Friday, July 11, 2014

Just What Happened to the Red Sox? From Worst to First and Back Again

Manager John Farrell transformed the Red Sox from a last place team to a World Series champion in his first season at the helm, but year two hasn't been nearly as magical.
By Adam Lowenstein (@StatsAdam)

Heading into Wednesday night, the Red Sox had lost four games in a row, and seven of their last eight, to drop to a season-worst 12-games below .500. The last-place team in the American League East avoided their 52nd loss of the season in yet another one-run game Wednesday when Brock Holt delivered his first walk-off hit of his young career.

Mike Carp would follow those heroics with a 10th-inning walk off Thursday night against Chicago, but the Red Sox are still sitting in last place, 9.5 games out in the American League East, and eight games out of the Wild Card, heading into this weekend's All Star break.

The 2014 Boston Red Sox are projected to finish with a record similar to theirs in 2012, but the similarities end there. On July 11, 2012, Bobby Valentine had the Red Sox at .500 with tremendous hitting. Heading into the 2012 All-Star break, the Red Sox scored more than five runs per game, which was second only to the Texas Rangers that year. As of July 11, 2014, John Farrell has the Red Sox well below .500 with horrendous hitting.

Boston played .500 baseball through 110 games two years ago, but the squad started poorly this time around. The 2014 Red Sox find themselves near the bottom of almost every important batting category. After having the worst hitting among all American League teams in the month of June, they stand at 27th in both runs per game and slugging percentage after finishing as the best team in each of those categories in 2013.

In addition, the absence of Jacoby Ellsbury has made for a difficult 2014. After he played just 74 games in 2012 and hurt the Red Sox’s baserunning, he played the bulk of last season, and made the Sox baseball’s best team on the base paths. With Ellsbury departing for the New York Yankees before this year, one can argue that the 2014 Red Sox have been the worst stolen base team in 2014. They rank 30th in stolen base success rate and 29th in stolen bases per game.

However, the man who has replaced Ellsbury in center field – Jackie Bradley, Jr. – is among the best MLB fielders this season. Although he and his arm are better than the team’s former speedster, the Red Sox have still been giving up runs at a relatively high rate.

While Boston has not been surrendering runs like the 2012 squad did, it has not been a successful season on the Fenway Park mound this year, especially for Boston's starting pitching. Bradley and Dustin Pedroia both rank in the top 10 in individual defensive WAR, but Red Sox pitching ranks 24th in both starter ERA and home runs per nine innings. For that reason, A.J. Pierzynski was designated for assignment, and Jake Peavy and John Lackey have been involved in trade rumors.

While the 2014 Red Sox have had some superb defensive play from their center fielder and second baseman, they have struggled in the field as a whole recently. They have committed 10 errors in their last six games, including two from Xander Bogaerts, who has made the third-most fielding errors among American Leaguers this season.

This poor team defense along with the frustrating offense and pitching has led to Boston having the fourth-worst 2014 run differential in the league. Farrell’s 2013 squad was the MLB’s best in that category, and Valentine even had the Red Sox with the seventh-highest run differential on this date in 2012.

The 2012 Red Sox also hosted the Chicago White Sox for the 91st game of their season, but they lost that contest two years ago to fall to 46-45. On Wednesday night, the Red Sox rode their rookies to victory against the White Sox. On July 11 in both 2012 and 2014, the Red Sox find themselves in the same position in the American League East: 9.5 games out of first place.

However, this year’s edition of the division does not have any overwhelmingly good teams. With 71 games remaining in Boston’s season, and the fact that the team has been under performing for most of 2014, the Red Sox might not be ready to play for next season quite yet.

For more MLB coverage, follow Adam Lowenstein on Twitter at @StatsAdam.

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