“The Hangover” – A Boston Red Sox preview

(Keith Allison / Flickr)

Chief Wiggum: “Ladies, please. All our founding fathers, astronauts and World Series heroes have been either drunk or on cocaine.

It was the happy ending they had in mind when they dealt away a package of baseball’s very best prospects for three bites at the apple with one of baseball’s best pitchers, Chris Sale, in tow. The Boston Red Sox won a whopping 108 games last season, the most of any team in the last 17 years. They kept the hated rival New York Yankees at bay despite an impressive season from the Bronx Bombers, a situation that Boston has experienced in reverse all too many times. They put together a dominant postseason run, including a series win over said Yankees. Right fielder Mookie Betts slightly outplayed Mike Trout and won the AL MVP award. Finally, they closed out their World Series win with Sale on the mound, striking out the side in the ninth.

Baseball is a funny game in that sometimes a team’s best-laid plans take it to the highest of heights, but like a card shark at the poker table, even the good decision-makers are always vulnerable to the unpredictable. Teams have to reckon with injury risk, a unforeseeable downturn from a star player, and even the randomness of the angle at which a ball traveling 90 mph bounces off of a bat. If said “misfortunes” continuously affect a team, you start to question who’s making the decisions (::cough::). However, not even baseball’s sharks are immune to an unlucky season.

The 2019 Red Sox have faced a multitude of unfortunate circumstances that have already rendered them significant underdogs to repeat as AL East champions. Sale has shown a frightening velocity loss early in the season, and while his changeup and slider are still usable as out pitches, the fastball has been getting obliterated. Rick Porcello has made a long career of limiting walks and home runs. Suddenly, home plate is jumping around on him, and he’s become quite “wild in the strike zone”. Hard-throwing free agent acquisition Nathan Eovaldi has already made good on both fears surrounding his profile, as he’s been both erratic (11.8 percent walk rate) and unavailable (surgery to remove “loose bodies” from his elbow). Eduardo Rodriguez has posted a 6.16 ERA against a 3.81 FIP because innings have been snowballing on him; he’s allowed a .673 OPS with the bases empty, a .965 OPS with men on base, and a Robertian 1.389 OPS (!!!) with runners in scoring position.

That only covers the problems with the rotation. Second base had been a cesspool of injuries and punchlessness before top prospect Michael Chavis came up and breathed some life into the position. He’s hit the ground running the way we wish Eloy Jimenez would have. Jackie Bradley Jr.‘s OPS begins with a ‘4’, and Steve Pearce‘s begins with a ‘2’. First baseman Mitch Moreland hit .216/.298/.348 over the last 88 games of last season; he’s doing about the same this year except with enough power to be an average MLB hitter, but not when taking into account his position.

Because the Red Sox are still extremely good, there’s plenty of positives to point to amidst the dreck. Betts hasn’t been repeating his torrid 2018, but he’s still a slugging monster that posts roughly equal walk and strikeout rates. Many thought that J.D. Martinez would wind up as a cautionary tale in free agent investment, but the 2018 MLB RBI champion just continues to mash and post batting averages north of .300. Xander Bogaerts is right on track to repeat his 5-WAR campaign from 2018 with his combination of on-base skills, power, and good defense at short. Lefty David Price has been the lone bright spot in the starting rotation, as he’s throwing the ball better than he ever has in a Red Sox uniform. The 33-year-old still doesn’t utilize a traditional breaking pitch all that often, but his sinker and cutter have been on point this year.

The remaining three guys in Boston’s regular lineup haven’t stood out all that much thus far. Andrew Benintendi has seen a modest uptick in whiffs this season and his numbers are still recovering from a nightmarish first seven games. The guy we saw last season was a legitimate 20/20 threat with on-base skills, so better times are likely ahead. Rafael Devers has made great strides this season toward improving his strikeout-to-walk ratio, resulting in an OBP above .380. That sounds great, but the changed approach may have cost him some power, as he’s yet to hit a homer after belting 21 last season. Christian Vazquez is a prototypical defense-first backstop who hits just enough to justify regular playing time. If you start with the White Sox’ version of Tyler Flowers and trade some power for contact ability, you’ve got Vazquez.

***

It’s hard for any team, even one as great as the Red Sox, to erase a six-game lead, particularly when the team being chased is very well put-together. The Yankees stand as another obstacle, as they sit just two games behind Tampa Bay and are likely the better team. If the fabled World Series hangover is a real thing, the rest of the AL East doesn’t seem intent on being forgiving about it.

Boston may be on its way to righting the ship, as a three-game sweep of the A’s helped them to pick up 1.5 games in the division. They’d like to build that success into a hot streak that rectifies their early stumbles. Naturally, the White Sox have been assigned the tall task of cooling them down.

Probable Starting Pitchers

Probable Lineup

  1. Andrew Benintendi – LF
  2. Mookie Betts – RF
  3. J.D. Martinez – DH
  4. Xander Bogaerts – SS
  5. Rafael Devers – 3B
  6. Michael Chavis – 2B
  7. Mitch Moreland – 1B
  8. Jackie Bradley Jr. – CF
  9. Christian Vazquez – C

Pitching

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patrickcroberts

Prediction: we get trounced in this series and it’s the start of Boston’s return to quality form. In September as they get close to making the playoffs cut Boston refers back to this series as their turning point.

patrickcroberts

True. Thankful that another team’s awfulness will cover for ours. Those games yesterday. Man, that was ugly baseball.

roke1960

It sure seems like we’ve faced an awful lot of lefties so far this season, and now 3 more coming up. Too bad Eloy is out.

karkovice squad

You’re not imagining things. The last few series have been lefty-heavy. That’s almost entirely responsible for Moncada’s current slump.

soxfan

On one hand, it’s good to hear that there’s a definable reason for his performance. But, at what point does he pull a Jose Valentin and just start hitting from the left side?

Jim Margalus

Hopefully never. It’d most likely just turn him into a platoon player. See Minnesota’s giving up on Aaron Hicks as a cautionary tale:

2014: Hicks decides to give up switch-hitting

2018: How Aaron Hicks’ return to switch-hitting was a blessing in disguise

karkovice squad

It took coaching and time getting familiar with the league for his approach from the left to come into its own. I think he’s talented enough that he can be adequate from the right with the right investment of time and resources.

HallofFrank

Sort of a devil’s advocate here (because it’s still early, and I agree that Moncada should still hit switch hit for now). But isn’t an important question not just how bad is he as a righty, but how good is he as a lefty? 

Hicks had big platoon splits, but he was never elite from one side. I suspect with a larger sample size the OPS gap between Moncada’s platoon splits will shrink, but it’s currently almost .400. He’s hitting like an elite left-handed hitter and a below average right-handed one. In 2019, he’s at 175 wRC+ vs 81 wRC+ (to put in perspective, as a lefty he’s between 2018 Mookie Betts and JD Martinez. As a righty, he’s Ian Desmond and Manuel Margot). I suspect this gap to close some and it is still very early, but the gap is still jarring. 

This is far from scientific, but I just quickly thought off the top of my head: who are 5 good lefty-only hitters? I came up with Bellinger, Votto, Yelich, Benintendi, and Freeman. I quickly looked at their 2018 splits: the biggest gap between OPS against RHP and LHP among them was Bellinger’s at .199 (.880 vs .681). Bellinger was also the worst against LHP at .681 (Benintendi was the only other one under .700). 

Again, this is not solid data, but it at least raised the question for me: what could Moncada OPS against lefties as a lefty? Even if he closes the OPS platoon gap to only .300 or even .250, it seems entirely possible that he would be better off against lefties as a lefty. 

PauliePaulie

You are hoping a guy who may have never seen a pitch thrown to him from a Lefty while standing in the left-handed batters box is able to close an OPS gap, compared to the best hitters on the planet who have seen pitches from those angles their entire lives, while facing the best pitchers on the planet.

HallofFrank

To be clear, I’m not saying he would be better as a lefty. But it’s at least worth exploring at some point (although i agree with Jim… not now). Maybe he’s much worse, I dunno. But maybe he tries out a few times, works on it in the offseason, and tries out for spring training. He could at least get a sense for how it could be better or worse.

Hopefully he improves as a righty and it’s a non starter. But his performance thus far and his track record suggest he’s a borderline platoon player, currently.

HallofFrank

I mean, Moncada as a righty currently has the same wRC+ as Adam Engel. And it’s seen a huge jump this season.

karkovice squad

When he figures out how to drive and lift lefty junk he won’t have to.

My hunch is it’s partly a lack of reps because, this stretch excepted, there are fewer lefties. But it does make me think there are probably solutions the Sox could deploy (e.g. a batting cage simulator with a pitcher projected on a screen tied to a pitching machine spitting out balls with different spin and velocity from different release points) that maybe they haven’t invested in.

HallofFrank

“Robertian”… well done. 

lil jimmy

If i’m reading this right, you are saying “even pretty girls get pimples.”

Jim Margalus

Suckers — Rodon wasn’t battling a blister, it was a sore elbow!

roke1960

A perfect time to bring Cease up. But the geniuses will instead give us another helping of Dylan Covey. What fun it is being a Sox fan.

karkovice squad

So much better.

karkovice squad

I wonder if he kept looking at his hand because the inflammation was screwing with the ulnar nerve and affecting his ability to feel.

yinkadoubledare

The flexors are part of the mechanism of gripping with the fingers, and a flexor mass edema would likely indicate a flexor mass issue. Even best case with that (i.e. that it would heal with rest) is probably at least two months though and good chance of more, and it sure sounds worse than that the way Hahn and Rodon are talking

Marty34

Tommy John surgery not ruled out per Hahn. His slider was a blessing and a curse.

egib52

This might be the most depressing team every to follow. Injuries, terrible scouting, terrible front office, etc… Just unreal!

ImmortalTimeTravelMan

Oh look: another season where Rodón goes on the DL. Better get that 25 million per year extension ready…

Yolmer

Maybe they’ll kick the tires on Keuchel. They need some sort of reliable decent starter in the rotation.

When pigs fly….