About a year ago, I applied for a columnist position here at Baseball Prospectus – Boston. Ben Carsley was kind enough to hire me on–and that was that: I was officially a Red Sox columnist. As something of a national baseball writer previously–and a Mets fan for years–it may have seemed an odd fit, but it never felt odd for me. My Mets fandom was inherited from my dad … but my mother was born on Cape Cod, a lifelong Red Sox fan. More than a few moments in my life had already intertwined with the Sox.
- The first field I ever set foot on was Fenway Park, on a family trip to Boston as a kid. (Thanks, Mom.)
- The first place I moved after college was Waltham, Massachusetts. I lived within 30 minutes of Yawkey Way for the Sox’s second World Series run in ‘07, and got to experience that energy first-hand.
- My wife’s favorite ballplayer is–and has always been–Tim Wakefield. (She tells me everyone from Melbourne, Florida is taught at birth how to throw the knuckleball.)
Anyway, it’s unlikely that you’re here to read my biography. The point of all of this is to remind you that for the past year, I’ve been writing about and analyzing the Red Sox from a non-fan perspective. The experience has been terrific, and I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned from the unique position I’ve been in.
The 2015 Red Sox Were An Easy Team To Like
I’m sure this is something almost every beat writer or team writer deals with, but the longer you cover a team, the harder it becomes not to root for them. I was happy I could bring a measure of objectivity to the team as I covered them–and I carried that through, I hope–but man, this was a team full of fun players even on a down season.
First and foremost, there was American League All-Star Brock Holt. I’m not sure that there’s an easier player to like than the slap-hitting, all-out, utility player with great hair. When that player is actually good? Come on, man. That’s fire.
We got to see the emergence of Mookie Betts as a full-time outfielder, and it was glorious. Eduardo Rodriguez showed flashes of being the team’s best home-grown starter since Clay Buchholz. Clay Buchholz showed flashes of being Clay Buchholz. Xander Bogaerts showed that he’s a very real shortstop, and Blake Swihart and Travis Shaw had great second halves in the shadow of the team’s struggles.
It’s a talented team, but it’s a likable team too … and that should certainly carry over to 2016. Adding David Price will be fun. An improved overall attitude from winning–something I see happening–will help too.
The Positional Spectrum Is A Lie (Sort Of)
First, there’s this from the middle of last season:
— Joon Lee (@iamjoonlee) July 22, 2015
Then, there’s this from Spring Training 2016:
I thought Hanley Ramirez’s move from the infield to the outfield would be great, and I was wrong. He was an absolute disaster: injured, out of shape, ineffective. He was a bad, bad fielder … which I didn’t imagine would happen after years surviving as a shortstop and third baseman. In my head, I saw the move hurting his WARP, but not by a lot as he would be able to leverage his athleticism.
The move to the outfield should have cost Ramirez something like a win and change, if he could’ve maintained his overall skill during the transition. Instead, he lost a handful of wins, which wasn’t what anyone expected, given the way we currently value defense. Sliding further down the defensive spectrum makes for a scary proposition for next year, but perhaps his value will suddenly lurch back up. I still think he’ll be a solid, if not good, defensive first baseman. But if I could flawlessly predict how position switches would go, I wouldn’t be writing this now.
Don’t Trade Your Elite Position Prospects …
How happy are you that the Sox still have Xander, Mookie, and Blake? You can worry about so many things on a baseball team, but when three of your four middle-of-the-diamond position players are this young and this talented, the performance floor is pretty high. PECOTA projects those three guys to post a combined 7.8 WARP next year, all before hitting 25 years old. I’d bet the over on that, if you’re the betting type. (And I’d project at least one All-Star appearance between the three of them next year as well.)
… Even If It Means Signing Hanley, Pablo, and Rick
We can establish that these signings were not especially good. Hanley and Pablo were two of the worst players in baseball last season, and Porcello looks like a pretty intense overpay after just one year. But would you have been happier at the time if they hadn’t spent anything? Are there players who the Sox didn’t pick up this offseason–other than David Price, who the team signed anyway–who you wish they’d spent the money on instead?
Being a high-payroll team means that not only can the team sign those high-dollar players, but they can absorb a few bad contracts here and there. And all three of those players project to play better in 2016. It’s not the end of the world that they’ll all still be on this team in 2018. Deep breaths.
This Team’s History Is Staggering
Writing the Olde Sox columns has been a real learning experience. I limited my research to players from the past 55 years, but even in that sample I was inundated with tremendously talented former greats. My list of potential players for future installments of Olde Sox — which Chris Teeter and Jake Devereaux will be picking up here — is just as long as my list of profiles already written. It’s a crime we haven’t gotten to John Valentin yet.
Oftentimes when I had previously thought about the Red Sox’s history, I thought of the seasons, or the moments. The Impossible Dream season, the close-but-not-quite years of ‘86 and ‘03, and Fisk waving the ball fair. But examining the whole careers of players like Rico Petrocelli and Dewey Evans has been an experience itself, helping me appreciate the excellence of the men who made up the team. Not every fanbase has a collection of heroes as broad and as deep as the Red Sox do, and we should count ourselves lucky.
This Is How Your Outfield Will Turn Out
- Mookie Betts is going to be the kind of star you remember 20 years later.
- Rusney Castillo will be the kind of player you forget entirely the year after he leaves.
- Jackie Bradley Jr. will be something in between. I have no idea what.
Time Heals All Wounds
The big hits from the past hundred years–Ruth, Buckner, Boone, and everything else–they still matter. But they’re not the same as they were, the hurt seems less fresh in the fans. The ancestral memory has dimmed just a little bit, colored by the intervening years. So when you look back at the disappointments of 2015, take heart. When you look back on this time from your future state, I’ll bet you remember more of the good than the bad, the moments when you shared the Sox with your family or friends. The excitement of the young talent, the nostalgia of old favorites like Papi and Pedroia. The hurt will fade, though it seems like that would never happen during the years as the second-class citizens to the Yankees. The future will be kinder to this moment than we can imagine today.
Anyway, those are a few of the big takeaways I got from watching the Sox this past season. This is my final post here, as I’m moving over to the new Baseball Prospectus – Mets site that launched yesterday, and I’d like to thank you all for stopping by and reading. And many, many thanks to the folks at the site: Ryan, Other Bryan, Kory, Collins, Alex, Dustin, Jake, and all the rest of the writers here for making me feel welcome … and especially Ben, who’s a great writer, editor, and keeper of the Red Sox flame. Thanks for making me welcome in the Sox family, and I hope to see you all in the World Series next year!
Photo by David Butler/USA Today Sports Images