Are the Red Sox Really this Bad?

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 04: Xander Bogaerts #2 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the dugout during the ninth inning against the New York Yankees with his teammates at Yankee Stadium on August 04, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 04: Xander Bogaerts #2 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the dugout during the ninth inning against the New York Yankees with his teammates at Yankee Stadium on August 04, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /
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One could say that a Boston sports team having a “tough go of things lately” is the very definition of first world problems, but when it comes to the Boston Red Sox, there are some genuinely troubling trends at Fenway Park.  They currently have a 59-55 record (thanks to another loss to the Yankees), are on an 8 game losing streak, and are looking up at the ever-surprising Rays and their rival Yankees, who just swept the Sox and set their first-place lead at 14.5 games over the defending World Series champions.  At this point, any version of the postseason could be a stretch for the defending champs.

So what’s going on?  Isn’t this supposed to be one of the most exciting young teams in baseball?  A lineup with the likes of Xander Bogaerts, JD Martinez, and Mookie Betts?  Chris Sale and David Price leading the way on the mound?  Who are these guys?

Are they really this bad?  Have the champs really fallen that far in just one season?  Let’s take a look at a few numbers:

ON OFFENSE:

Red Sox
PORT ST. LUCIE, FLORIDA – MARCH 04: J.D. Martinez #28 of the Boston Red Sox bats in the second inning against the New York Mets during the Grapefruit League spring training game at First Data Field on March 04, 2019 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /
  • Most runs scored in baseball (648)
  • .274/.345/.472 team triple slash is top 5 in each category.
    • 1st/2nd/4th
  • +59 run differential

The truth is, that this team knows how to score runs.  What’s even more interesting is that not only are they the top scoring offense in baseball (just like last year), but they’re accomplishing this in the midst of two of their key lineup pieces, Mookie Betts and JD Martinez losing a combined 310 points from their combined OPS from last season.  To be fair, they’re still very productive hitters (Betts posting a .885 OPS, while Martinez offers a .914), but to have two critical parts of your lineup fall off at a noticeable clip and STILL put up league-leading numbers, you’re hitting can’t be that bad.

ON THE MOUND:

Boston Red Sox pitching woes
BOSTON MA. – APRIL 9: Chris Sale #41 of the Boston Red Sox flips the ball into his glove after allowing two runs to the Toronto Blue Jays during a Major League Baseball game at Fenway Park on April 9, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images) /
  • 11.7 Total Pitcher WAR (11th overall)
  • 10.05 K/9 (2nd overall)
  • 4.79 Team ERA (21st overall)
    • 4.99 Starters ERA, 4.52 Bullpen

That’s not… great.  Chris Sale’s struggles have been well documented, and the bullpen had always been a point of contention for Boston, and yet went unaddressed at the trade deadline, unless you count the addition of Andrew Cashner, and I really don’t think many people are. GM Dave Dombrowski gave a rather bleak outlook on his team’s chances of winning the division as his reasoning for not bolstering his struggling pitching staff, which of course is hardly comforting to the fans who were hoping to add one of the many starting or relief pitching options that changed hands this season.  I think it’s fair to say that a team with a starter’s ERA that pushes 5, that team has a pitching problem.

In the Field:

BOSTON, MA – JULY 10: Mookie Betts #50 of the Boston Red Sox leaps over the wall to rob a home run ball during the fifth inning of a game against the Texas Rangers on July 10, 2018 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA – JULY 10: Mookie Betts #50 of the Boston Red Sox leaps over the wall to rob a home run ball during the fifth inning of a game against the Texas Rangers on July 10, 2018 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /
  • -14 dRS (22nd Overall)
  • .984 Fielding Percentage (17th Overall)
  • 4.9 DEF rating (per Fangraphs, 12th overall)

Depending on which numbers you pick, these are pretty much on par with last season, but when you roll it all into one, you have a team that has fallen off defensively.  Using FanGraphs’ DEF rating and comparing the 2018 season, where the team was rated as a top 5 defense, we see a team now that is fighting to stay in the top half.  Mookie Betts has still proven to be a strong fielder, but not at the clip we’ve seen in the past, and coupled with his teammates’ lackluster performances, the weakness with the leather becomes more apparent.

So are they as bad as we think they are?

Boston Red Sox: How can the Red Sox compete in 2019 and beyond?
BOSTON – AUGUST 19: The Boston Red Sox introduced Dave Dombrowski as their new President of Baseball Operations during a press conference held in the State Street Pavilion at Fenway Park. Pictured are, left to right, John Henry, Tom Werner, Dombrowski, and Sam Kennedy. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images) /

No.  The Red Sox still boast one of the more potent offenses in baseball, and while they are not exactly gold glove caliber as a team, they’re not incompetent either.  The real issue for this team is on the rubber, where they are clearly struggling with underperformance.  The current Boston rotation is virtually unchanged from last season, so it’s not as if this is a team that was torn apart by injuries or free agency, it’s just loaded with guys who are just not living up to their pedigree, and their offense is only able to cover for so much of it.  The good thing with having a problem like that, though, is that these are pitchers with proven track records of success, so it’s always a possibility that they can right the ship, and these losing streaks can quickly turn the other way.

The team has an expected W-L record 62-52 and currently holds a 7% chance to make the postseason (per Baseball Reference).  They play in one of the most top-heavy divisions in baseball, and the American League Wild Card race is chock full of talented teams, both races the Sox are alive and well in.  While they are certainly not helping their cause lately, Boston isn’t exactly what I would call a “bad team”, but one could say that a missed postseason trip with the same core that just won a World Title could force GM Dave Dombrowski’s hand to make some foundational changes to the team.