Boston Red Sox Grades at the 2014 3-Quarter Mark
The 2014 season has not gone according to plan for the Boston Red Sox.
Coming off a World Series championship in 2013, many expected the Sox to be right back in the thick of things again this year.
Those dreams came to an end sometime in mid-July, and Boston's inability to compete culminated in a fire sale at the trading deadline.
Now, with a 52-65 record heading into play on August 12, all that’s left is for Boston to evaluate its current roster with an eye toward 2015 and beyond.
What went wrong in 2014, and which facet of the team is most at fault for the Red Sox's lackluster 2014 performance?
There's plenty of blame to go around, but our three-quarter mark grades reveal that many of the Red Sox's biggest problems start at the plate.
There's no other way to put it: Boston's lineup has been downright atrocious this year, and while the lineup lost some talent in the offseason, it's also littered with underperforming players.
The average MLB team has 500 runs right now, and last season, Boston led the majors by a wide margin with 853 runs.
In fact, there's no meaningful category in which the 2014 Sox aren't much, much worse than their championship predecessors when it comes to hitting.
This year's team has hit .255/.312/.411. Last year's team hit .277/.349/.446. The 2014 Red Sox have hit 119 homers and stolen 35 bases. Last year, the Sox finished with 178 homers and 123 steals.
Even at Fenway, the Sox are hitting just .251/.328/.375 in 2014, whereas they mashed to a .285/.354/.464 line a year ago.
There's plenty of blame to go around for Boston's poor performance, starting with its established stars.
Dustin Pedroia is having the worst offensive year of his career. David Ortiz's production has dropped significantly. Mike Napoli has missed substantial time, and Shane Victorino has missed almost the entire season.
Veterans like A.J. Pierzynski and Stephen Drew were downright embarrassing at the plate, as was Daniel Nava in April. And, perhaps most disappointing, Boston's young players have struggled mightily in 2014.
Xander Bogaerts, who was supposed to be a key cog in the lineup by now, is hitting .235/.295/.349.
Will Middlebrooks has missed most of the year with injury and has struggled when healthy, and Jackie Bradley Jr. has been historically bad at the plate, riding an 0-for-35 streak right now to a .211/.281/.289 mark overall.
Nava's been much better since being recalled from Pawtucket, Brock Holt has brought some excitement to the lineup and Christian Vazquez has hit well for a catcher. But overall, it's been a really sad year for the Red Sox's hitters.
Things should get better with Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig in town, and Boston figures to see some improvement from Bogaerts and Bradley, too. But right now, things are ugly, and this team deserves the F grade it has received.
The 2014 Red Sox haven't been quite as smooth and polished defensively as their predecessors, but they're still a slightly above-average squad when it comes to flashing the leather.
The Sox rank just 18th in fielding percentage, yes, but fielding percentage isn't a great way to measure team defense, and their .984 mark leaves them just .004 behind the first-place Mariners.
Boston boasts three dynamic up-the-middle defenders in Vazquez, Pedroia and Bradley. The final two should factor into Gold Glove consideration this season, and Vazquez looks like he'll get there someday, too.
For all of Bradley's struggles at the plate, he's already among the three or four best defensive outfielders in the game, and he saves a ton of runs with his glove.
Elsewhere on the diamond, the Sox have Napoli, who plays well defensively at first base, and Nava, who's fine when he's in left field and a bit stretched when in right.
With Cepsedes now aboard, the outfield defense should improve, even if it takes him a while to learn Fenway's tricky right field.
Still, if Boston goes with a Cespedes-Bradley-Victorino outfield next year, it could be the best defensive unit in baseball.
The left side of the infield faces some questions now that Drew is gone. Bogaerts made some foolish mistakes during his time at the hot corner, and while he appears more comfortable at shortstop, he doesn't profile as a plus defender there.
Middlebrooks has the natural tools to be a good third baseman, but it's a bit early to profile him defensively one way or another quite yet.
Add everything together and the Sox are a slightly above-average defensive squad, but one with some answers that remain at shortstop, third base and, depending on the day, right field.
Red Sox fans aren't terribly accustomed to having pitching as a strength and offense as a weakness, but that's how it had been in 2014 up until the trade deadline.
Despite Boston's disastrous season, its starting rotation has actually been decent this year.
With a collective 4.10 ERA, Red Sox starters rank down at No. 23 in all of baseball by that metric. But according to FanGraphs, Boston has had the 11th-best starting squad in the league this season, posting a 9.4 fWAR.
Boston starters have logged 715.2 IP this season, good for 12th-best in the league. Unfortunately, their strikeout rate as a unit is just average, while their walk and home run rates are somewhat poor.
Of course, much of Boston's success came via the arms of Jon Lester and John Lackey, who are now with the A's and Cardinals, respectively.
It's easy to look at a rotation of Buchholz, Joe Kelly, Rubby De La Rosa, Brandon Workman and Allen Webster and think a C+ grade is generous, and I would indeed assume this grade drops by season's end.
But if we're rewarded for decrying the players for their work up to this point, Boston's starters deserve some credit.
If nothing else, they've spared the bullpen a considerable amount of work. And watching De La Rosa, Workman, Webster, Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes and Henry Owens battle for playing time for the remainder of the year should be interesting.
Here it is: the lone bright spot for the Red Sox in 2014.
Despite all of their offensive woes and the inconsistency of their starting rotation, Boston's bullpen has given Sox fans something to look forward to when the team has managed to have a lead in the late innings.
According to FanGraphs, Boston's bullpen rates first as a unit with a 4.6 fWAR. Its collective 3.39 ERA rates as 11th-best, but it has the fifth-lowest walk rate, which is immensely important when you consider that Fenway Park is home.
Koji Uehara once again rates as one of the league's best relievers, and Andrew Miller does, too, though the latter now finds himself in Baltimore.
Burke Badenhop has proven to be a solid addition to this bullpen, and Junichi Tazawa still belongs in the conversation despite some recent rough patches.
Craig Breslow and Edward Mujica prevent this grade from ticking up any further, though Mujica has been a bit better as of late.
Tommy Layne, Alex Wilson and Heath Hembree have yet to pitch enough to truly make an impact, but we should see more of each as the calendar turns to September.
Trading Miller away dealt this group a significant blow, but the bullpen's work this season should still be appreciated.
The C- grade might seem pretty generous here, given the Red Sox's current position in the standings and the poor performance of many of their players.
But if you can wash the taste of 2014 out of your mouth long enough to examine how John Farrell and Ben Cherington are setting the Sox up for success beyond 2014, you'll see that things aren't quite so bleak as they seem.
Cherington gets a bum rap for "resting on his laurels" after winning the World Series in 2013, but I think that's a little unfair.
The Red Sox are organizationally opposed to handing out massive contracts to players like Jacoby Ellsbury—he was never coming back.
And while the Pierzynski experiment crashed and burned, Vazquez is already demonstrating why the Red Sox didn't want to commit three years to Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
Cherington swung and missed on the likes of Pierzynski, Grady Sizemore and Mujica, to be sure. He also left the Sox a bit thin in the outfield and on the right side of the infield, perhaps over-trusting rookies like Bogaerts and Bradley Jr.
But generally speaking, your organization is in much better shape when your GM's mistakes look like Cherington's and not, say, like Ruben Amaro Jr.'s with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Yet if Cherington receives a D- for his preseason moves, he should get a B for his in-season moves.
Once he determined that the Red Sox were out of the race, he went about an unconventional but total rebuild, acquiring MLB talent in an attempt to reload for 2015.
We're used to seeing "rebuilds" lead to the acquisition of prospects and two or three years of non-competition.
But Cherington went a different route, securing talents like Cespedes, Craig and Kelly this July, in addition to supplemental MiLB talents like Hembree, Eduardo Rodriguez and Edwin Escobar.
It was painful to lose the likes of Lester, Lackey, Peavy and Miller, to be sure. But Cherington did the right thing rather than the most popular thing, and he deserves some praise on that account.
It's a bit more difficult to grade Farrell, given the roster turnover he's had to manage this year.
On the one hand, he's supported the organization's developmental philosophy by sticking with players like Bradley and Bogaerts nearly every day.
He's also found playing time for deserving players like Holt and Nava, giving the players at least some hope that Boston's lineup is based on a meritocracy.
Some of Farrell's in-game moves are still puzzling, and his long-standing habit of leaving starting pitchers in games just a little too long has reared its ugly head a few times this season.
But overall, Farrell is an imperfect but good manager who really can't be blamed for Boston's lack of success in 2014.
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