Red Sox B-Sides

It seems particularly hard this year to take stock in how the first month of the Red Sox 2017 season has gone. On one hand, they haven’t played terribly. As of Wednesday morning, they’ve played .587 baseball, which is very much just fine. Not terrible, not amazing. Just fine. Their bullpen has been better than anyone expected, Chris Sale has been exactly as good as everyone expected, and they’re two games out of first. Even without getting any contributions from the likes of David Price, Tyler Thornburg, Dustin Pedroia, or (for the most part) Jackie Bradley Jr., that’s not bad …

… But it’s not good. David Price is in the weird, cryptic-tweets part of his Boston career, and the quotes coming from the team regarding his improvement always feel like a half-assed attempt at optimism, if that. Thornburg doesn’t sound close either. Dustin Pedroia was running a .269 wOBA even before getting cleated by Manny Machado. The offense somehow decided that hitting home runs wasn’t cool at exactly the same time as Rick Porcello decided it no, actually, it is cool. Matt Barnes decided to throw at someone’s head for some reason? There has been the occasional GIDP.

So, while the biggest stories of April have been a mixed bag, there’s plenty more going on that deserves a little spotlight. Here some of the notable the stories that haven’t gotten a lot of play yet.

  • Andrew Benintendi has been the best hitter on the team. 

Andrew Benintendi is so fun. He’s really just making me feel incredibly stupid for taking the time to write 700 words about why he might underwhelm this season (FYI yes that certainly is a plug for that same misinformed and outdated article, I’m not above it). He’s hitting .347/.415/.444 with a .281 TAv through 82 plate appearances. He’s showing great plate discipline too, as he has the third-lowest K% (12.2) on the team. It hasn’t been perfect – he’s putting the ball on the ground more often than he did last year and the defense remains a flaw at times. Nitpicking is dumb, though, and I’m not sure why I insist on it. He owns the best BWAR (0.4) of any offensive player that’s not Christian Vazquez.

  • Xander Bogaerts is off to the weirdest “slow” start possible.

I’ve always felt that Bogaerts’ reputation for power was sort of a double-edged sword. Shortstops with 20+ home run potential are not only exciting, but rare, and Bogaerts flashed power at every stop along the minors. He’s also 24, so there’s still some patience required. With that said, the singular focus on waiting for his power to develop has taken away some of the praise for the player he currently is, which is a shame considering he’s already one of the best hitters in baseball.

Bogaerts is a notoriously slow starter, especially when it comes to his power. This year, however, has been different. No one’s doubted his abilities as a pure-hitter, and his April numbers back that up. He’s hitting .333/.377/.351 through 61 plate appearances so far. His .388 BABIP is slightly higher than his career average, but isn’t necessarily a fluke.  It’s still to early to make any real definitive claims, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that it’s been an encouraging start.

The most promising sign of his early season has been the decrease in strikeouts, though. After posting a 17.1 K% last season, he’s lowered that number four percentage points this season (13.1). The good news here is that he’s making more contact. This season, he’s raised his Contact% almost 10 percentage points, going from 81.6% last year to 89.8% — which ranks as 6th best in all of baseball — this season.

The bad news is that there’s still a lot of attention fixated on the lack of power. It’s understandable, especially highlighted by the fact that no one on the team is hitting home runs in his stay. He’s homer-less on the year, posting a .018 ISO and a .239 TAv so far. Also, while he’s making a lot of contact, he’s not hitting the ball especially hard. His Hard% is down 10 percentage points this season, falling from 30.6% last year to 20.4% this season. Of his 19 hits this season, 18 of them are singles. While he definitely has more power than this first month would indicate, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate what makes for a slow start when it comes to Bogaerts.

  • A healthy Drew Pomeranz isn’t a total disaster.

I’m not sure if Drew Pomeranz’s emergence as the second-best pitcher on the staff so far is more indicative of the poor quality of the Red Sox starting pitching, or an encouraging sign of some return to the pitcher he was in San Diego. Pomeranz’s start to the season looked good, with the lefty posting an 11.9 K/9 over his first three starts. He’s lowered his BB% from 9.3 percent to 7.6 percent, and the discrepancy between his 4.60 ERA and 3.09 xFIP suggests he’s been even better than some of the numbers indicate.

He’s still giving up dingers (1.72 HR/9) though, but so is everyone in the rotation who wasn’t acquired via trade from the White Sox this past offseason. He was prone to that last year and while playing for Colorado, but not susceptible to it when he played in Oakland and San Diego, so who really knows. Assuming the Red Sox offense will eventually awake from it’s hibernation, Pomeranz’s effort so far will be enough to win the team a few more games than he did last year.

  • This team is pretty good defensively. 

Defensive stats are muddy and confusing (why are there so many Zs everywhere?!) but the Red Sox are seemingly a good defensive team so far. Here’s where they rank, compared to other MLB teams, in the major defensive stats. Take it for what it’s worth:

UZR – 3.5 (7th in MLB)
UZR/150 – 1.6 (12th)
DEF – 5.5 ( 6th)
DRS – 6 (7th)
RZR – .829 (8th)


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