For finishing in last for the 3rd out of four years, there is a lot of positive momentum in the Boston franchise going into the off-season. With a young outfield clicking on all cylinders, a start shortstop in the making, a young catcher breaking out and a couple of bright spots on the mound, there is reason to believe that Boston can be a contender in 2016 with a couple of key moves.
But Boston being in last this year is also the function of a horrendous start and the failure of some key free agents. So let's look at projections from April and where some of the players ended up (all stats courtesy of Fangraphs) at season's end.
Projected: 582 Plate Appearances | 148 H | 13 HR | 80 RBI | 50 BB | 73 K | .289 BA | .350 OBP | .428 SLG | .779 OPS | 3.6 WAR
Actual: 654 Plate Appearances | 174 H | 18 HR | 77 RBI | 46 BB | 82 K | .291 BA | .341 OBP | .479 SLG | .820 OPS | 4.8 WAR
Jackie Bradley, Jr.
Projected: 116 Plate Appearances | 24 H | 2 HR | 11 RBI | 9 BB | 28 K | .234 BA | .302 OBP | .349 SLG | .650 OPS | 0.4 WAR
Actual: 255 Plate Appearances | 55 H | 10 HR | 43 RBI | 27 BB | 69 K | .249 BA | .335 OBP | .498 SLG | .833 OPS | 2.5 WAR
Projected: 552 Plate Appearances | 130 H | 16 HR | 63 RBI | 41 BB | 114 K | .260 BA | .320 OBP | .416 SLG | .736 OPS | 2.3 WAR
Actual: 654 Plate Appearances | 196 H | 7 HR | 84 RBI | 32 BB | 101 K | .320 BA | .355 OBP | .421 SLG | .776 OPS | 4.3 WAR
Projected: 92 Plate Appearances | 21 H | 2 HR | 10 RBI | 5 BB | 17 K | .245 BA | .288 OBP | .365 SLG | .653 OPS | 0.3 WAR
Actual: 309 Plate Appearances | 79 H | 5 HR | 31 RBI | 18 BB | 77 K | .274 BA | .319 OBP | .392 SLG | .711 OPS | 1.5 WAR
Projected: 526 Plate Appearances | 126 H | 23 HR | 78 RBI | 62 BB | 88 K | .277 BA | .364 OBP | .492 SLG | .856 OPS | 1.8 WAR
Actual: 614 Plate Appearances | 79 H | 37 HR | 108 RBI | 77 BB | 95 K | .273 BA | .360 OBP | .553 SLG | .913 OPS | 2.8 WAR
Projected: 11-10 | 4.16 ERA | 29 Games Started | 176 IP | 137 K | 59 W | 1.35 WHIP | 1.3 WAR
Actual: 11-11 | 4.46 ERA | 32 Games Started | 193.2 IP | 147 K | 64 W | 1.37 WHIP | 2.6 WAR
Projected: 1-1 | 4.41 ERA | 3 Games Started | 18 IP | 13 K | 7 W | 1.40 WHIP | 0.1 WAR
Actual: 10-6 | 3.85 ERA | 21 Games Started | 121.2 IP | 98 K | 37 W | 1.29 WHIP | 1.7 WAR
If you were alive in the mid to late 70s and a Sox fan, then you know who the "Gold Dust Twins" were. Fred Lynn and Jim Rice came into the majors at the same time in 1975. Lynn won the MVP and Rookie of the Year award that year while Rice was RoY runner-up. From 1975-1980 they were one of the most potent 1-2 outfield combos in the game. Then the Sox traded Lynn to the Angels for Jim Dorsey, Joe Rudi and Frank Tanana rather than pay him what he was worth (and screwing up his contract extension going into free agency). And the Gold Dust Twins were no more.
Betts and Bradley, Jr. are not the Gold Dust Twins, even though I think Betts definitely has it in him to reach Fred Lynn numbers on a yearly basis. But this a young duo that gives the Sox some of the best outfield defense in the majors. And with Bradley now hitting major league pitching successfully, the expectation is going to be seeing these two gentlemen make more than a few All-Star games, with Betts even pushing for MVP a couple of years down the line. Yeah, he's that good.
One guy who might keep Betts from winning an MVP is his teammate at shortstop. In 2015 Xander Bogaerts finally grew into the expectations everyone had set for him. He saw a quantum leap in his offensive numbers in 2015 and was arguably the best overall shortstop in the AL this year. His line this year might even garner him a few goodwill votes for MVP seeing as he kept Boston from completely sucking this year and as a makeup for keeping him off the All-Star team.
Blake Swihart never should have been in the majors in 2015. But when Vazquez went down in the pre-season and Ryan Hannigan broke his hand, Boston was forced to bring him up. And Swihart struggled in the beginning. But he worked hard and completely turned it around by season's end. He gave Boston slightly above league average defense and hit better than anyone expected from him. With Vazquez coming back in 2016 Boston could keep Swihart as his backup, or they may be tempted to use him as a very valuable trading chip. Personally I think that is risky until you know what you have with Vazquez.
Then you have the seemingly immortal David Ortiz (cue the naysayers about the 2003 test). Nevertheless, he blew his pre-season projections out of the water. He finally broke through the 500 lifetime homerun barrier and is on the verge of 600 2B for his career. He registered 100+ RBI for the third season in a row. And while people debate (and will continue to debate) about his HoF voting future, there is no denying that he gave Boston everything they should have expected (and more) over the second-half of 2015.
I suppose it can be seen as damning with faint praise to laud a pitcher who did...what you expected of him. But considering what a train wreck Boston's starting pitching was in 2015 I think you have to note that Wade Miley did exactly what Boston brought him here to do. He ate innings, kept the Sox in games and provided a relatively steady presence in the rotation. His 2.6 WAR was also double his original projection. With reasonable salaries over the next two years ($6.1M in 2016, $8.9M in 2017), Boston should keep Miley right where he is.
If there was one bright presence in the rotation this year, it was the emergence of Eduardo Rodriguez as a major league starting pitcher. the 22-year-old rookie went 10-6 with a sub-four ERA. While his K/BB ratio was a little low (2.65) his 1.29 WHIP was average. But at only 22, he has a ton of potential.
And now...the more disappointing members of the 2015 Boston Red Sox
Projected: 13-10 | 3.72 ERA | 29 Games Started | 183.7 IP | 131 K | 42 W | 1.24 WHIP | 2.4 WAR
Actual: 9-15 | 4.92 ERA | 28 Games Started | 172.0 IP | 149 K | 38 W | 1.36 WHIP | 1.6 WAR
Projected: 9-10 | 4.28 ERA | 26 Games Started | 157.7 IP | 134 K | 71 W | 1.40 WHIP | 0.9 WAR
Actual: 4-2 | 5.61 ERA | 9 Games Started | 59.1 IP | 49 K | 27 W | 1.60 WHIP | -0.2 WAR
Projected: 588 Plate Appearances | 150 H | 19 HR | 83 RBI | 39 BB | 85 K | .279 BA | .328 OBP | .454 SLG | .782 OPS | 3.1 WAR
Actual: 505 Plate Appearances | 115 H | 10 HR | 47 RBI | 25 BB | 73 K | .245 BA | .292 OBP | .366 SLG | .658 OPS | -2.0 WAR
Projected: 495 Plate Appearances | 120 H | 16 HR | 70 RBI | 46 BB | 95 K | .271 BA | .345 OBP | .455 SLG | .800 OPS | 3.0 WAR
Actual: 430 Plate Appearances | 100 H | 19 HR | 53 RBI | 21 BB | 71 K | .249 BA | .291 OBP | .426 SLG | .717 OPS | -1.8 WAR
When you bring in free agents to make your team better, you are addressing needs. What killed the Red Sox more than anything in 2015 was that their free agents, almost to a man, were horrible. And the four listed above were the worst of the bunch.
Hundreds of years from now, baseball scholars will still be asking this question: "Why did Boston give Porcello an extension before he pitched in 2015?" It was an extension based on past performance and how Porcello looked to be projecting based on his age. Which wasn't completely stupid. Porcello's top two comparables coming into this season at age 25 were Jon Garland and Greg Maddux. The problem is the extension pays Porcello like he is Maddux and he couldn't even pitch like Jon Garland. I don't want to rip too much on Porcello because at least his WAR was positive and he is still young enough to turn it around. Plus, his work in August and September was light-years better that the rest of the season. That may be whistling past the graveyard. But no one is taking Porcello on at 20M+ per year for the next four years. So the hope in Boston has to be that Porcello carries that second-half improvement into 2016.
The Sox don't have to worry about Masterson in 2016, which may be the best element of the contract he signed. Boston needed Masterson to give them a Wade Miley season and he couldn't get it done. That winning 4-2 record disguises a pretty abysmal year, one that went off the rails so much that Boston sent him to the minors and then cut him loose in August. Which sucked because he was originally a homegrown player and it was great to have him back. He just couldn't get it done.
But as disappointing as those two were, by far the most disappointing players in Boston this year were their two marquee free agent signings. If you think of Betts and Bradley as the Gold Dust Twins, Sandoval and Ramirez are the Lead Twins. They're boring to watch and spending too much time around them is likely a health hazard.
Sandoval was a massive disappointment at third. Pablo had his worst season since 2012. His batting was weak and his defense was hard to watch. And Boston got all that for the low price of $17.6M this year and another $70M+ over the next four. Good times!! Do you know who Sandoval projects as right now as a hitter? Richie Hebner. And if you just asked "Who is Richie Hebner?" then you see the problem here.
But at least the Sandoval move made some kind of sense. Third base was a black hole in 2014, Boston had no one in the system to fill the space and Sandoval has proven he can hit in the post-season. Here is another player Boston can't likely move. So they have to hope Sandoval commits himself to getting better in the off-season and drops some weight. Because his second half of 2015 absolutely sucked (.210 BA | .602 OPS | 3 HR | 17 RBI).
And then you come to Hanley Ramirez, the one player Boston absolutely must move. As in "Eat as much of the $90M he has left in his deal as you need to" move.
Pablo may have been atrocious. Porcello may have been painful to watch. But I never felt like either player quit in the field. Ramirez made quitting on balls in left field into an art form. Those 19 home runs of his mean nothing because his defense was such absolute crap that it cost Boston more runs than he ever could have provided with his bat (look it up). And it is no coincidence that as soon as Ramirez was out of the lineup that Boston's all-around play improved. He brings nothing to this team except an unwillingness to work hard and putrid glove work. This is what I said back before the season started when talking about Ramirez.
"Ramirez may have a higher ceiling on his possible 2015 impact...but he has a lower floor as well. Risk is a part of any business, true. But $20-$22M a year is a lot of risk."
Ramirez found that floor like a fat kid looking for cake. And then fell right through it into the basement.
I truly believe that Boston can survive with Pablo and Porcello. Especially if the Sox sign one or two pitching free agents this off-season and/or trade for a hot young arm.
But Ramirez on the team means your outfield, which was your best part of the team in the second half in 2015, gets messed up. Or God forbid, you put him at first. He is the one player that absolutely cannot return in 2016 if Boston is to make it back to the post-season any time soon.