Bob DeChiara-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire
Thanks to the trade that emptied them of both major league talent and any pretension of trying, the Red Sox have been awful in September. Really, though, it's not been as bad as you think. It's been worse.
We knew they were going to be bad.
When the Red Sox emptied their roster of much of the remaining major league talent leading up to the non-waiver deadline, Sox fans excepted they were going to have to live through one awful month. Forget about contending, the Sox didn't even pretension that they would be able to compete on a game-to-game basis with almost any of the teams left on their schedule. At 7-16, their record in the month is actually almost a positive surprise.
But record aside, the Sox have arguably actually managed to underperform expectations.
On the mound, the Sox still actually had some talented players left, but they haven't really done the best job of living up to that talent this year. Still, September could be seen as a positive month for them thanks to an impressive sum performance from Clay Buchholz and decent if not good performances from Jon Lester. Even Aaron Cook has been able to survive so far, and if you try really hard, you can forget Daisuke Matsuzaka still exists.
No, the real problem has been the lineup. The awful, awful lineup.
We've discussed it just about every time a new batting order is revealed, every time we look to see how Bobby Valentine has chosen to flail helplessly against the current of awfulness that is the roster right now. But I'm still not sure we really grasp just how bad it is.
By Fangraphs' fWAR, the Red Sox lineup has produced -1.1 WAR in September. This means that the Sox should have been able to win one more game had they simply made their roster of Quadruple-A types who could be acquired for next to nothing.
Note that this doesn't mean optimal replacement of negative parts of the lineup, but a wholesale swap. You don't just get to replace the awful performers--Dustin Pedroia would be gone too. That's right, it would have been worth swapping out Dustin Pedroia to get rid of the rest for replacement level players (at least in the context of September).
Still, some of this value is decided by UZR and the like, and that's notoriously hard to trust in small sample sizes like this. Jose Iglesias is a defensive liability by that measurement right now, and we all know that's not true. Maybe if you get rid of that...
Oh God, they've got a .268 wOBA.
Again, some context and commentary is necessary. This is a .268 wOBA despite playing 11 games in Fenway Park, one of the most notorious inflaters of offensive numbers in the game today. When you bring in park adjustment, the Sox have a 59 wRC+. Frankly, I'm not sure if I'm more surprised that the Sox are only 60% of an average major league lineup, or that they break the halfway mark. The worst offensive AL team in the Mariners, for comparison, have an 86 wRC+. The Red Sox (or at least the September edition) are further from the lowest AL team on the season in the Mariners than the Mariners are from the best offensive team in the Angels. The Sox aren't in a class of their own, they're the entire bottom half of the table.
How did we come to this? Not simply to being bad, but to being so bad that even the likes of Dustin Pedroia can't bring the team's mark up to replacement level? Simply enough. If a replacement player is playing below replacement level, you get someone else to replace them. The Sox, however, have stuck to their guns for a variety of reasons, leaving some truly awful performances unchecked.
In the case of Ryan Lavarnway and Jose Iglesias, it's all about getting prospects time. As bad as they have been at the plate (and, for Lavarnway, in the field) with neither one so much as approaching the Mendoza Line, it still makes sense to keep trotting them out there. If they're awful now, perhaps it will save them from being quite so awful when the Sox really need them in the future. The experience is more likely to help then to hurt, anyways.
For others, it may perversely enough be considered a matter of dignity. Has James Loney been well and truly awful? You'd better believe it. But his name at least carries some association with the major leagues, and frankly that's at a premium for the Red Sox now. Behind Dustin Pedroia, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Cody Ross, Loney's the only guy who can really claim to be a big league player making regular appearances right now.
It doesn't help that Cody Ross has decided now to have his worst month of the year. Or that Mike Aviles took full advantage of the opportunities afforded him early on before he was shuffled to the bench to prove once-and-for-all that he's just not the answer at short.
The good news is that it's almost over. Six more games and this awful September offense will be gone. But for one month we sat through it and endured. Who's up for commemorative pins? "I survived the dead ball era in Boston