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On A Tough Start


You haven't heard from me in a few days as you may all have noticed by the lack of poop jokes here at OTM. The reason is that I've started writing the Daily Hit List feature over at Baseball Prospectus. But, lucky you, I'll still be writing here about our Sox as well.

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Probably like you I've been eager for the season to begin. The start of any baseball season is cause for excitement (Why else would I fly all the way across the country just to see practice games?) but as someone who spends just about all his free time thinking, watching, and writing about baseball (don't believe me? ask my wife) my excitement for the 2012 season was more intense than usual. Maybe without verbalizing it, I've been looking forward to this year a bit more than most because it's an opportunity to put last year, and last September in specific, behind us.

The Sox have undergone a tumultuous off-season. The front office turnover was jarring, but the team on the field remains similar to last year's squad. Some have said that bringing back the majority of a team that finished September in such spectacularly awful fashion isn't a good idea. Others have said the team that tanked in September is the very same one that won two thirds of its games over a four month period. Coming into the season there was this division in the fan base.

Whether you think this team is world-beating or not, and many of the projection systems have pegged the Sox to win 90 or more games this season, I think we can all agree the results we've seen over the first six games isn't a fair approximation of the talent of this Red Sox team.

Let's do the list, shall we? No? Well, we're doing it anyway.

  • The Red Sox have the worst run differential in baseball (-16; 1-4 Minnesota is -13).
  • Last year the Sox as a team had an .810 OPS. So far this season it's .642.
  • The Sox have hit two homers on the season. The St. Louis Cardinals (?) have hit twelve.
  • Boston has the worst ERA in baseball at 6.40. That's 1.22 higher than the second-to-last Twins. For context, the team's ERA last September was 5.84.

We can all agree on two things. One, those are all awful, ugly numbers. Those are the numbers of a 1-5 team, which the Red Sox are. Two, those numbers, awful and ugly as they are, don't adequately represent this Red Sox team. I mean, nobody really thinks this is the worst team in baseball, right? Because it isn't.

Jon Lester has had two very good starts in a row. Lester's ERA is 2.40 which if he was able to keep over the course of the whole season would win the Cy Young award. Daniel Bard's results weren't great, but he did just about everything he needed to do to be successful in the long run. He didn't walk many hitters, he struck lots of hitters out, he induced swings and misses, and he kept the ball on the ground. The turf in Toronto, some weak defense from the left side of the infield, tough luck, and some bad relief pitching (and questionable managing) all conspired to make Bard look worse than he was. (Marc expertly covered it in more detail here.)

On the other side of the coin, Josh Beckett was awful and Clay Buchholz wasn't much better. But does anyone believe Beckett is either A) done, or B) needs Tommy John surgery? Because if you don't then I think we can reasonably expect a starting pitcher with a career ERA of 3.86 to not give up 200 homers over the course of the season. Buchholz is a different story in that he doesn't have nearly the track record that Beckett does. But from what we know of Double H he should be able to manage at least an ERA of 5.00 as opposed to the 15.75 he now sports.

On the hitting side of things, Kevin Youkilis has been struggling. It happens. Players go into slumps. In fact, a rough six game stretch in mid-July might not even count as a slump. But because this is the start of the season and like me many fans are looking for some immediate success in order to help put 2011 behind us, everyone is asking if Kevin Youkilis finished. No. Of course not. Don't be silly.

I could run down the lineup but really I don't need to. You know who has been playing badly and who hasn't. The poignant truth at the center of all of this, the thing that we collectively forget every winter, is that the start of the season isn't that important. That's not to say the wins don't matter. They do. But if you're going to lose five of six, the beginning of the year is the best time to do it. Why? Because at that point you have 156 games left to make up for it.

The Red Sox aren't this bad and no amount of I-told-you-so or negative talk show babble will make it so. This isn't the start of the season that I wanted, and it's a safe bet that if you're reading this, it isn't the start you wanted either. But there's good news. Listen in:

There is lots of baseball left to be played. And the Red Sox are actually a highly talented and skilled team. Don't believe me? That's fine. Bookmark this page. We'll talk in September.