The 2015-2016 offseason was exciting for Boston’s President of Baseball Operations, Dave Dombrowski. He swung a deal for a big name closer, inked a huge contract for a frontline ace, and made another interesting bullpen trade. Those moves haven’t all worked out after 81 games, however, Rick Rowand performs the 2016 Boston Red Sox midpoint checkup to figure out where the team is and where it’s headed.
Unless you’ve been living in some sort of self-imposed internet exile you know that the Red Sox and their fans experienced the fabled June Swoon after running amok offensively over MLB in April and May.
The Sox finished May with a record of 32-20, good for first place in the AL East. By the end of June they were at 42-36 after compiling a record of 10-16. No one who has spent any time watching baseball expected Boston to keep scoring at the pace they did in April and May when they averaged 5.25 and 6.5 runs per game respectively while allowing 4.38 and 4.4 runs. In June, that average dropped to 4.8 runs scored. That’s still a good average, except the pitching staff allowed 5.5 runs per game to be scored. So what happened? What changed? Was it just baseball? Injuries? The pitching roosters finally coming home to roost?
I’m just going to use ERA and FIP as stats for the sake of brevity.
In 24 games in April the pitching staff overall had an ERA/FIP of 4.15/3.91. The starters were at 4.49/4.17 while the relievers were at 3.59/3.50, and they had seven saves along with a 3-5 W/L record. The starters averaged 5.59 innings pitched per start.
In May, there were 28 games and the overall ERA/FIP was 4.07/3.94. The starters pitched to an 4.63/4.36 ERA/FIP while the relievers were 2.82/2.98. The starters averaged 6.17 IP. There were six saves and they had a 4-3 W/L record.
There were 26 games in June, and overall, the staff had an ERA/FIP of 4.88/4.88. The starters averaged 5.7 IP and had an ERA/FIP of 5.24/5.19. The relievers were 4.22/4.31 and they had five saves with a 3-5 W/L record.
Everyone knows that the Sox need pitching, both of the starting and the relief variety. The problem is that everyone in baseball is also aware of the situation and two things are needed to make a trade: A willing partner and a willing partner who isn’t looking to empty your system of its best prospects to do a deal.
With the announcement today that Buchholz is being re-demoted to the ‘pen and that Kelly will be joining him there, the Sox might have found the relief help they need from within the organization.
Sean O’Sullivan will be starting on Friday in Buchholz’s stead, but he is merely a placeholder buying time for Eduardo Rodriguez to work through his pitch-tipping issues and to gain more confidence in his secondary pitches.
The Sox will still need another starter who isn’t of the back-of-the-rotation variety unless Kelly or Buchholz suddenly starts throwing with much better control. And if that happens, then the Red Sox will once again need relief help.
The Offense and Injuries
We’re combining these because the injuries to the corps of players in left and to Ryan Hanigan helped lead the offense to where it finished in June, exposing the thin bench.
The first major injury to an everyday player occurred in mid-May when left fielder Brock Holt suffered a concussion and was placed on the 7-day concussion DL. His recovery took much longer than expected and the Sox, as they should be, were very careful with his rehab. He didn’t appear in a game for the Sox until this past Friday.
With Holt out, Blake Swihart was called up from AAA, where he had been sent to learn LF when catcher Christian Vazquez was called up to take over starting catching duties back in April. Swihart took over Holt’s platoon duties with Chris Young. The duo performed surprisingly well until Swihart smashed into the wall in left and injured his ankle on June 4th, leading to him being placed on the 15-day DL.
With Swihart out, the primary left field duties fell to Young, who was brought to the team to be the fourth OF and right-handed pinch hitter. Because of the dearth of left-handed pitchers that the Sox faced he had already had some at-bats against righties, but it isn’t his strong suit. His career L/R splits are .260/.358/.492 and .215/.291/.391. What did surprise people was that out of his six home runs, four came against righties. Young played almost every game in June until he, too, went on the 15-Day DL on June 23 with a torn hamstring. That left left field duties to Bryce Brentz and Ryan LaMarre.
Swihart has started light rehab work, but there is no timetable for his return. There has also been no news on Young, but hamstrings are notorious for taking longer than expected to heal. With Swihart rehabbing and Holt playing very well, the Sox will probably wait until after they have a better idea about Swihart’s return to attempt to address the depth in left.
Luckily, Holt immediately made his presence felt upon his return, going two-for-four with two doubles and two runs scored. He didn’t play in the debacle on Saturday, but did play on Sunday and Monday. On Sunday, Holt went two-for-four with a walk and two runs scored. On Monday, he went one-for-five with a home run and 2 RBI. He also had an assist, throwing Shin-Soo Choo out at home. The Sox are 3-1 in games he’s played since he came back from the DL.
Back-up catcher Ryan Hanigan hurt his neck on June 4 in the same game that Swihart left with his ankle injury. Sandy Leon was recalled from Pawtucket to act as the backup for Vazquez. All Leon has done since his callup is produce. He is hitting .500 with one homer and eight doubles. His unexpected offensive prowess, and lack of options, made the Sox send Vazquez back to AAA when Hanigan was activated after the game on Monday.
With Travis Shaw looking like he’s getting hot at the plate once again and Hanley Ramirez killing the baseball, it looks like the Sox offense is rounding back into form and could become the juggernaut it was in April and May.
After 81 games, the Sox had a 44-37 record. The last time they were above .500 at 81 games was in 2013 when they were 48-33. The past two seasons they were at 37-44 at the halfway mark.
Fangraphs projects them to finish the season with an 87-75 record, tied with Toronto and one behind the Orioles. If they pick up another good starter and keep scoring at the rate they are capable of they should finish with a better record and in first place. After the last two seasons, that should make every fan happy.
Rick Rowand has written about Boston’s young stars, David Ortiz’s career, Brock Holt’s aura, and Boston’s starting third baseman.
Follow Rick on Twitter @rrowand.