This is my first fanpost. I hope you like!
1) The Offense: As Theo and Co. finalized their defense based strategy this off-season the world of pundits and talk show callers hemmed and hawed about the supposed de-emphasis on offense. The logic being, to complete with the Yankees and Rays loaded lineups, Boston needed more power and they were wasting resources on marginal ideas of run prevention. In spite of a terrible start to their season this particular concern is looking largely if not completely ridiculous.
The Sox Offense is currently third in all of baseball in wOBA (as per Fangraphs) with a very respectable .357. They currently lead baseball in wRC and stand 1 run behind the Yankees in good old fashioned runs, good for third in the AL. Everybody has focused on the lack of production from David Ortiz, J.D Drew and V-Mart, and largely overlooked the fact that Youk and Pedroia are performing at their always elite level and a great deal of production has come from unexpected sources like Varitek, Darnell McDonald and the glorious return of Mike Lowell. Even Drew has been more productive then people seem to think, good for an average-ish .346 wOBA just behind Jeremy Hermidia, a player who looks to be the most underrated off-season acquisition in town.
2) The Bullpen: While two Papelbon meltdowns have left the fans reeling, the bullpen really has been pretty good. The Man Who One Day Will Close, Daniel Bard, has been the ace of the bullpen so far striking out 11.88 per 9 and walking only 2.16 p/9 for a xFIP of 2.55. Papelbon is not quite as dominate as we have been used to in the past, but he is still effective and should get going as the season wears on. Luck has also helped our bullpen out, as best evidenced by Manny Delcarmen, who has managed a startling 97.8% left on base percentage. Of course, he might be pumping up his own numbers since he is currently walking 4.61 p/9. Conversely the always underrated Okajima has had some bad luck, with hitters currently holding a .382 BABIP against him. He hasn’t been great thus far, but he is better than his current numbers suggest.
3) Catchers: Jason Varitek currently leads the Boston Red Sox in wOBA, OPS and SLG. That sentence is not a typo. The caveat here is that ‘Tek is not a regular and these are averages, so small sample size warnings galore. Even with that obvious numbers bias though, this is telling. Varitek seems well suited for the back-up role these days and his over-the-top hitting is certainly helping the team in these woeful days. We can count on Martinez being better at the plate and so, we should be able to count of one of baseball’s most offensively productive catching tandems.
Oh my GOD! Is that a 900 pound gorilla in the room? How silly of me to overlook it! Our catchers cannot throw anyone out. Yes, I am aware. I just don’t think it is all that detrimental. It isn’t good. I’ll give you that. But how much does it really matter? At this writing, Boston has thrown out a mere 18% of base stealers, second worst in the AL (yes, the Yankees are worse at throwing out runners, at only 14%, and it has not caused their demise thus far). Worse though, teams have attempted a startling number of SB- 51, thus far. However if we regress the CS% to the AL average we would still only see sox catchers throwing out 14 of the 51 base stealers instead of 9. The difference here in the number runs we would expect from average throwing catching and the sox lousy throwing catchers is about 3 runs (using leverage-free linear weights for stolen bases). It might be true that teams would not attempt so many stolen bases if the catchers weren’t so bad, but in 29 games giving up an addition 3 runs (or even 5.5 total runs) to the SB base is not the hardest thing to overcome. Varitek’s hitting alone has nearly made up that difference. Now if V-Mart can’t hit, that is another story.
4) Bad Luck: There has been plenty of poor play by key members of the team, but bad luck has also played a big part in the early season. As bad as David Ortiz has been, and he has been awful, he has been additionally hurt by his ridiculous .195 BABIP. Even with his LD% down and his GB% and IFF% up from his normal rates that is a very poor BABIP. That alone does not justify slotting him the lineup every day, but, it is not going to be that way all season.
Papi isn’t the only one hurt by a rough break on batted balls. It has been killing Victor Martinez. Martinez has been hitting line drives 23.2 % of the time and getting only a .258 BABIP. A slight rise in GB% is partly responsible, but it shouldn’t mean a .063 difference from his career average.
On the pitching side, more than half the pitchers have a FIP lower than their ERA. Those with unlucky breaks on earned runs out weight those with lucky breaks by quite a bit. Beckett, Dice-K, Okajima and Wake have all pitched better than their ERA shows and still have not pitched up to their ability. The grouping of runs has been a problem for all of these guys and had things fallen a little different, that could easily have meant a win here and there.
5) Theo and Co.: Even when the team on the field falters, Sox fans should take stock in the fact that the front office is one of the best in the league and particularly skilled at in-season acquisitions. From the blockbuster Nomar deal to picking up V-Mart last season, Theo and his staff have shown they can diagnose and correct team problems as well as any front office in the game. If this means finding a replacement in center or left for the most impactful injuries or rocking the baseball world with a move for a big time run producer, you can bet Theo and the gang will be on point. Even without making headlines, their constant ability to pick up plug gaps with productive temps like McDonald, Van Every and others is reason enough to keep the faith.
And for my next trick: 5 Reasons for Red Sox Fans to PANIC