Fun with small sample sizes: Rusney Castillo
Red Sox fans may not have been terribly impressed when their much-hyped outfielder joined the team and could only reach base by way of infield singles to start his Red Sox career. Sure, he had some wheels, but we were promised "Brett Gardner with power!" Where's the power?! And the on-base ability, for that matter.
Alright, so maybe even the most reactive fans were willing to give Castillo more time to turn it on after two years away from active competition. Still, when on September 23rd his first 20 at bats had resulted in four singles and nothing more, there was the dread of an offseason full of people asking whether or not this $72 million man could actually play baseball, or just cover ground in the outfield and on the basepaths.
The good news for Rusney is that, when your entire season consists of 10 games, five good performances can very easily make up for five bad ones. Castillo drew two walks on September 24th, then went 8-for-13 with two homers over the last five games of the season, finishing with a batting line of .333/.400/.528 in 40 plate appearances. And there was much rejoicing and the relaxing of gnashed teeth!
That's not the "fun with small sample sizes" bit, though. This is: Rusney Castillo finished the year with a 0.9 fWAR. Now, ignoring the frankly depressing fact that that's good for top-8 amongst position players on the 2014 Red Sox, if we were to take that pace and stretch it over the course of a full season of, say, 150 games, we'd wind up with a 13.5 win season.
Some context for you: Mike Trout's career best is 10.5 fWAR in 2013. Even Barry Bonds never breached 13!
Rusney Castillo's not going to put up an all-time great season as a rookie in 2015. It's only not beyond the realm of possibility in the same way that, yes, the Angels could agree to send Trout to us for Bryce Brentz without breaking any laws of physics. However good his glove is, coming in at 25 runs above the average center fielder (as he was on pace for in those 10 games) would put him 25% above the field in 2014 while a 163 wRC+ (ditto) would leave him fifth, ahead of the likes of Giancarlo Stanton and Miguel Cabrera.
It's not going to happen. Even half of that is unlikely. Still, not a bad way to start a career.
Fun with defensive numbers: Daniel Nava
You won't be surprised to hear that Dustin Pedroia and Jackie Bradley Jr. finished the year with the best defensive numbers on the Red Sox by a mile. Combined, the two were judged to have saved somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 runs which, when you think about it, is a little terrifying given the state of the pitching.
Any guesses for third place? Nope, not Dan--oh, yeah, ti was Daniel Nava. I guess the header kind of gave it away.
Anyway, Nava finished the year with a UZR of 12 in just 774 innings of work in the outfield. Usually when you see fairly outrageous numbers like that from one of the metrics, you expect the others to reign it in. But DRS actually heads in the other direction, rating him at 17 runs saved! It's a stunning turnaround given that those metrics rated him as worth -11 and -4 runs respectively in 2013.
Technically, this falls under the category of small sample sizes too. The fact is that these fielding metrics just don't stabilize over the course of a full season, leaving some pretty strange numbers floating about from year-to-year. Is Daniel Nava the next Willy Mays in the field? Hell no! But he is probably a lot closer to average than he was made out to be in 2013, when massive negative defensive numbers left what was in truth a fantastic 2013 campaign looking quite mundane indeed.
The result of these big swings is that, as a pretty important part of the 2013 World Series team, Nava and his .303/.385/.445 batting line were judged to be only half the contributor that Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia were, while this year's model, despite a truly terrible April, was judged to be the second most valuable position player on the team.
The truth is probably that Nava is a mediocre outfielder. The truth is probably that 2013 Nava was worth quite a bit more than he was made out to be by these numbers, and 2014 Nava a fair bit less. Don't call it too much of a negative trend, though. After returning to the team for the final time on June 4th, Nava hit .308/.379/.395 in 322 plate appearances. It's not clear how the Red Sox will find space for Nava on the 2015 roster, but if he can still hit like that, they should certainly try.
Fun with oh God our pitching was so, so bad:
The 2014 Red Sox sure had a lot of pitching depth. After the starting five of Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront, and Jake Peavy, the Sox could boast quite the complement of reserves in Brandon Workman, Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, and Anthony Ranaudo.
Yeah, that didn't turn out so great.
There's more to pitching than just strikeouts and walks, but they're a pretty huge part of it. Of the pitchers with the 10 best K:BB ratios, only one, Brandon McCarthy, had an ERA higher than 3.52. The likes of Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, Chris Sale, and David Price are all present in that top-10. Generally speaking, there's a pretty clear trend: better pitchers have better K:BB ratios.
Unsurprisingly, Jon Lester and John Lackey were the best in that category for Red Sox starters, coming in at 4.66 and 3.63 respectively. That puts Lester in the top-15, and Lackey in the top-30 among qualified pitchers. Now how about the litany of young starters the Red Sox trotted out to try and find them any support?
Well, Rubby De La Rosa comes in at 2.00. Were he qualified, that would leave him between A.J. Burnett and (coincidentally) Jorge De La Rosa, putting him just inside the bottom 10. The sad thing is, as in so many other ways, Rubby was the best of that bunch. Brandon Workman's 1.80 would tie him for the sixth worst, while Allen Webster's 1.29 and Anthony Ranaudo's 0.94(!) are well below the worst qualified figure of Roberto Hernandez at 1.44.
It's not surprising that there's no qualified competition for those two. Pitchers who perform that poorly don't tend to last long in this day and age. Even if we lower the minimum innings requirement to 100, the new low point in Nick Tepesch is just two points below Webster.
A lot of things went wrong with the 2014 Red Sox, There is no one definitive part of the team to blame. But the starting pitching was certainly one of those problems. That was supposed to be the sort of problem the team could weather with their impressive depth. Instead, much as in the final days of 2011, it proved to be a huge vulnerability, with the Sox struggling to find even mediocre performances on the mound. I'm not saying a Jeremy Guthrie would have saved their season, but when Allen Webster and Brandon Workman are combining for 140 terrible innings...well, it wouldn't have hurt having someone eminently average to fill a role.