By all traditional metrics the 2017 Boston Red Sox have had a successful regular season. They head into the 162nd and final game of the season against the Houston Astros having already sewn up the American League East title and have a chance to notch their 94th victory of the year. Regardless of what happens in the final contest they will proceed to play those same Astros in the American League Divisional Series this coming week. In addition to the team’s unknown playoff destiny, what are some takeaways from this season? Let’s take a look.
They may have found the catcher of the future:
It appears that the team has moved on from former highly regarded (especially for his bat) catching prospect Blake Swihart in favor of more lightly regarded catching prospect Christian Vazquez (better known for his glove work). The plot twist has been that Vazquez has maintained his talented glove (42 percent caught stealing) while showing he may be better than advertised with the bat. His 91 OPS+ will not get him confused with the likes of Giancarlo Stanton but his .291 batting average in 98 games has meant the team has not needed to give pause about throwing him out there.
Vazquez has hit nearly equally well against lefties and righties (.748/.735 OPS split). One downside is that he has not fared so well with his home/road split (.915/.577). It is encouraging to see what he has done before and after All Star Break, where his OPS+ has gone from 78 to 118 in 49 games before and 49 games since. Now completing his 10th season with the organization, he is still just 27 and looks to be entrenched as the receiver who will be receiving the lion’s share of the time behind the plate moving forward.
The lineup misses David Ortiz. Badly:
This should come as no surprise, but the degree to which his absence has impacted the offense has been huge. With one game left, the 2017 team has scored 782 runs. The 2016 squad, which was Ortiz’s swan song, put up 878 runs. Only five current lineup regulars boast an OPS+ of at least 100 (considered league average), with Eduardo Nunez’s 129 mark well above runner up Rafael Dever’s 112. By comparison, the 40-year-old Ortiz posted a 164 OPS+ last year.
Dynamic young players like Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts have had solid but unremarkable seasons. They need to pick it up going forward if the team is to recapture previous excellence with their bats. The Red Sox currently lack a traditional slugger; the kind of hitter that is a consistent threat for 35+ home runs. It doesn’t appear that such a player is on their current roster or even in their minor league system, so getting creative in the offseason may be on the docket.
The Sox might have the best starting rotation in baseball in 2018:
Only those who have lived under a rock during these summer months can claim ignorance as to the greatness Chris Sale displayed in his first season with Boston. He is on the short list for the upcoming Cy Young vote and has dominated hitters in Boston unlike anyone since Pedro Martinez.
David Price missed more than half the season with injuries and is finishing out the year in the bullpen. However, he has pitched well (3.38 ERA and better than a strikeout an inning) when he has been able to toe a rubber. It’s a decent bet that the former Cy Young winner still has some tricks left up his sleeve.
A year after winning 22 games and the Cy Young, Rick Porcello has been atrocious. He has a 4.65 ERA and leads the league with 17 losses, 236 hits and 38 home runs allowed. While he may not approach his Cy Young level again, it’s also hard to imagine he will repeat this level of ineptitude. He appears healthy and will still be just 29 next year, suggesting that some simple adjustments may be all that’s needed to get him back to being the pitcher that has average 13 wins per year over his first nine seasons.
Much wailing and gnashing of teeth occurred around New England last year when the Sox shipped their top pitching prospect to the San Diego Padres for Drew Pomeranz; a talented but flawed lefty, who claimed a 22-31 record in parts of six seasons. He did little to ease fears in his time with the team last year, going just 4-5 with a 4.59 ERA in 14 games. It’s been a completely different story in 2017, as he has been an admirable number two to Sale, going 17-6 with a 3.32 ERA and 174 strikeouts. Still just 28, he is arbitration eligible and will be with the team at least one more year.
His numbers won’t blow you away but 24-year-old Eduardo Rodriguez made strides this year towards his potential as a top-flight young pitcher. He was 6-7 with a 4.19 ERA in 25 games (24 starts) but struck out 150 batters in 137.1 innings and his 3.97 FIP was nearly identical to that of his teammate Pomeranz (3.83). Rodriguez once again missed time with injuries and will need to stay on the field to continue moving forward. That being said, he can continue to develop while being stashed in the number five starter role.
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