Boston Red Sox 2021 Season Preview

 

        After a sluggish 2019 which resulted in a playoff miss, we wondered if it was just a blip year for the Red Sox, but 2020 proved otherwise. With Ron Roenicke as the Manager instead of Alex Cora, and the rotation missing Chris Sale, David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez and Rick Porcello, the team collapsed. They performed worse than the Orioles. Another potential factor could have been missing an outfielder, but I don\’t know if they lost one last offseason. Maybe they did, maybe he was good. To look on the bright side, Cora is back, Rodriguez is back, Sale will be back at a point in time, and they improved the bullpen a bit. Maybe things aren\’t so bad in Boston.

Offseason additions: RHP Adam Ottavino, UT Marwin Gonzalez, OF Hunter Renfroe, IF Enrique Hernandez, RHP Garrett Richards, RHP Matt Andriese, RHP Hirokazu Sawamura, OF Franchy Cordero, C Chris Herrmann. 

Offseason subtractions: OF Andrew Benintendi, OF Jackie Bradley Jr., IF Jose Peraza, RHP Chris Mazza, RHP Zack Godley, LHP Jeffrey Springs, RHP Robert Stock. 

Trade Deadline 2020 summary

Acquired: Nick Pivetta, Connor Seabold, Hudson Potts, Jeison Rosario.

Traded: Brandon Workman, Mitch Moreland, Kevin Pillar, Heath Hembree, Josh Osich.

2020 record: 24-36

2020 placement: 5th

2020 WAR leader (batters): Alex Verdugo

2020 WAR leader (pitchers): Nate Eovaldi

Starting Pitchers

The Red Sox will have to wait until midseason at the minimum until they have a full rotation. Chris Sale is out with Tommy John surgery, after a career worst 2019. Even despite a 4.40 ERA, Sale\’s 3.39 FIP and 1.086 WHIP show that the ERA was probably a blip. Also returning from a missed 2020 is Eduardo Rodriguez, who has recovered from myocarditis. Rodriguez had a career season in 2019, with a 3.81 ERA and 213 strikeouts in 203.1 innings, plus an average exit velocity of 86.3 mph. However, Rodriguez also walked a league high 75 batters. Nate Eovaldi was the rock of the rotation last year as the bottom fell into chaos. After an awful 11.6 BB% in 2019, Eovaldi improved to an elite 3.5% in 2020. He had a 3.72 ERA with a 9.7 K/9 over nine starts. The next best starter for the Red Sox last year was Martin Perez, a soft tossing lefty who had a 4.50 ERA over 12 starts. Perez only struck out 46 batters in 62 innings, but he made up for it with a 29.2% hard hit percentage. The Red Sox brought in former Angels ace and spin rate king Garett Richards on a one year deal. Richards, whose curveball had an average spin rate of 3299 rpm last year, had a 4.03 ERA in 14 games (10 starts) for the Padres. Richards had a 3.54 ERA over eight seasons in Los Angeles but injuries have cost him a lot of time. The team acquired Nick Pivetta from Philadelphia for Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree, and rival executives reportedly believe that the trade could be a steal, thanks to Pivetta\’s elite slider which had a 46.2% whiff rate and a 20% usage in 2020. Pivetta always struggled in Philadelphia, but he looked really good in two starts for Boston, allowing two runs with 13 strikeouts in 10 innings. He also walked five batters, a big issue in the past for Pivetta. The Red Sox could consider a 6-man rotation if 2017 1st rounder Tanner Houck makes the team. Houck could also start the season in AAA. He was impeccable in three starts last year, allowing one run with 21 strikeouts in 17 innings. 

Relief Pitchers

After Andrew Benintendi was dealt to Kansas City, Matt Barnes feels like the guy most likely to get traded next. Barnes, a 30 year old who took over closing duties in 2020, struck out 31 batters in 23 innings. Barnes also had a 4.30 ERA, his worst since 2015, and he allowed a career worst 91.3 mph average exit velocity. Another guy who could be shopped is pending free agent Adam Ottavino, who was acquired in a rare trade with the Yankees. Ottavino was great in 2019, with a 1.90 ERA in 66.1 innings, but he had a 5.89 ERA in 18.1 innings. Ottavino\’s issue has always been walks, as he walked nine batters last year and 40 in 2019. Make fun of Ottavino\’s walking problems all you want, but he\’s laughing at what Darwinzon Hernandez has done. In 38.2 career innings, Hernandez has walked 34 batters. Luckily, he\’s also struck out 70 batters. If he can limit those walks, Hernandez will be a special reliever. After a really rough 2019, Ryan Brasier improved in 2020, but he is not nearly close to where he was in 2018. Brasier had 30 Ks with a 3.96 ERA in 25 innings, with a slider showing off a 46.5% whiff rate. However, Brasier\’s average exit velocity allowed was a high 91.1 mph. Japanese import Hirokazu Sawamura will make his MLB debut this year, and Opening Day is two days before he turns 33. Sawamura had a 3.05 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 41.1 innings in Japan in 2020. Josh Taylor was a pleasant surprise in 2019, with a 3.04 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 47.1 innings. However, left shoulder tendinitis kept him out for most of 2020, and when he played it wasn\’t pretty, as Taylor allowed eight runs in 7.1 innings. Standing six-foot-2 but only 160 pounds, righty Phillips Valdez had a 3.24 ERA in 30.1 innings after being claimed from Seattle. He also limited batters to an average exit velocity of 84.8 mph. The Red Sox brought in former Rays starter and reliever Matt Andriese. Andriese is a rare example of a pitcher\’s strikeout rate increasing after leaving Tampa Bay. In late 2018-2020, Andriese has struck out 131 batters in 121.2 innings. He had a 7.8 K/9 as a Ray. Colten Brewer was a big part of the Sox bullpen in 2019, and he opened some games in 2020. His 4.70 ERA and 1.778 WHIP in his career is not ideal. 

Catchers

Christian Vazquez was able to slightly best his career 2019 season last year. He hit seven home runs with a  .283 average and an .801 OPS, the latter two being improvements. Vazquez is also a good pitch framer who has come into his own over the past two seasons. The Red Sox had a sustainable backup last year in Kevin Plawecki, who returns, but don\’t expect him to sustain his offensive numbers. Plawecki hit .341 with an .857 OPS and a 130 OPS+. Only one of his previous five seasons resulted in an OPS+ over 100, and Plawecki isn\’t a great pitch framer. 

Infielders

The most exciting thing coming to the Red Sox lineup in 2021 is Bobby Dalbec, the team\’s third best prospect who just made MLB Pipeline\’s top 100 prospects list. The 25 year old Dalbec debuted in 2020, and mashed out eight home runs in 23 games, with a .959 OPS. The Red Sox prioritized utility in the offseason, signing both Enrique Hernandez and Marwin Gonzalez. Hernandez is expected to be the starting second baseman, while Gonzalez moves to a super utility role. For the World Series winning Dodgers, Hernandez had a .680 OPS, with a .737 OPS over his Dodgers career. His career OPS+ of 98 shows that he is an average hitter, but versatility sells. Gonzalez has slowly declined since his breakout season with the 2017 Astros (hmm….). Last year for the Twins he hit five home runs with a .606 OPS. He did have four outs above average while playing around the infield and corner outfield for the Twins. The left side of the infield is set in stone, barring a surprise trade. Xander Bogaerts received MVP votes for the third season in a row after hitting 11 home runs with eight stolen bases and an .867 OPS. He had the Pedro Cerrano splits, hitting .383 against fastballs, but under .200 against breaking balls and offspeed pitches. Rafael Devers regressed in 2020, but not to an embarrassing point. He was still an above average hitter, with a 110 OPS+. Devers also had an average exit velocity of 93 mph and has made strides defensively. Remember when Michael Chavis looked like a Rookie of the Year favorite for the first half of 2019? Well, we\’re entering the 2021 season and he is barely an MLB player. Chavis had a .636 OPS in 2020, and he strikes out way too much, at a 31.6% clip last year, and he missed half of the breaking balls he swung at. 

Outfielders

The Betts, Bradley, Benintendi outfield is all gone, although Jackie Bradley Jr. is still a free agent, and could return to the team. Two of the expected starting outfielders were acquired for their predecessors. Alex Verdugo was a big part of the Betts trade, and he hit .308 with an .844 OPS while playing both left and right field. He\’s fast, doesn\’t strike out often, and a good defensive outfielder. The Red Sox just got Franchy Cordero for Benintendi, and he will be the center fielder unless Bradley comes back. Cordero is a power hitting lefty bat who has 12 home runs in 95 career games. He also has a career average exit velocity of 92.5 mph, which is elite. Injuries and crowded OFs have always held him back, but that shouldn\’t be an issue at the moment. The new left fielder is power hitting righty Hunter Renfroe, who has hit 26, 26, 33 and eight homers over the past four seasons. Renfroe walks (10.1 BB%), but also strikes out a ton (career 28 K%). He may not sound like one based off of his swing-and-miss scouting report, but Renfroe is an elite defender. Gonzalez, Chavis and Hernandez can all act as 4th outfielders. So can JD Martinez, but regulating him to DH would be wise. Martinez saw just about every stat get worse in 2020, and he finished with a .680 OPS. However, Martinez was one of the game\’s best hitters from 2017-2018, and there is little reasons to believe that he cannot return to that form in 2021. 

Projected Rotation
Eduardo Rodriguez (L)
Nate Eovaldi (R)
Garrett Richards (R)
Martin Perez (L)
Nick Pivetta (R)
Tanner Houck (R)
Projected Bullpen
Matt Barnes (R)
Adam Ottavino (R)
Darwinzon Hernandez (L)
Ryan Brasier (R)
Josh Taylor (L)
Hirokazu Sawamura (R)
Matt Andriese (R)
Phillips Valdez (R)
Projected Lineup
RF Alex Verdugo (L)
SS Xander Bogaerts (R)
3B Rafael Devers (L)
DH JD Martinez (R)
1B Bobby Dalbec (R)
C Christian Vazquez (R)
LF Hunter Renfroe (R)
CF Franchy Cordero (L)
2B Enrique Hernandez (R)
Projected Bench
C Kevin Plawecki (R)
UT Marwin Gonzalez (S)
IF Michael Chavis (R)

Projection

The Red Sox aren\’t as troubled as their 24-36 finish from 2020 would suggest. The team is mediocre overall, and maybe they could succeed in a weak division, like the AL West. But, the Blue Jays made big strides this offseason, and the Rays are the Rays and the Yankees are the Yankees. Those are three teams that are better than the Red Sox right now, already ruling them out for the playoffs before you look at the other two divisions in the American League. They could easily be better than Baltimore, but the playoffs just aren\’t realistic. 

Published by carterhud

Carterhud.com. SI Kids Kid Reporter, Prime Time Sports Talk writer

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