Read Sox: Solid Defense, Buchholz in the Bullpen and Mookie’s Arm

Welcome back to Read Sox. This week we look at how improved defense is helping the team win, how the bullpen remains a work in progress and how Clay Buchholz might help. Then we marvel at David Ortiz, laud Mookie Betts for improving a perceived weakness, remember that Pablo Sandoval is a Red Sox, consider Rick Porcello’s demeanor on the mound and look forward to a face-lift for McCoy Stadium.

Going Deep

It is safe to say that the 2016 version of the Boston Red Sox were not built on a model of winning through run prevention. But, critically this group is better on the run prevention side of the game – relative to the league – than they were in each of the previous two seasons:


League RA/G

Boston RA/G














This year the Sox are basically a league average group in the runs allowed department. A factor in the improved run prevention is a much improved defense. Another table:













As is evident from the table, the defense is converting a higher percentage of balls in play into outs this season. As Brian MacPherson of The Providence Journal points out, with Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi and Chris Young as the four primary outfielders, the Red Sox have a center fielder available for all three outfield spots.

It is not just the outfield where things are improved. Evan Drellich of The Boston Herald highlights how Dustin Pedroia is back on top at second base, Xander Bogaerts has been about the same, Travis Shaw/Aaron Hill have been a major upgrade on Pablo Sandoval at third base and Hanley Ramirez has been only slightly below average at first base.

Executing defensively is an often over-looked, but nevertheless important component of winning baseball. The Red Sox have been better defensively in 2016 than they were in the dismal 2015 and 2014 seasons. This has certainly contributed to their being at the top of the AL East standings, rather than the bottom.

While the defense has been better, it cannot overcome the issues that currently exist in the bullpen. By reliever DRA Red Sox relievers have been the 10th best group in baseball this season (3.98), but the month of August has been ugly. Matt Barnes, Fernado Abad, and Junichi Tazawa have performed their way out of high-leverage roles. Tazawa talked to Jason Mastrodonato of The Boston Herald about his desire to earn his setup role back, but recognizes that he needs to be more consistent with his mechanics. The failings of those three, along with the increasingly unlikely return of Koji Uehara, leaves an opening for Joe Kelly – who is currently dominating at Pawtucket (1.34 RA9, 28/3 K/BB in 19.0 innings) – and Clay Buchholz to assume those ever-important high-leverage roles in front of Craig Kimbrel.

Buchholz talked to John Tomase of WEEI.com about his life as a reliever and how he had to think about the game in a slightly different way. Specifically, Buchholz noted that he needed to work on getting the feel for stranding inherited runners. Buchholz has pitched well in a relief role but he has also pitched better as a starter lately, which as Nick Cafardo notes, makes the decision on what to do with him difficult. Using Buchholz in a sort of “fireman” role where he enters games in important situations and throws multiple innings could work, so long as Buchholz, and perhaps even more importantly John Farrell, understands how that role works. Of course, all of this also depends on how well Steven Wright and Eduardo Rodriguez perform over their next few starts.

Regardless of how it shakes out, the bullpen needs to be a strength over the remaining 30 games if the Red Sox are going to hold onto their playoff spot.

Quick Hits

The David Ortiz retirement tour continues to be a smashing success. Seemingly every night the big man moves past another Hall of Famer on a hitting category leaderboard. When he hit his 30th home run of the season last week he become the oldest player in baseball history to have a 30-homer season. Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe outlines the incredible final season Ortiz is putting together and suggests we bask in the presence of a player going out on top.

There are not many aspects of Mookie Betts’ game that are considered weak, but if there was one it would be his throwing arm. Yet, this past week Mookie flashed the results of two years of work on his throwing mechanics when he nailed Kevin Kiermaier at third base from deep foul territory in right field. Brian MacPherson of The Providence Journal writes that while arm strength was always there, accuracy was Betts’ problem. Slowing things down helped with his accuracy. Now, as Alex Speier of The Boston Globe notes, Betts’ arm is getting recognized as an asset, and in at least one instance changed the oft-used Andrew McCutchen comp to Roberto Clemente.

Lost among the natural turmoil of the baseball season is the fact that Pablo Sandoval is still a member of the Boston Red Sox. Sandoval was shut down for the season in April after revealing a left shoulder injury that required surgery. He joined the team in Tampa Bay last week and, as Rob Bradford of WEEI.com writes, the results of Sandoval’s training regimen are clear, and the road back is looking good. Ideally Sandoval can put his disastrous first season in Boston and the tumultuous Spring Training this year in which he was fighting for his job behind him and get back to performing at a high level for the remainder of his tenure in Boston.

There are many stories of starting pitchers who behave differently on the days they start from the days when they are not scheduled to pitch. According to a story from Rob Bradford, for Rick Porcello the difference is Hulk-like, as Porcello changes from a mild-mannered guy on non-starting days to an angry, locked in competitor when he is starting. The story seems to suggest that Porcello’s fierceness on start days is (at least partly) responsible for his success this season. While that could be the case, it leads me to wonder if Porcello’s behavior was different last year, when he struggled, and if being with a new team had any effect on how he comported himself on start days.

The players at Pawtucket could soon be playing in a revamped McCoy Stadium. Janet Marie Smith, architect of the recent upgrading of Fenway Park, was at McCoy Stadium to throw out the first pitch as part of the team’s honoring “Women and Baseball”. Bill Koch of The Providence Journal details Janet Marie Smith’s nearly three decades around the game – including her leadership role in the development of Camden Yards and Baltimore’s Inner Harbor – and how Larry Lucchino likely seeking her guidance could play a role in Pawtucket’s future.

Three Good Game Stories

Last Friday night the Red Sox played their first game at home in almost two weeks and Steven Wright returned to the mound following a trip to the disabled list but the Red Sox lost 6-3 to the surging Royals. Ryan Hannable of WEEI.com has more on Wright’s return and the Red Sox’s offense failing to capitalize with runners in scoring position. The difficulty this team has had when hitting with the bases loaded is really weird.

David Price took the mound on Saturday and held the Royals to two runs over six innings while the offense rebounded from Friday night’s loss to score eight times. The win was great, but as Chris Mason of The Boston Herald writes, the story of the night was Dustin Pedroia. Pedroia had a chance to get a major league record 12th consecutive hit in his plate appearance in the eighth inning, but grounded out. The comments from teammates on getting to watch Pedroia go for the record are great.

In the rubber match of the three game series, the Royals Royals’d the Red Sox to death in an eight run sixth inning. Julian Benbow of The Boston Globe details the failures of Matt Barnes and Robbie Ross Jr. to clean up the mess Eduardo Rodriguez left for them in that disastrous sixth inning. Pitching, specifically relief pitching, continues to be the glaring limitation of this playoff-caliber team.

Photo by Mike DiNovo/USA Today Sports Images

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1 comment on “Read Sox: Solid Defense, Buchholz in the Bullpen and Mookie’s Arm”


Making Sandoval the DH next year and leaving Hanley at first makes more sense to me than Hanley DH’ing and Sandoval sucking at third.

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