We shouldn’t be upset that the 2017 Red Sox season is over. Certainly it would have been nice to get past Houston and into the ALCS. We might even hope to hit a little lightning in a bottle, beat the Tribe and make it to the World Series.
As any smart baseball observer knew long ago, this wasn’t a great Boston team (see here). It was constructed poorly, managed poorly, and it performed poorly against baseballs best teams. Frankly, if you look at it through the commonly accepted five-tools of baseball, the 2017 Sox actually over achieved.
Tool 1: Hitting For Average (C)
After posting a league-leading team batting average of .282 last year, the Sox dropped to the middle of the pack this year at .258. Losing Ortiz (.315 in 2016) hurt. What hurt more was the precipitous drop from Betts, Bogaerts and Bradley, and Ramirez – each batted at least 21 points below their 2016 average. Most troubling, as something we pointed out here, was Mookie’s fall from .318 last season to .264 this year.
Tool 2: Hitting For Power (F)
This year’s squad had all the pop of a softball team after finishing off the keg. In 2016 the Sox lead all 30 MLB teams in Slugging Percentage at .461. This year they finished 26th with a team slugging percentage of .407. For perspective, the Phillies slugged .409. They won 66 games.
The Sox hit only 168 home runs, good for 27th in the league. Papi’s absence again loomed large – 38 HRs and 127 RBIs in 2016. Again, more important was the decline in everyone else’s performance. Hanley hit seven fewer bombs and 49 fewer RBIs. Forty-nine.
Tool 3: Base Running (D)
Do we really even need to discuss this? The Sox were horrible on the base paths this year. Every night there was a new train wreck at home plate as the slowest players on the team were gunned down by five steps. Or, someone made a mistake and was doubled-up on what should have only been a routine fielder’s choice.
The only reason Base Running isn’t an “F” for the year is that with their team speed, the Sox managed 106 stolen bases (6th in MLB) and were caught only 31 times (13th). That’s what is so frustrating about this squad. With their speed, they should have been great running the bases.
Skipper John Farrell dismissed the Sox ineptitude on the bases, insisting the obscene number of outs was the result of an aggressive philosophy. That might be partly true, but the decision to send someone like Sandy Leon or Mitch Moreland home on a shallow fly isn’t being “aggressive” it’s being stupid. They were stupid a lot this year.
Tool 4: Throwing/Pitching (B+)
For all the Pedro-like excitement for Chris Sale’s starts this season, he really was pretty awful when we needed him most. As discussed previously (here), in the second half of the year he dominated the worst teams and was dominated by the best. He finished with career highs in both innings (214.1) and K’s (308) – and that might have been part of the problem. He looked tired down the stretch and gave up a ton of home runs.
As good as Sale was at times, Porcello was equally bad. Leading the league in losses (17), runs (125), and home runs allowed (38), Pretty Ricky was ugly in 2017. But, besides Sale and Porcello, team pitching was essentially the same this year as last year. This year’s staff managed a nearly identical WHIP and BAA (Batting Average Against) as last year in 43 more innings pitched. Given how poorly the team hit this year, the pitching deserves the bulk of the credit for winning the division.
Tool 5: Fielding (D)
Can we get a list of volunteers to hit grounders to the infield this off season? After committing only 75 errors in 2016 (3rd best in baseball), this year’s squad committed 107 (7th worst).
Devers adjustment at third base was certainly a factor. He committed 14 errors in 58 games. He’s young, he’ll improve. Bogaerts led the team with 17 errors in 2017, five more than in 2016 (in 10 fewer chances). Just like at the plate, he’s regressing in the field.
Final Grade (C)
My kids like to tell me that a “C” on their report card is “average”… as if that’s acceptable. It is not. Certainly not for a team with a $200M payroll. It is revealing that a team as demonstrably average as the 2017 Red Sox can, not only make the playoffs, but win the division. It should make everyone understand how important pitching is to success.
Where to Go From Here
We’ve said for months that the 2017 Red Sox were a deeply flawed team. They have talent, but not enough. They lack power and they commit too many unforced errors in the field and on the bases. That’s a coaching issue.
Chili Davis is simply not getting it done as a hitting coach. It’s easy to look good with David Ortiz compensating for team power numbers, but the regression of the core members of this franchise’s future can’t continue.
Base coaches Butterfield (3B) and Amaro (1B) need to be held responsible for the ridiculous performance on the base paths. No team with as much speed and experience as the Sox should look so clueless every night.
It is hard to justify firing a manager who just won consecutive division titles and won a World Series only four years ago, but changes must be made in the coaching staff.