A strange thing happened to the 2012 Red Sox, between the never-ending flood of injuries and the late-August trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez and others west to Los Angeles. They didn't hit well, and that's just not a common occurrence for Boston clubs of the last decade-plus. It wasn't that the team was entirely bereft of offense, as they featured quite a few players who were better-than-average at the plate for their position, but there just wasn't enough of that to make up for all of the serious holes in the lineup.
Nearly 45 percent of all non-pitcher plate appearances by the 2012 Boston Red Sox came from players who were worse than average at their position offensively. There were 31 different position players that picked up a bat for the 2012 Red Sox, whereas in 2011 there were just 23. In 2010, the injuries were similar to this past season, but the difference was that much of the depth and the replacements managed to contribute, and the Red Sox scored over 800 runs and produced an offense around 10 percent better-than-average despite this. In 2012, that depth and its lack of quality was the downfall of the lineup, and it caused the Red Sox to be below-average for the first time since 2006, and this far below for the first time since 2000. Rather than frighten you with examples* in order to get you to understand the severity of that, just know that having things in common with the 2000 Red Sox is not a positive.
*Okay, just one: Wilton Veras, starting third baseman
Here are those 45 percent of below-average plate appearances, and the 22 names attached to them:
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As a unit, these 22 players hit .244/.286/.343 in 2,747 plate appearances, mashing just 36 of the team's homers despite absorbing nearly half of the playing time. Their collective OPS was roughly 100 points below the league-average, despite a hitter-friendly home park, and one shudders to think what a measure that properly weights on-base percentage would think of the bunch. Given the names involved, though, the results are not hugely surprising.
There is almost a universal theme within this list, and that's the fact that these players are either no longer in the organization (Aviles, Sweeney, Podsednik, Youkilis, Punto, Loney, Byrd, McDonald, Valencia, Lillibridge, Lin, Repko, Anderson, Spears, Quiroz), or have been replaced and pushed down the depth chart, either to avoid using them entirely or in order to give them more time to develop (Ciriaco, Lavarnway, Gomez, Kalish, Iglesias, De Jesus). The one exception that keeps this theme at almost universal instead of actually such is a significant one: Jacoby Ellsbury.
Ellsbury dislocated his shoulder a handful of games into the season, and then missed months working his way back from the injury. He never seemed completely right upon his return, though, and it showed in his numbers, where just about everything was below his career norms, never mind his MVP-caliber 2011 season. Chances are good that Ellsbury can produce again in 2013, but that doesn't excuse the ugliness of last season for our purposes.
There is another bit of good news here, besides that Boston has either forced out or moved around 21 of the 22 above. And that's just how productive the other nine players that the Red Sox employed were:
This group combined for 129 homers and a line of .275/.339/.477 -- their most-significant issue was the players thy were surrounded by.
Salty isn't a great hitter, but he's above-average for a catcher. Pedroia had a bit of a down year by his standards, but still excelled at second, and turned things on the further away from his thumb injury he got. Middlebrooks had an impressive rookie campaign, finishing second on the club in OPS+ before a broken wrist ended his campaign. Nava, despite playing with a wrist cyst for months, finished things up as an average hitter. Ross produced, as expected, and Shoppach worked out as Saltalamacchia's backup. Crawford, for the short time he was around, hit well, and David Ortiz was a monster before his season was ended by injury.
Saltalamacchia remains, and Shoppach has been replaced by David Ross, who is a more dependable source of offense. Gonzalez is gone, but given his down 2012, Mike Napoli should be capable of filling those shoes and more. Pedroia is back and presumably healthy, as is Middlebrooks, Nava, and Ortiz. Nava will be joined by Jonny Gomes, who is more than capable of replacing the disappointing outfielders the Sox have left behind. Shane Victorino might not have the bat of Cody Ross, but he's a superior defender and excellent baserunner, and even a slight return to form at the plate would be significant.
Injuries could derail things again, but that's a risk for any club. What's going to be important is spreading out the talent a bit, and working on having depth. The Red Sox are in a better place in both regards than they were to start 2012, and because of that, should be able to avoid handing over nearly half of their plate appearances to hitters who don't merit that particular job description. If so, and they can avoid the issues at the plate that derailed their 2012, then the lineup does not have nearly as difficult a mountain to climb as last season makes it look like.