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Know Your Enemy: Boston Red Sox

After eking into the playoffs last year, they’ll look to do it again in 2022

New York Yankees Vs. Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The Red Sox ended the 2021 regular season by sweeping the Nationals to just edge out the Blue Jays by a game a slide into the playoffs as the 4th seed in the American League with a 92-70 record. They knocked off the Yankees in the AL Wild Card Game, then the Rays in 4 games in the ALDS, before succumbing to the Astros in the ALCS.

It was a very successful season for a Red Sox team that wasn’t expected to be quite that good. Fangraphs projected them for 85 wins, which they beat by 7 games, fueled by a strong start to the season. On the year, they had just a +80 run differential, good enough for an 88-74 Pythagorean record. They’ll likely need that luck again in 2022 if they want to make it back to the playoffs.


Notable Departures:

Hitters: Hunter Renfroe (RF), Danny Santana (OF/1B), Kyle Schwarber (LF/DH)

Pitchers: Martín Pérez (SP), Eduardo Rodriguez (SP), Garrett Richards (SP), Adam Ottavino (RP)

Notable Arrivals:

Hitters: Trevor Story (2B), Jackie Bradley Jr. (OF)

Pitchers: Rich Hill (SP), James Paxton (SP), Michael Wacha (SP), Jake Diekman (RP), Matt Strahm (RP)


Position Players:

Catcher:

Christian Vázquez figures to do the bulk of the catching once again. After breaking out in 2019, and following that up with a strong 2020, he was back to his old self in 2021. Always regarded as a strong defensive catcher, he posted wRC+ numbers above 100 the two previous seasons, but was back down near his career numbers last year, coming in at just 77 with a rough .258/.308/.352 line over 498 PA. He also hit just 6 home runs after hitting a combined 30 over 710 PA the previous two seasons.

Backing Vázquez up will once again be Kevin Plawecki. Plawecki is the anti-Vázquez, mixing together a league average bat with poor defense behind the plate. In 173 PA last season, Plawecki hit .287/.349/.389 (102 wRC+) and chipped in 3 home runs of his own.

Backing up those two will likely be Ronaldo Hernández and Connor Wong. Hernández’s calling card is his power and strong arm, but won’t hit for much average and doesn’t seem to be too highly thought of defensively. Wong got a cup of coffee at the big league level last year, and is the better defender of the two, although his bat has a lot of swing and miss to it.

First Base:

Bobby Dalbec is in line to start the season as the Red Sox first baseman. Still technically a rookie in 2021, Dalbec got the call at 1B for 133 starts, putting up a .240/.298/.494 (107 wRC+) line with 25 home runs. He struck out in 34.4% of his plate appearances, a result that was completely expected after seeing how he did in the minor leagues.

Waiting in the wings as the first baseman of the future (or maybe the DH of the future) is the monstrous Tristan Casas. The 2018 first rounder spent 2021 split between AA and AAA, where he hit a combined .279/.394/.484 with a 15.4% BB rate against just a 19.1% K rate. He hit 14 home runs in 371 PA as a 21 year old in the upper levels. His strong lefty swing will likely be a fixture for the Red Sox for a while, likely starting early this season (after some much needed leadership training for a couple weeks in the minors).

Second Base:

The Red Sox big offseason addition was Trevor Story, signing for a 6 year, $140m contract over this past weekend. How he’ll do outside of the super friendly confines of Coors Field in Colorado will be one of the most talked about aspects of his early season play, but don’t expect his numbers to be as low as his “away” splits either. Sliding over to 2B from SS should only help his defense as well. Expect Story to be right with Brandon Lowe as they compete for the title of best second baseman in the AL East this season (barring a Blue Jays’ trade).

Shortstop:

Entering what could ultimately be his final year with the Red Sox (as he has an opt out after this season), Xander Bogaerts will once again be the main guy at SS. Bogaerts put together another solid season in 2021, hitting .295/.370/.493 (130 wRC+) with 23 home runs. Now entering his age 29 season, expect similar results once again with his bat, as he continues to provide roughly average defense.

Third Base:

Rafael Devers used a full 2021 season to return to the heights he established in 2019, when he broke onto the scene as one of the best young third basemen in the game. He hit .279/.352/.538 (134 wRC+) with 34 home runs. However, his defense continues to be a huge question mark, as he had a career worst -13 DRS.

Left Field:

Alex Verdugo continued his solid play last year, hitting .289/.351/.426 (107 wRC+) and is projected to do so again in his age 26 season. He struggles mightily against lefties, and will probably start to see himself slip into more of a platoon role. He also had his worst year defensively in 2021, another red flag to watch out for with him this year.

Centre Field:

Enrique Hernández is expected to primarily spend his season in CF this year, after splitting time in CF and at 2B last year. Hernández had a great year in 2021, hitting .250/.337/.449 (110 wRC+) with 20 home runs. He’ll likely find himself at the top of the Red Sox order all year as well, although he may not be best suited for it, as he projects to have just the 6th best OBP on the team.

Right Field:

The Red Sox re-acquired long time outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., and plan on having him in right field, at least against right handed pitchers. Bradley was terrible with the bat last year, hitting .163/.236/.261 (35 wRC+), somehow amassing 428 PA for the NL Central champion Brewers. Regardless of what the Red Sox are expecting out of him, don’t expect him to get that many plate appearances if he struggles again this year.

Starting the season on the weak side of that platoon will likely be Rob Refsnyder, a non-roster invitee to Spring Training this year. Refsnyder spent 2021 with the Twins, hitting .245/.325/.338 (86 wRC+) over 157 PA.

At some point, expect top prospect Jarren Duran to force his way into the OF picture as well. Duran played in 33 games last year, but hit just .215/.241/.336 (49 wRC+) and will likely get some more work in AAA to start the year.

Utility:

Christian Arroyo saw his starting job at second base disappear with the signing of Trevor Story. Expect Arroyo to get starts all around the infield, and he may even get a chance in the outfield as well, as his .262/.324/.445 (106 wRC+) line last year makes him a solid bench piece that the Red Sox will want to see in the lineup.

Designated Hitter:

Big bopper JD Martinez had a much needed bounce back season in 2021. After a terrible pandemic shortened 2020 season in which he put up a 77 wRC+, Martinez bounced back to a strong .286/.349/.518 (128 wRC+) line with 28 home runs. Those numbers were still well short of where he was before the pandemic started, and the 34 year old is now in the decline part of his career. 2022 is the last year of his contract, and with Triston Casas pretty much ready, I would imagine this is the last year that Martinez will be with Red Sox.


Pitchers:

Starting Pitchers:

Chris Sale was expected to be healthy and ready to have a full season fronting the Red Sox pitching staff. Instead, on the same day that it came out that he won’t be able to travel into Canada for the foreseeable future because he isn’t vaccinated, it was also announced that he suffered a stress fracture in his ribcage. He’ll be out for a few weeks to start the season.

Sale will be joining newcomer James Paxton on the IL to start the season. The Red Sox signed Paxton knowing he won’t quite be ready to start the season right away, as he had Tommy John surgery in April last season. Expectation for his return is still a few months out at best. His signing was more for the latter half of this year, with club options for the next two seasons as well.

Getting the ball on opening day for the Red Sox will undoubtedly be Nathan Eovaldi. At 31 years old, Eovaldi put together the best season of his career in 2021, pitching to a 3.75 ERA in 182.1 innings. He was exceptionally stingy on the home run front, allowing the second fewest in the AL at a 0.74 per 9 inning rate. That helped propel him to a 2.75 FIP and an AL best 5.6 fWAR. That was all good enough to get him 4th place in Cy Young voting, and a likely opening day nod.

Next up will likely be Canadian Nick Pivetta. The 29 year old broke through with the Red Sox last season, putting up a 4.53 ERA over 155 innings.

Rookie Tanner Houck put together some very strong starts for the Red Sox down the stretch, pitching to a 3.52 ERA over 69 innings, and earning himself a spot in the Red Sox rotation this season.

Rounding out the rotation will be a pair of newcomers in veterans Rich Hill and Michael Wacha. Both were teammates on the Rays last year, and while the 30 year old Wacha probably has the better upside, it’s the 42 year old Hill who is coming off the better season. However, both project for ERAs in the high 4.00s, and probably won’t make too many meaningful starts for the team down the stretch.

Prospect Connor Seabold seems likely to start the season in AAA, and will probably be one of the first ones called up when the Red Sox need another starter.

Bullpen:

Holding down the back of the bullpen will once again be predominantly Matt Barnes, who led the team with 24 saves and a 3.79 ERA. But he’ll form a trio of solid relievers at the back of the bullpen, along with Garrett Whitlock, who dominated last year to the tune of a 1.96 ERA over 73.1 innings, and newcomer Jake Diekman, who had a 3.86 ERA over 60.2 innings in Oakland last year.

Getting to those three will likely be a revolving door, starting with names like Ryan Brasier, Matt Strahm, Hirokazu Sawamura and Austin Davis. A solid bullpen, which projects in the top 10 overall thanks to the big 3 at the back of the bullpen.


2022 Outlook

Fangraphs projects them a bit better than last year, with an 87-75 record. That would be good enough for third place in their standings, just ahead of the Rays. PECOTA projections had them at 83-79 before the signing of Story, so they’re likely not too far off that Fangraphs projection now. I’d personally have them a little bit higher, and wouldn’t be surprised to see them crack 90 wins, but 4th in the division.

Don’t expect the Canadian border crossing rules to play much into their results this year. Aside from Sale, it seems like everyone else has gotten vaccinated, with the possible exception of Christian Arroyo. And a month from now on April 19 when the Red Sox are scheduled to make their first trip to Toronto, the rules could very well be changed by that point anyway.

This Red Sox team is honestly better than I expected when I first started writing this. Their infield is strong, and their starting pitching should be adequate. Their outfield is weak with minimal depth, but Verdugo and Hernández are solid enough starters. They could still be in on Michael Conforto at this point too, although their 2022 payroll is already just over the luxury tax threshold.

If their pitching holds up, and their outfielders produce just enough, they’ll win over 90 games. But there are a lot of realistic scenarios where they don’t even win 85 games as well.


Poll

The Red Sox will win:

This poll is closed

  • 41%
    Over 87.5 games
    (104 votes)
  • 58%
    Under 87.5 games
    (148 votes)
252 votes total Vote Now

Poll

The Red Sox will finish __ in the AL East

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    First
    (14 votes)
  • 12%
    Second
    (33 votes)
  • 33%
    Third
    (87 votes)
  • 46%
    Fourth
    (119 votes)
  • 1%
    Fifth
    (5 votes)
258 votes total Vote Now