Xander Bogaerts

Which Player Can the Red Sox Least Afford to Lose?

This season is happening. We can’t avoid the fact that 2015 is looking more and more like a lost cause, but things could always be worse. There could be a debilitating injury that puts one of the team’s key contributors out of commission for an extended period of time. And no, I’m not talking about Dustin Pedroia’s current hamstring issue. I’m talking about something ever more severe and unfortunate.

The Sox are a pretty deep team, you could say, and perhaps they’re more well-positioned than most to shoulder a big injury. But no team is impervious to pain, as we’ve seen with Giancarlo Stanton’s injury in Miami, or how Yu Darvish’s lost season seemed to take the wind out of the Rangers’ sails early in 2015.

So why don’t we take a moment and examine which player on the team would create the biggest shift in team performance if they were to be injured. We’ll use Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA projections, along with current season performance, in order to evaluate which players would leave the biggest gap to a replacement.

Xander Bogaerts (projected RoS WARP: 1.1) to Deven Marrero (projected RoS WARP: 0.2 WARP)

Xander Bogaerts is a magnificent beast, or if you prefer, a sea creature. He could be the most rare type of Red Sox player this year: an All-Star. He’s a young cornerstone, projected to be a franchise face for several more years. And an injury — especially a long-standing one — would be absolutely devastating. Sure, he’s not yet the offensive juggernaut that some have predicted, but he’s a league average hitter (.273 TAv) and a fair fielder at the game’s second-most difficult position.

Deven Marrero is not a fair fielder … he’s a Dyson vacuum given human form: efficient. BP’s Al Skorupa gave Marrero a 70 grade for his glove tool, citing “tremendous instincts” and plus range. Unfortunately, he also slapped a 35 grade on Marrero’s hit tool, and 30 on his power. What does that mean? Well, Marrero is decidedly unlikely to ever hit major league pitching. PECOTA gives Marrero a TAv projection of .224, which about as bad as Blake Swihart has hit this season. Have you watched Swihart hit this year, especially in his first few weeks post-call-up? Not good.

Fortunately, Marrero’s defense is so great that it will make him an above-replacement player even if his offense is that bad. Unfortunately, Xander Bogaerts is the rarest of rarities: a good shortstop in the American League. Unless Marrero learns how to hit at least as well as Mike Napoli has this year, he’s no Bogaerts.

Clay Buchholz (projected RoS WARP: 0.7) to Brian Johnson (projected RoS WARP: 0.1)

This one’s a killer. Buchholz has been the rock of the rotation, already posting 1.7 WARP and a toasty 2.63 FIP. Remember how great his half-2013 season was? He’s been a little better than that so far. Sure, PECOTA only has a 50th percentile projection of about half a win for Buchholz, but the way he’s been pitching through the season, it’s not hard to predict that he could out-perform that. There’d also be a big psychological hit in losing Clay for the Sox, as he’s certainly filling the “ace” role for the team, giving them a chance to win every time he takes the hill.

Brian Johnson

Photo by Kelly O’Connor/www.sittingstill.smugmug.com

While people are clamoring for Brian Johnson to hit the rotation soon, this would decidedly not be the way people would like to see it happen. Johnson has good peripheral numbers so far in Triple-A, with a 23% strikeout rate … but not even his biggest fans see him as a front-of-the-rotation force a la Good Clay.

Were Johnson to swoop in and replace, say, the recently ineffective Rick Porcello, that wouldn’t be the end of the world. But if the anchor of the rotation went down, that would be just another misfortunate event in a season full of them.

Mookie Betts (projected RoS WARP: 2.0) to Rusney Castillo (projected RoS WARP: 1.2)

I know, I know, this only looks like the loss of a win or less, but I do think that understates the dropoff between the team’s talented young center fielder and, well, the team’s other, other talented young center fielder. First, Betts has been just about as effective this year as he was last year, posting a .291 True Average (TAv) compared to 2014’s .300 TAv. He’s a tiny font of power, and a scary-effective baserunner and fielder in center. He’s an all-around talent who fills that all-important leadoff spot for the team.

Rusney Castillo

Photo by Gregory Fisher/USA Today Sports Images

Despite the fact that the Sox are blessed with three true, talented, and young center fielders, neither Jackie Bradley Jr. nor Rusney Castillo are the same type of impact talent as Betts. My personal guess is that Castillo — he of the massive contract — would get first dibs on the everyday center spot if the unthinkable happened and Betts went down. While both are better than your average replacement CF, neither are Mookie.

Castillo is a raw talent, and may be able to hold his own defensively in center right away. But 2015 has seen Castillo become less patient at the plate, and his major league plate appearances have been, well, a little scary. While he could probably use the regular plate appearances that an injury could open for him, I would not be surprised to see him continue to struggle for a while as he continues to adjust to MLB pitching.

Compared to the established Betts — how weird is it to say that now? — Castillo is a wild card. Losing Mookie’s stability could really hurt a team in need of consistent production.

Of course, losing any of these three players would be a substantive hit to the Red Sox, both in terms of future and present value. Much has gone wrong in 2015, but at least, in terms of non-Christian Vazquez health, things have looked alright so far.

Top Photo by Brad Rempel/USA Today Sports Images

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