It is safe to say that there was no team that made as many headlines as the Boston Red Sox yesterday.
With John Lester, John Lackey and Andrew Miller leaving town and well-known hitters Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig incoming, the Sox had quite the afternoon. By trading for proven MLB talent as opposed to prospects Boston has made it clear that the team plans to be competitive in 2015, and is not looking to rebuild in any way, shape, or form.
Whether these trades pay off remains to be seen, but they are undoubtedly interesting moves for a squad that is simultaneously the cellar dweller in a weak division and the defending World Series champions.
The Red Sox find themselves in an unusual situation as a team that wants to win soon, but can't win now. This predicament may be unusual but it's not necessarily mysterious. There are some readily apparent factors that have landed Boston where it is, such as an abysmal outfield, very little production from the catcher position, and the gentle declines of Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz.
One more subtle factor that has slipped significantly has been the team's baserunning. While the departure of Jacoby Ellsbury was sure to move the needle in terms of Boston's potency on the base paths, it cannot account for the kind of decline this team has shown from 2013.
As is our wont to do at Beyond the Box Score, I present you with a whopping big chart to illustrate:
|2013||123 (4th)||19 (30th)||86.6% (1st)||11.3 (5th)|
|2014||32 (29th)||20 (19th)||61.5 (30th)||-10.2 (30th)|
Okay, so "whopping" might have been an exaggeration. Despite the underwhelming size of this chart the data is pretty powerful. The Red Sox have gone from dominating on the bases to being the worst team in the league in this regard in a single year.
There is no doubt that losing Ellsbury's wheels is the biggest factor here. His 52 SB and 11.2 BsR were not expected to be replaced ,and account for about half the discrepancy in baserunning runs. However, there are a couple of players on both the 2013 and 2014 Red Sox that also bear some responsibility: namely Dustin Pedroia and Shane Victorino.
|Player||2013 SB||2013 CS||2013 BsR||2014 SB||2014 CS||2014 BsR|
In the general scheme of things, the Red Sox have had much bigger problems this year; and to be fair Victorino should get something of a free pass for the injuries he's suffered. However, Boston is currently experiencing a season where every little thing is going wrong, and this is one of those things.
2014 has been a disaster for the Red Sox. When analysts look back on the season it's very unlikely that they're going to say "the reason this team failed is that they couldn't run the bases", but that doesn't it wasn't a worthwhile contributor to the monumental egg the Sox have laid this season.
In this day and age teams are looking to find bits and pieces of value at the margins. The 20+ runs the Sox lost on the bases this year hardly counts as bits and pieces. Adding the tortoiselike Allen Craig to the lineup next year could make the issue even worse, especially as Pedroia, Napoli and Ortiz age.
When we think of teams of players slowing down, we tend to think of it as a gradual process associate with age. In most cases that's a fair way to look at. However, the Red Sox didn't get turn into a slow team over a number of years.
They did it in one.
. . .
All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs
Nick Ashbourne is an Editor for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @Nick_Ashbourne.