2019 Season Preview: Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox
by Jake Levine

2018 Record: 108-54 (1st in AL East, World Series Champions)

2018 Payroll: $227,398,860 (1st)

Projected 2019 Lineup:

All player projections from Steamer

  1. LF Andrew Benintendi, .286 AVG/.366 OBP/.464 SLG, 3.7 WAR
  2. RF Mookie Betts, .302 AVG/.385 OBP/.535 SLG, 7.1 WAR
  3. DH J.D. Martinez, .297 AVG/.372 OBP/.568 SLG, 3.6 WAR
  4. SS Xander Bogaerts, .286 AVG/.355 OBP/.465 SLG, 4.1 WAR
  5. 1B Mitch Moreland, .251 AVG/.325 OBP/.442 SLG, 0.7 WAR
  6. 3B Rafael Devers, .271 AVG/.328 OBP/.477 SLG, 2.5 WAR
  7. 2B Dustin Pedroia, .272 AVG/.344 OBP/.390 SLG, 1.6 WAR
  8. C Christian Vazquez, .256 AVG/.305 OBP/.367 SLG, 0.9 WAR
  9. CF Jackie Bradley Jr, .248 AVG/.329 OBP/.421 SLG, 2.6 WAR

Projected 2019 Rotation:

  1. LHP Chris Sale, 202.0 IP/2.77 ERA/0.97 WHIP, 6.5 WAR
  2. LHP David Price, 194.0 IP/3.95 ERA/1.23 WHIP, 3.1 WAR
  3. RHP Rick Porcello, 191.0 IP/4.25 ERA/1.24 WHIP, 2.5 WAR
  4. RHP Nathan Eovaldi, 152.0 IP/3.92 ERA/1.25 WHIP, 2.7 WAR
  5. LHP Eduardo Rodriguez, 136.0 IP/4.03 ERA/1.27 WHIP, 1.8 WAR

Offseason Recap:

The Red Sox had a quiet offseason and will mostly bring back the same team that won them a World Series Championship in 2018. Their biggest move was re-signing Nathan Eovaldi to a 4-year, $68 million contract. The Sox initially acquired Eovaldi from the Rays in late-July in a move that proved to be critical for their World Series run. He posted a 3.33 ERA in 54 regular season innings, but earned his hefty contract by dominating in the postseason to the tune of a 1.61 ERA in over 20 innings of work. Similarly, Steve Pearce was acquired mid-season to platoon with Mitch Moreland at first and hit for an OPS over .900 in 50 regular season games with the team. He then went on to win World Series MVP after 3 home runs, 8 RBIs, and an OBP of .500 in the series. Pearce re-signed with the Sox on a 1-year, $6.25 deal, and he will play a similar role platooning at first in his upcoming age-36 season.

The most notable subtractions to the team came in the bullpen. As of the writing of this article, Craig Kimbrel still has not signed with a team, but it is very unlikely he will come back to the Red Sox. He regressed from his phenomenal 2017 campaign when he finished sixth in AL Cy Young voting, but still managed to remain one of the best closers in the game with a 2.74 ERA and 42 saves. Joe Kelly signed with the Dodgers, whom he dominated in the World Series, and while he was inconsistent at times, his loss will be felt in the back of the bullpen. The other two veteran subtractions were Drew Pomeranz and Ian Kinsler, both of whom will not be missed much by Red Sox faithful to say the least.

Lastly, the Red Sox added a slew of names to compete for bullpen jobs in 2019. They traded for 26-year-old Colton Brewer from the Padres and signed Domingo Tapia, Erasmo Ramirez, Zach Putnam, Ryan Weber, Carson Smith, and Jenrry Mejia all to minor-league deals. Brewer was subpar in his first brief major league stint last season, but has plenty of upside and could make his way into the Sox pen with an injury or two. Another guy to look out for is Putnam, who was a solid reliever for the White Sox a few years ago, but missed all of 2018 due to injury. However, it seems like the Red Sox did not do enough to address their bullpen concerns. With plenty of solid relievers on the market earlier in the offseason like Adam Ottavino, Andrew Miller, and the much cheaper Brad Brach, it is surprising Dave Dombrowski did not pull the trigger on even one free-agent reliever.

Season Preview:

Well, there’s not much the Red Sox could have done better in 2018. They are coming off arguably the best season any team has had since the turn of the century, winning 108 games and going 11-3 in postseason play. They bring back almost exactly the same team with a young core that shows no signs of slowing down.

The starting pitching might be the strongest aspect of this team with bonafide ace Chris Sale at the helm, former Cy Young winners David Price and Rick Porcello behind him, and Nathan Eovaldi and Eduardo Rodriguez providing solid depth at the #4 and #5. Sale has finished top-6 in Cy Young voting every year since the White Sox converted him to a starter, and most likely would have won it last year if not for his shoulder injury. He did only throw 158 innings last year, his lowest total as a starter, but he also put together a career-best 2.11 ERA. He also still managed to strike out 237 batters, sixth in the majors, while walking just 34. Even if some of his rate numbers decrease, I’m sure the Red Sox will be happy if he gets back to his regular 200 innings mark.

David Price’s tenure in Boston has left much to be desired at times, but he has been a fairly above-average major league pitcher, with flashes of brilliance at times. It definitely speaks to his lofty expectations when a 3.74 ERA in his three years in Boston is considered bad by many fans. Price struggled in the beginning of last season with a 4.42 ERA in his first 19 starts, but post-all star game, he put together a 2.25 ERA in his remaining 11 starts. He also settled many of his postseason woes by throwing gems in the ALCS and World Series clinchers. Look for him to carry his late season momentum into 2019 and try to prove why he is worth the massive contract the Sox gave him.

After a rough 2017, Rick Porcello bounced back to post a 4.28 ERA in 191 innings last year. He won’t return to the Cy Young winner he was back in 2016, but 200 innings of a low-4.00 ERA is more than enough from a #3 starter. Nathan Eovaldi and Eduardo Rodriguez round out the back of the rotation as two guys with high upside, but also little consistency. Injury concerns are always present for Eovaldi, who has thrown fewer than 250 the past three years combined. However, as previously mentioned, Eovaldi was great on the Sox for the short time he was there in 2018 and looks to build on his success in his first full season in Boston. Eduardo Rodriguez has still never reached the 150 innings mark in a season yet, but luckily his injury problems have seemed to be freak accidents that he will be able to leave in his past. If he finally lives up to his potential this season, the Red Sox will boast one of, if not the best rotations in baseball.

While the starting rotation is a bright spot for this team, the bullpen is a different story heading into the year. The losses of Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly not only hurt because of their talents, but the Sox bullpen also now has very little depth. Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier will compete for the vacant closer role, while guys like Tyler Thornburg, Heath Hembree, Brian Johnson, and Brandon Workman are all most likely locks to make the pen out of spring training. Steven Wright, once healthy, and Hector Velazquez will serve as long relievers over the course of the year, while a slew of minor leaguers including Chandler Shepherd, Bobby Poyner, Marcus Walden, and Carson Smith, as well as newcomers Erasmo Ramirez, Colten Brewer, and Zach Putnam all have a decent chance at making the majors at some point during the season.

Brasier is the guy who will largely determine the success of the bullpen is 2019. Barnes has already solidified himself as a solid, consistent reliever, but Brasier has a much different story. Five years after his brief and only major league stint, he bounced around team-to-team until he was called up by the Red Sox in July. From there, he went on to pitch 33 innings with a mere 1.60 ERA and upped himself by making nine postseason appearances, allowing just one run. If he continues pitching the way he did last season, he will find himself as the closer and a fine one at that. Brandon Workman will probably be the other setup man with Barnes, as he is coming off a solid year with a 3.27 ERA in just over 40 innings.

Now to the really exciting part of the Red Sox: the lineup. In 2018, the Sox finished with the highest batting average in baseball, the highest on-base percentage in baseball, the highest slugging percentage in baseball, and not surprisingly, the most number of runs in baseball. Reigning AL MVP Mookie Betts leads the way, with the monster bat of J.D. Martinez behind him. Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi look to follow up great years. Young phenom Rafael Devers hopes to rise to the level many people were predicting from him, as he was #4 on MLB.com’s prospect ranking just over a year-and-a-half ago. Mitch Moreland and Steve Pearce will platoon at first and provide power from both sides of the plate, while Jackie Bradley Jr. will provide his usual elite defense in center field, with offense from his bat being a plus. Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon will split the role of catcher and serve as the only hole in this deep lineup. Dustin Pedroia hopes to bounce back from an injury-filled 2018 in which he only played in 3 games; if not, Brock Holt will serve as a dependable replacement at second.

What an exciting year from Mookie Betts. He hit a ridiculous .346 and slugged .640 while joining the 30-30 club and playing arguably the best defense in baseball. Yeah, he’s a superstar. He posted a 10.9 WAR which, according to baseball-reference, is good for the 21st best season of all-time. That’s right, all-time. Not to mention the fact that Betts missed over 20 games due to injury. Now, the question is where does he go from here? It seems silly to think he can reproduce his numbers from last year, but Mookie might just be knocking on Mike Trout’s door as the best player in baseball if he puts up similar stats in 2019.

After signing with the team last offseason, J.D. Martinez flirted with the Triple Crown in 2018, completing the best lineup in baseball. He hit .330 and slugged 43 home runs and 130 RBIs, with the third-highest wRC+ in baseball at 170 behind just Trout and Betts. This led to him winning two Silver Sluggers, which, yes, is somehow possible and no, don’t ask me how. His plate discipline, work ethic, and IQ of the game are unparalleled, and Martinez is seemingly aging like fine wine. Nothing American League pitchers did seemed to work, and he should keep mashing in 2019 like he has before.

Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley Jr. fill the other two outfield spots alongside Betts, making for one of the top outfields in baseball, especially defensively. Bradley had another poor offensive year, although he still gets on base almost at a league average rate. However, it is obviously the defense that sets Bradley apart and secures his role as the Red Sox starting center fielder. He finished 9th in the new Statcast statistic, Outs Above Average (OAA), with 11 (Mookie Betts had 12, but I’ve talked enough about him already.) However, Bradley recently claimed 2018 was his worst defensive season and although the metrics don’t necessarily back that up, if he wants to improve in center field, I don’t think any Red Sox fan will complain about that. Lastly, Andrew Benintendi is coming off an improved sophomore campaign, albeit one where he fell off a bit in the second half of the season. He may have been experiencing the classic “sophomore slump,” but expect a player of his caliber to return to the near all-star level he was previously.

Xander Bogaerts put everything together in 2018 for the best season of his career. After an ugly 2017, Bogaerts raised his OPS by well over 100 points to .883 in 2018, while more than doubling his home run total to 23 and driving in over 100 runs. Rafael Devers will try to solidify the left side of the infield in his age-22 season. After serving as a spark plug during his rookie season, Devers tailed off last year, but expectations remain high among the Red Sox organization. Devers still hit 21 homers last year and has some of the best raw opposite-field power in baseball, which plays great for a lefty at Fenway Park. He still has his ways to go defensively, but offensively, watch out for his breakout year. Mitch Moreland and Steve Pearce will platoon at first, with Moreland hitting against righties and Pearce against lefties. However, last season, Pearce was just as good as Moreland against righties, so he may get the chance to steal the job outright, albeit Moreland is the better defender. Lastly, at second base, we have Dustin Pedroia. Pedroia was essentially out for the entire 2018 season and it seems like he has not played in forever, yet he is just a few years out of a 2016 campaign with an OPS of .825 and his usual, spectacular defense. If he can heal up, he’ll be able to play some solid baseball for the Sox while providing his veteran leadership.

The weakest position for the Red Sox will be at catcher, with one of Christian Vazquez or Sandy Leon looking to step up offensively to go along with solid defense. Vazquez was so bad offensively in 2018 that he recorded a negative WAR, which is really difficult for a plus-defense catcher. His wRC+ fell from 92 to 42 from 2017 to 2018 and to get back to even a below-average bat would be a benefit for the Sox. Sandy Leon was actually a really good hitter for the Red Sox in 2016, but has cut his wRC+ in half two years in a row. He managed to hit worse than Vazquez last year with a 33 wRC+, so anything the Red Sox can get at the catching position that’s not horribly bad would be a relief. That may come in Blake Swihart, but it does not seem like he has the same handle defensively as Vazquez or Leon, which appears to be the priority for the Sox.

I’m nitpicking here and there, but overall the Red Sox are a really solid team with very few holes who have already won a championship together and will look to repeat in 2019. It doesn’t seem like much will go worse than last year, especially with many players seeking an improved 2019 season. However, it will be difficult to repeat a 108-win campaign even with everything going right. Plus, the new core of the bullpen is bound to blow a few games here and there as they adjust to the loss of Kimbrel in the 9th.

Predicted Record: 99-63

Player to Watch: Mookie Betts

Mookie Betts isn’t just a player whose stats you should watch. You NEED to watch Mookie play as much everyday baseball as possible. He is an absolute electric factory who will show you something new every single day. Whether it’s one of his four three-homer games (which is tied with Albert Pujols and Barry Bonds among others for seventh-most ever and just two away from the lead), or hitting for the cycle, or making jaw-dropping plays in right field, or doing things on the basepaths that will make you stand out of your seat, Mookie Betts will entertain you. Another season similar to 2018 and the best player in baseball argument may not be so clear cut anymore. Not to mention the fact that he is an amazing human being and delivered food to the homeless at 2 a.m. after Game 2 of the World Series.

Player to Watch: Michael Chavis

Chavis may not be competing for a spot early in 2019, but by the end of the season it may be impossible to keep him in the minors because all he does is rake. He hit 31 homers over A+ and AA in 2017 and was in a good position to continue his success and compete for a spot on the Sox by the end of 2018, but a PED suspension halted that plan. He still managed to play 46 games last season, most of which in AA, and hit 9 homers with an OPS of .919. With Rafael Devers as an obvious roadblock at third base, Chavis has been moved around to all positions in the infield, with second base as a likely landing spot with Dustin Pedroia’s injury concerns. Chavis hit a home run to the opposite field in his first Spring Training game, which shows the type of raw power he posses that can be dangerous for major league pitching if he gets the chance this season.

Player to Watch: Eduardo Rodriguez

When you mention Eduardo Rodriguez to Sox fans, you may get a variety of reactions, some rolling their eyes because of his injury-prone past, some praising his potential, some just shrugging their shoulders, and the last one may be the most accurate. E-Rod, as he is known, pitched the best he had as a Red Sox the first half of last season with a 3.44 ERA in 19 starts. However, an ankle injury due to a collision sidelined him for a month-and-a-half and once he returned, he managed just a 5.40 ERA in 25 innings. He is supposedly healthy in Spring Training, so this may be the year Rodriguez finally puts it all together and gives the Sox 25 or more starts, which he has been unable to do in his first four seasons with the club.



Categories: 2019 Season Preview, Articles

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2 replies

  1. Excellent analysis Jake, thank you. A lot depends on health and how the competition fairs…

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