Wednesday, December 6 2023

How bad is the Red Sox defense? Even worse than you’d expect originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

There’s a new defensive metric at Baseball Savant, and it says the Red Sox are even worse than you think.

This isn’t news, necessarily, but it’s still instructive.

If you’re wondering how the Red Sox could boast a top-five offense in the American League and a pitching staff that has, all things considered, avoided complete disaster, and yet still be fading out of the playoff chase, it’s because of their defense.

Statcast data provides unprecedented insight into how players actually move on the field, which tells us in ways the naked eye can’t which plays should be made, how much velocity was on a particular throw, what angle should’ve been taken to a fly ball, etc. …

While there have been a hodgepodge of defensive stats cited in recent years — chief among them outs above average — those various numbers had remained separate, at least until now. Baseball Savant recently unveiled its fielding runs leaderboard, which combines measurements of fielding proficiency, arm strength, and catching/framing skills into one runs-based metric.

If you’re wondering where the Red Sox rank in various categories, here’s a hint: Start at the bottom and work your way up. They are among the worst performers at every position except right field, and even there, where we’ve cited Alex Verdugo as a potential Gold Glover, they’re only actually middle of the pack.

Consider the carnage:

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  • At catcher, Connor Wong‘s arm may be elite, but his framing and blocking skills decidedly less so. He checks in at minus-3 runs, which is good for 50th out of 66 catchers with at least 200 innings behind the plate. He has actually been outshined by backup Reese McGuire (minus-1, 34th).

  • First baseman Triston Casas looked OK defensively for almost a week. Then he made an ill-advised April throw across the diamond against the Pirates, and it has been downhill ever since. He grades at a staggering minus-8 runs at a position that frankly shouldn’t be able to impact the game that much. He places 47th out of 49 qualified first basemen.

  • Second base has been a revolving door all year, so we’ll go with the player to see the most time there, Christian Arroyo. His minus-2 production ranks 41st out of 56, though he’s currently at Triple-A. That’s actually better than Enmanuel Valdez (minus-3, 48th).

    • Recent replacement Pablo Reyes has been better. He breaks even at zero fielding runs, which is good for 37th out of 84 players with at least 100 innings. Reyes seems like a revelation, but he barely cracks the top 50 percent.

  • We know what kind of season it has been for third baseman Rafael Devers. He made his league-leading 17th error with a bobble and wild throw in Tuesday’s 6-2 loss to the Astros and has predictably been a disaster, with his minus-5 placing 46th out of 51. It’s worth noting that the five players below him have only taken limited reps at third, making Devers the worst full-time third baseman in baseball.

  • A case can be made that no decision torpedoed the season worse than installing Kiké Hernández at shortstop. Despite spending time in center and on the bench, Hernández still checked in at a woeful minus-12, tying him for last out of 47 shortstops with current Dodgers teammate Amed Rosario.

    • There is a glimmer of good news here, however, and it’s that Trevor Story (plus-2) has been even better than advertised since returning, placing 27th out of 82 shortstops. Keep that in mind next year when he inevitably embarks on a strikeout binge, because he’ll still provide value.

  • Now things get ugly. When the Red Sox signed Masataka Yoshida to a $90 million contract this winter, skeptics cited two potential issues: his height wouldn’t translate offensively, and his glove wouldn’t play. On the first count, the critics whiffed, because Yoshida can hit for average, anyway. But on the second, they were right on the money. He has cost the Red Sox 11 runs in left field (51st out of 54), which is especially hard to do in Fenway Park. He rates as one of the 10 worst defenders in MLB, and the Red Sox will have to decide how much time he should spend wearing a glove moving forward.

  • In center, Adam Duvall (minus-2, 48th out of 50) and Jarren Duran (minus-1, 44th) have combined to give the Red Sox the worst defense at a key position in baseball. Duvall’s issues are predictably range-related, since the rugged 34-year-old is best suited to a corner. Duran, meanwhile, loses runs to a weak arm. They’re the last line of a defense that has been porous up the middle, which will tank a season.

  • The one ray of hope, such as it is, comes in right field, but even here, the numbers tell a less impressive story than the eyes. Verdugo nets out at zero runs and 23rd out of 51. Though he has recorded 11 assists and committed only two errors, Verdugo is dinged for a below-average arm. It’s worth noting, in fairness, that he grades much better by defensive runs saved at plus-14, but that’s a different metric for a different day.

What matters today is the complete picture, and Statcast just gave us a clearer way to evaluate this Red Sox season, and it’s that their defense never gave them a chance.

Source: Yahoo Sports


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