Adam Duvall injury product of poor Boston Red Sox roster construction

Apr 9, 2023; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Boston Red Sox center fielder Adam Duvall (18) walks off the field with the trainer during the ninth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 9, 2023; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Boston Red Sox center fielder Adam Duvall (18) walks off the field with the trainer during the ninth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports /

The injury suffered by outfielder Adam Duvall this Sunday could have been prevented with better roster construction by the Boston Red Sox this offseason.

On Monday, the Boston Red Sox announced that Adam Duvall would be placed on the 10-day injured list after fracturing his left wrist attempting to make a diving catch in the team’s 4-1 win over the Detroit Tigers Sunday. The Red Sox got good news that Duvall’s injury would not require surgery, but he is still expected to be unavailable for an extended period of time.

Duvall’s injury, while tragic, was very predictable and something that could’ve been prevented with some better roster construction by the Red Sox this offseason.

The initial plan for the team following Xander Bogaerts’ departure to San Diego this offseason was to move Trevor Story back to his original position of shortstop, keep Enrique Hernandez in center, and attempt to get a full season of Christian Arroyo at second base. However, after it was announced in January that Trevor Story would miss the start of the season because he required surgery on his elbow, the team had to pivot to plan B.

One option could have been to sign an established shortstop such as Elvis Andrus, who would sign with the White Sox in late February for only $3 million, and keep Hernandez in center field where he has proven to be an adequate defender the past two seasons. Instead, the team opted to trade for Adalberto Mondesi, whom they already knew was not going to be ready to start the season, move Hernandez to shortstop, and sign Duvall to play center.

While Duvall did have experience playing center heading into this season, he has primarily played the corners and for good reason. Duvall has fared better both offensively and physically when playing the corner outfield position as opposed to center. There is evidence for this as recently as last season. Like this year for the Red Sox, Duvall started the year in center for the Braves last season, but was moved to left after the team called up top prospect Michael Harris on May 28 to play center. Prior to Harris’s first major league game on May 31, Duvall hit for a paltry .527 OPS with a 48 wRC+ and only two home runs. From May 31 until the end of the season, Duvall hit for a .878 OPS, 139 wRC+, and 10 home runs.

Duvall and his then manager Brian Snitker in interviews for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution both attributed Duvall’s turnaround to the fact that playing the corner took less of a physical toll on Duvall than playing center with Duvall saying that while he enjoys playing center “it is more taxing on your body because you’re going two different ways. It has been a little bit better from a recovery standpoint, on my legs, being in the corner.” Snitker added, “I worried about that all winter, playing him in center field, because he’s such a big man. There’s a lot of running involved, so I think that’ll help him … I think the lessened physical toll should help him offensively.”

In addition to Sniktner and Duvall’s words from last season, one could have intuitively understood that playing the 34 year old everyday in centerfield was not a good idea. According to Chad Jennings of The Athletic, in the last 10 years only four players at age 34 or older have played at least 81 games in center field in one season. Those players being Brett Gardner, Coco Crisp, Jarrod Dyson, and Rajai Davis whom with heights and weights ranging from 5’9 to 5′ 11 and 165 to 195 lbs and each having at least 200 career stolen bases, as opposed to Duvall’s 18, are physically smaller and more athletic than the 6-foot-1 215-pound Duvall. There bodies were much more equipped to hold up over a full season than Duvall’s.

Some would argue however that the Red Sox were in such desperate need of a power bat like Duvall that it was worth the risk of signing him to play center. It is hard to argue against that as Duvall in his short time with the Red Sox this season was one of the best offensive players in baseball hitting .455/.514/.1033 with four home runs while the Red Sox have scored a combined one run in the two games that Duvall has not played this season. However this is a false choice.

While it was a mistake for the Red Sox to sign Duvall to play center, that doesn’t mean they couldn’t have still signed him this offseason. The Red Sox could’ve signed Duvall to be their DH, as well as backup outfielder, as opposed to the 38-year-old Justin Turner who slugged .438 last season. They could’ve then signed Elvis Andrus to be their shortstop, or kicked the tires once again on Jose Iglesias who signed for a minor league deal with Miami in March if they wanted to save money, and kept Hernandez in center.

However, they did not go that route and as a result Duvall got injured just nine games into the season. Hernandez, meanwhile, has been atrocious defensively at short committing already six errors as opposed to the 10 he committed allow of last year, 5 of which came in the 44.2 innings he played shortstop. Adalberto Mondesi cannot return until late May at the earliest. Until then the Red Sox will have to either stick with Hernandez at shortstop and some rotation of Raimel Tapia, Rob Refsnyder, and/or Jarren Duran in center or move Hernandez back to center and roll the dice with Bobby Dalbec and Yu Chang at short.

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