As I was reading Steven Martano's article last week on the worst position players of 2015, two things jumped out at me. First, the three worst position players were much worse than the rest of the league's bad players (The bottom three were all worth -1.8 WAR or worse, while no one else finished with even -1.5 WAR). Second, two of those three players, Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, played for the same team and are under contract with the Red Sox again this season.
The Red Sox owned two of the three least productive players in the MLB last season using fWAR as an estimate, and that is very good news for the Boston faithful. Why, you might ask, is such a sobering fact good news? Well, the Red Sox still managed to win 78 games last season while harboring 935 PAs of -3.8 WAR from two players making a hefty sum.
That's a lot of awful. There were teams last season that reached as many, or more, victories utilizing multiple replacement-level players. These teams, rather than concentrating their awful like the Red Sox, spread out mediocrity across more roster spots. Think of it this way -- would you rather have a wallet with a $50 bill and two negative-$20 bills or a wallet with three $5 bills? Assuming you won't get in trouble for destroying money, you will always take the first wallet, despite the fact that the second wallet is worth $5 more. You can simply throw away the negative twenties, and suddenly the first wallet is more valuable.
Now, I'm not suggesting the Red Sox should just "throw away" Ramirez and Sandoval before Spring Training even starts. That's silly, they're baseball players and not made up currency. Besides the fact that they are due substantial financial commitments for the foreseeable future, there is also a more-than-decent chance that they rebound in 2016.
More directly, it is extremely unlikely that they will be as bad in 2016 as they were in 2015. Since World War II, only two players, hitters or pitchers, have ever produced consecutive seasons of -1.8 WAR or worse. For those that are curious, Von Joshua did it in 1976-77 and Pat Rockett did it in 1977-78. No, I haven't heard of them either.
Players who perform that poorly either improve or stop receiving playing time; it's as simple as that. And Steamer projects both of Ramirez and Sandoval to rebound to close to two-win players each. In comparison to last season, that's an 8-WAR swing simply by bouncing back to being average players, something they have both exceeded in previous years. Now WAR is certainly an imprecise estimator, but anything close to an 8-win upgrade at no additional cost would be huge. And even if they're somehow that bad again, it would be easy for the Red Sox to replace them with replacement level type players and wind up with a net gain of a few wins.
Basically, the Red Sox are going to be good in 2016 because they were bad in 2015. It's not a causal link, of course, but it's a good bet that two previously strong players won't be a -4 WAR drag on the roster twice in a row. The marginal improvements of league-worst production from two different positions, on its own, should make the Red Sox a contending team in 2016 if everyone else simply stands in place.
Of course, that doesn't even take into account the improvements they should see from new and other in-house personnel. A full year of Blake Swihart and (hopefully) Dustin Pedroia should help. The jury is still out on Rusney Castillo and Jackie Bradley, Jr., but their contributions will be magnified over a full season. Bradley, for one, was extremely good last season. Continued improvement from Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility, either. Their starting pitching is still extremely questionable, but adding David Price isn't going to hurt. Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith were much needed additions to a bullpen that probably transitioned from a weakness to a strength this offseason.
The FanGraphs projections seem to agree, pegging them to be the best team in the American League next season. All of these signs lead me to believe that this team won't be a repeat of the 2015 Padres or the 2015 Mariners...or the 2015 Red Sox. Of course, injuries and regressions from youngsters could strike again. Xander Bogaerts' 32:101 BB/K ratio and .372 BABIP could come back to haunt him. Dustin Pedroia could retire and move to a cattle ranch in South Dakota. Baseball could baseball. But on February 1, 2016, the Red Sox are in position to be a strong contender.
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Austin Yamada is a contributing writer for Beyond The Box Score.