreland.

I expect some errors from the SS position, especially the way Xander plays it, but 3 already in just 21 games is a bad trend. His highest error total was last season when he had 12, but that was over 157 games – an error every 13 games. This year, he’s averaging an error every 7 games.

Moreland’s results are even more disturbing. He was signed to be a strong defensive first baseman (Gold Glove winner last year) who can hit occasionally. He now has 3 errors in 25 games, 1 more than he had in all of 2016 in 139 games played in the field. His career high is 5 errors in 148 games in 2013. At his current pace, he’ll finish 2017 with 17 errors.

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Overall defensive incompetence is a disturbing trend, but it frankly hasn’t had a huge impact on their win-loss record. The Red Sox have won 7 games in which they committed at least 1 error (50% of such games) and are 6-5 in games when committing 0 errors. The breaking point is at 2 or more errors. Not surprisingly, the Red Sox are just 1-4 when committing 2+ errors.

If the team continues to struggle defensively, it’s likely the team will remain around the .500 mark and not be able to gain ground on the rest of the AL East. The Red Sox need to figure out 3rd base defense before it’s too late and the hole is too big.

What to Watch For During Spring Training

Barry Chin/Boston Globe

Let me begin by saying I love spring training. Baseball is my first love, so any sign that the season is around the corner gets me giddy. There is just one problem… It’s too damn long. Pitchers and catchers reported mid-February and won’t play any meaningful baseball until April 2nd on opening day. That’s 6+ weeks of drills and meaningless baseball games, which can be hard for the casual fan to follow. An added challenge for most is that many games are not on TV  or are afternoon games during the week.

Over the years I have developed a system for knowing what to look for (and not look for) during spring training games. Hopefully it helps you decipher what’s really important this time of year.

What to Watch For (and Ignore)

Watch for Pitcher Ramp-Up, Ignore Pitcher Stat Lines

The most reasonable explanation for a long spring training is the need for a slow build-up of stamina for starting pitchers (and even some relievers). In order to reduce injury risk, most pitchers slowly add workload throughout the month of games in order to be ready for opening day. Watch for starters to begin with an inning or two, around 20-30 pitches initially, then slowly add pitches and innings leading to a more normal-looking start in late March.

During that span, ignore pitcher stat lines. There is nothing more frustrating for me than to read an alarmist article about a starter giving up 4 runs in an inning in March. Every pitcher is unique and their throwing schedules vary greatly. Some pitchers will spend an outing just working on their fastball with very few (or no) secondary pitches. Some will work on their curveball almost exclusively at times to try and improve that particular pitch. ERA and record mean very little in the spring, unless you have a pitcher with a fragile level of confidence (a whole other conversation).

Watch for Quality At-Bats, Ignore Batting Averages

Another mistake made in the spring is looking at player batting averages and projecting regular season success based on them. There are sometimes the case of a young player getting hot in the spring and carrying it over into the season, and that shouldn’t be fully ignored, but the majority of the time it just doesn’t matter. If you are watching a spring game, take a look at how the player approaches an at-bat, how many pitches they see, how fluid and comfortable they look in the batters box. Those things can be much subtle, but also more telling than average.

Let’s take the 2016 Red Sox spring training as an example. David Ortiz played in 18 games, had 45 at-bats, and hit .178 with 2 doubles, 1 HR, and 10 Ks. In the first month of the regular season, Ortiz hit .321 with 5 HRs, 11 doubles, and 14 Ks (22 games, 78 at-bats). Ortiz came right out of the gate with a HR and double on opening day and played well in April, even though his spring was bad. Zero correlation in his case. It’s an extreme example, but proves the point.

Watch for Young Prospects, Ignore Records

After spending time telling you to ignore batting averages, I’m going to slightly modify my stance here in reference to young prospects. Spring is the best time to see young players get reps and try to impress their organization honchos. This may be the only time most fans are able to watch the young guns perform, so take advantage. Sometimes a strong spring for a young player will result in a longer look for a minor league promotion or even a future big-league roster spot. Just ask Jackie Bradley Jr. or Travis Shaw if spring can be the difference in making the MLB roster or not (hint: it did for both of them).

The absolute #1 thing to ignore in the spring is a win/loss record. It is by far the most meaningless stat, because players are slotted in prior to each game to give everyone appropriate playing time. It doesn’t matter if the team is up 10 or down 10, the manager has a plan for player usage and usually follows it closely. On top of that, it is rare that a full regular season lineup is all starting on the same day with an MLB caliber starter on the mound. It will be even less likely this year with the World Baseball Classic happening in conjunction with spring training games. For example, Xander Bogaerts left to play for team Netherlands on 2/28 and won’t play in another game for the Red Sox until at least mid-to-late March, and perhaps not again until the regular season. If you are hoping to see the Red Sox opening day lineup anytime soon, you will be disappointed.

Injuries and Fatigue a Concern for Red Sox

AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

After taking a week off, I’m refreshed and ready to go. Unfortunately, the Red Sox are decidedly not refreshed and struggling with injuries and fatigue with a big 11-game 4-city road trip in front of them. Besides the obvious recent DL stints for Steven Wright (shoulder soreness) and Ryan Hanigan (ankle tendinitis), Xander Bogaerts and David Ortiz are looking slower and fatigued as of late. It’s a big concern for the Red Sox who are fighting for a postseason spot.

Bogaerts had played in 108 of the team’s first 110 games of the season, which is a lot to expect from a guy playing shortstop. The overwork is beginning to show it’s ugly head. Since July 24th, Bogaerts is hitting .231 and his season average has dropped .020 points. He does not have a HR in August and his bat has looked slow compared to April and May. By all measures, his .313 average, 14 HRs and 69 RBIs is a very strong season thus far, it’s how far it has dropped and how fatigued he has looked over the last several weeks that is most concerning. He got the day off on Sunday vs. the Arizona Diamondbacks and is likely to have another day off on Monday as the team travels to Cleveland. I’m worried the rest is a little too late.

For David Ortiz, the outrageous first half of his retirement tour is in the rear view mirror. At the all-star break, Ortiz was hitting .331 with 22 HRs, 72 RBIs and 34 doubles, which were all at or near the top in the AL. Now, in 26 games since the break, he has begun to shoot back to earth with a .239 average, 4 HRS, 18 RBIs, and just 3 doubles. Like Bogaerts, his overall stats are impressive for the season (.310, 26 HRs, 90 RBIs, 37 doubles), but the sharp downward trend is a huge concern moving forward for the 40 year old. At his age, he’s much more likely to continue to decline the final 6 weeks of the season.

If the Red Sox are going to get a playoff spot and contend this year, Bogaerts and Ortiz have to be healthy and able to produce when it counts. At this moment, I have no confidence that either player can rest and regroup enough to have a significant impact down the stretch.

Red Sox Offense on Historic Pace

Darren McCollester/Getty Images

Darren McCollester/Getty Images

Most of the attention on this year’s Red Sox team has been around the struggles associated with the pitching staff and for good reason. There are many holes in the pitching staff and if the Red Sox want to contend this year, they need to improve on the mound, but what is being overlooked in 2016 is the Red Sox offense. As a team, the Red Sox are on pace to have one of the best offensive seasons in the history of the franchise.

Through 84 games, the Red Sox offense leads the MLB in batting average, runs, hits, doubles, RBIs, OBP, slugging percentage, and OPS. They are the best offensive team in baseball by far, leading in most offensive categories by a fairly wide margin. Seven members of the Red Sox starting lineup are hitting over .285 (Sandy Leon .477, David Ortiz .337, Xander Bogaerts .332, Dustin Pedroia .305, Mookie Betts .299, Jackie Bradley Jr. .293, and Hanley Ramirez .287)  and six players have 48 or more RBI with 3 games left before the all-star break (David Ortiz 69, Mookie Betts 58, Jackie Bradley Jr. 54, Xander Bogaerts 52, Travis Shaw 48, and Hanley Ramirez 48. Since the team has been so offensively dominant, I wanted to see historically where they would be if the pace continued in the 2nd half of the season.

Boston Red Sox All-Time Rankings for 2016 team (116 years)
(if current pace continues)

3rd best in batting average (.292)

2nd in slugging percentage (.476)

1st in doubles all time (411)

1st in hits (1689)

5th in runs (918)

9th in runs/game (5.67)

5th in RBIs (874)

3rd in OPS (.836)

It’s hard to argue that the 2016 team wouldn’t be the best or at least among the top few best offensive seasons in the history of the franchise if the pace were to continue. I would imagine the pace would drop off slightly in the 2nd half of the season, but the lineup is so strong that I can’t imagine there will be many prolonged team slumps leading to an extreme drop. Now if only the pitching could improve…

Six All-Stars for 3rd Place Red Sox

Image from Fan World

Image from Fan World

Before another tough loss for the Red Sox on Tuesday night that dropped the Red Sox to 3rd place in the AL East, the 2016 All-Star rosters were announced. The Red Sox headlined the American League squad with 6 selections and the potential for a 7th (Dustin Pedroia is one of 5 players in the Final Vote). This is exciting news for the players and as a Red Sox fan, it will be enjoyable to watch them participate in all-star festivities, but do the Red Sox really deserve 6 or 7 all-stars?

The 3 of the 6 Red Sox players selected were no brainers: David OrtizXander Bogaerts and Steven Wright. Ortiz and Bogaerts are ranked 3rd and 5th respectively in all of baseball in batting average and it’s hard to argue they both aren’t the best player at their respective position in the AL, if not all of baseball (definitely for Ortiz with no DH in the NL). Wright has been stellar this season for the Red Sox. In 16 starts he has the 2nd best ERA in the AL (2.42) and has held opponents to a .217 batting average against. He will have a real shot at getting the nod to start for the AL on July 12th.

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MLB Reprimands Red Sox for International Violations

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Among the busy free agent news in the NBA and Bruins yesterday, the MLB dropped the hammer on the Red Sox. For many years, the Red Sox have had a very strong international scouting program. and have not been afraid to spend big money on international players and tap into new markets. Xander Bogaerts was signed out of Aruba through this system and has become one of the best players in baseball. The Red Sox have also had a strong pipeline in Latin America, but according to the MLB investigation, they weren’t exactly following the rules.

A few years ago the Red Sox were found in violation of the rules and given a cap on international signings for 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 of $300,000. That prevented them from signing any higher-level talent, but didn’t prevent them from signing a few younger amateur prospects including 17-year-old center fielders, Albert Guaimaro and Simon Muzziotti. It seemed like the punishments were over, until the MLB decided to investigate further and found that the Red Sox conspired to circumvent the $300,000 cap and continued to break the rules.

The punishment for the violations are the release of 5 Red Sox prospects, an unprecedented ruling in baseball. As far as I know, no players have ever been removed from a roster due to an MLB punishment. The 2 aforementioned players are among the 5 and are now free agents. The bigger punishment is a ban from signing international players for 1 year (until July 2, 2017) which puts a halt on a successful scouting program.

The ruling may hurt a little in the lower levels of the system, but I don’t know if it will really have a big long term effect. I expect the Red Sox international scouting program will come back strong in 2017 and have just a small gap in talent in the lower levels of the system.

Is Epic Comeback a Turning Point?

When David Price got pulled after 2.1 innings and 6 runs in Texas last night, it felt like another lost night. The Red Sox got 2 runs back on a Hanley Ramirez HR, then Matt Barnes abruptly gave up a HR to make the score 7-2 after 4 innings. With a thin bullpen and a struggling offense, I didn’t think there was any chance of a W. Then the 9th inning happened.

Down 7-4 in the 9th, Jackie Bradley Jr. walked to kick off the inning before Bryce Brentz struckout and Travis Shaw popped-out. Then the Red Sox spark plug, Sandy Leon, stepped in and ripped an RBI double to get the rally started. Mookie Betts promptly crushed a 2-run HR to tie the game.  A Dustin Pedroia walk, Xander Bogaerts single and a wild pitch gave the Red Sox a lead to stay. Koji Uehara shut the door in the bottom of the 9th and the Red Sox walked away with a marquee win.

Last night’s win was desperately needed. It felt like the season was beginning to get away from the Red Sox after losing 12 of the last 21 games and slipping to 2nd place in the AL East. The offense was struggling to score more than 2 runs and the pitching staff looked vulnerable. All problems are certainly not resolved after 1 win, but watching the team pick up a terrible start from their ace by coming back to win against a very good Rangers team is inspiring.

It feels like last night could be the boost the team needs to begin playing better and winning some games. Unlike earlier in the season where it felt as though they could come back from any deficit with their potent offense, lately their team confidence level had dipped. A win like this can only help to improve that confidence moving forward.

The X-Man Can

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Photo from @RedSox on twitter

A Xander Bogaerts single in the bottom of the 10th inning salvaged a win in the 4-game series against the Chicago White Sox at Fenway and ends the homestand on a high note.