Despite spending $140 million over the next six years on Trevor Story, along with a plethora of new pitchers, during free agency the Boston Red Sox are off to a tepid 14-22 entering Wednesday and are only a half game up on the Baltimore Orioles for last in the AL East. The slow start to the season rest not just on one unit but is a complete failure across the roster.
Boston’s starting pitchers have pitched 3.59/4.25/3.92 with a worrying HR/FB rate of 13.6% (good for 21st according to Fangraphs); the relief pitchers are actively worse at 4.19/4.13/3.98 (good for 27th); while the offense has hit .238/.294/.365 with a collective wRC+ of 89 (23rd). The fact that all three of these units are ranked in the bottom third is a concern for a roster that many had pegged for a deep run in the expanded playoffs.
How did the BoSox end up in this situation? It’s quite simple, the new guys have struggled to add any true value to Boston’s roster at the same time as its gotten almost zero production from the bottom of its line-up or its starting staff.
The new guys
James Paxton, LHP
Left handed starting pitcher James Paxton is one of my favorite dudes in baseball, but he cannot stay healthy for a full season. This includes this year as he has yet to make a start for Boston after he accepted his one-year, $10 million, contract with the club.
Paxton underwent Tommy John surgery back in April 2021 and began to throw bullpen sessions in the last week of April but he suffered a setback on May 7th and has yet to be cleared to throw again.
Paxton appeared to be making strong progress in his recovery from April 2021 Tommy John surgery after he was cleared to throw bullpen sessions late in spring training, but he’s been idle for about two weeks now after experiencing posterior elbow soreness during his rehab program. The Red Sox will wait and see how Paxton responds to treatment before clearing him for activity again, but the recent layoff could require him to essentially restart his buildup program rather than picking up where he left off prior to the setback. Despite some early optimism that Paxton might be ready to come off the 60-day injured list in June shortly after he’s first eligible, the veteran southpaw may now be trending toward a return at some point after the All-Star break.Rotowire via CBS sports
It’s starting to look like he won’t be able to make a reappearance until after the All Star Break. Which is unfortunate because Boston’s starting rotation could really use his strikeout stuff.
Rich Hill, LHP
While the 42 year old’s 2.89 ERA is shiny and looks great there are some underlying metrics that leaved me greatly concerned about its sustainability and his ability to continue to anchor a struggling rotation. He’s only walking 18.6% of batters faced at the same time as he’s stranding a career low 75.3% of runners. Once the BABIP against him normalizes it could get very rough for the veteran very quickly.
But the biggest reason that Hill has been a disappointment this season is the fact that he’s only averaged 4 2/3rds innings per start this season. And that’s put a ton of pressure on an already taxed bullpen. Now that could be because of the shortened Spring training and his age; but if the southpaw can’t get his average innings north of five…then Boston’s starting rotation will be in a bigger world of hurt.
Jackie Bradley Jr., OF
One of the wilder trades prior to the lockout sent Jackie Bradley Jr. (along with some prospects) back to Boston in return for Hunter Renfroe. While Bradley Jr. has performed slightly better with the Red Sox than he did with the Brewers — .189/.252/.264 with a wRC+ of 50 — what makes this trade frustrating is how much better Renfroe has been offensively.
And that trade off would be fine if Bradley Jr. was still a significantly better defender. But at the age of 32 he just doesn’t have the same speed he did in the past and the gap between the two has closed.
Matt Strahm, LHP
Probably the only guy that the Red Sox brought in this past off season that has performed well, relief pitcher Matt Strahm has pitched in 12.2 innings and with a slash line of 2.13/1.58/3.10 with a strike out rate of 29.2% — which is a little above his career norms, but not unstainable so. This one-year, $3 million contract, looks like an absolute steal for the Sox at this point in the season…but really, how much can one lefty help out a struggling bullpen?
Jake Diekman, LHP
Don’t be wooed by Jake Diekman’s shiny 2.92 ERA, the reliever has been insanely lucky with his strand rate this season (87.9%) and he’s needed every bit of that luck to survive his dangerously high walk rate of 17.9%. His FIP of 5.35 shows that his defense has bailed him out of some tough spots and that’s not something that can be sustainable with the number of runners he lets get on base.
Trevor Story, SS/2B
The big signing for Boston was Story and he has come into Fenway Park (which has that short left field for him to work with) and absolutely struggled. He’s hit .210/.294/.328 with a wRC+ of 82 in 136 plate appearances. And he’s struggled significantly with strikeouts as he’s striking out almost as often as he did during his first two years in the big leagues — the good news is he’s walking at a slightly higher than average rate.
This offensive decline has also been paired with his worst defensive season since 2018 (probably doesn’t help that they’ve got him at second) and you have a recipe for a disappointing season from the big free agent.
The bottom line
While Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, and JD Martinez continue to thrive despite the depressed offensive environment. Boston has also seen Enrique Hernández, Bobby Dalbec, and Alex Verdugo get significant plate appearances with minimal production. And that’s really crippled the line-ups depth.
This lack of depth has come at the same time as Hill being Boston’s best starter and it’s not even really close. Nick Pivetta’s 5.08 ERA is scary enough, and that should be higher according to xERA, but when you look at his walk rate and his poor strand rate….it gets ugly fast. And there’s really no good news when you look at Tanner Houck, Garrett Whitlock, or Nathan Eovaldi either.
It’s pretty clear that the Sox took a gamble on some free agents to improve their depth and that gamble has not paid off through the first five weeks of the season. There’s also little reason for it to get better when you look at the peripheral stats either.
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