We can't stop talking about the Red Sox offense, and for good reason. They are on an incredible run and they seemingly can't finish a game with a single-digit run total. Quite simply, this lineup in its current form is straight-up stupid. I don't really have the words to talk about that, though, so I want to take a look at things on the other side of the ball.
Full disclosure: I don't really like writing about defense. It's not that it's not an important part of the game -- it very clearly is -- but it's easier to write with numbers and, quite frankly, the defensive numbers stink. They stink even more at this time of the year. Like everyone else, I make my own opinions from what I see watching the games, but it's hard to write about things like that without being a scout. Now that I've written all that, I will contradict everything I just said, because this defense is too interesting to not write about.
Before the season started, we were all incredibly excited about the potential outfield defense. Betts! Bradley! Castillo! It was three former center fielders in one outfield! Of course, that didn't really work out, but the outfield defense has still been more than fine since Brock Holt can hold his own out there. The infield has, too, and that was a much bigger question mark before the games started.
If you're reading this, you almost certainly are already aware for Brian Butterfield's existence. Although he technically serves as the third-base coach, his more important role is as the infield coach. If you watch the games, you can see him puppeteering the infielders into various shift formations, which is certainly interesting in its own right. That's a story for another day, though. He's also in charge of grooming the individual infielders to become the best defensive version of themselves, and that's something that he's been able to do better than anyone could have expected.
Let's go position-by-position to look at just how impressive Butterfield's work with these players have been. The most natural place to start is first base, and that's also his masterpiece. Obviously, Hanley Ramirez's performance at the position -- his second new spot in as many years -- was arguably the biggest question before the season started. To this point in the season, things have gone swimmingly. Sure, there have been hiccups here and there, but for the most part he looks like a bona fide first baseman. Ramirez looks comfortable there, showing off tremendous footwork around the base and the hands required to make the tough plays on bad throws. The numbers (UZR, DRS and FRAA) all have him average-to-slightly-below average, and while that may be underselling him a tad, it's still much more than any of us could have expected. Brian Butterfield, you are a genius.
Now, we'll move across the diamond to the man who teamed up with Ramirez to make the play in the video above. Xander Bogaerts isn't in a similar position as Hanley, as we saw this evolution mostly take place in 2015. That doesn't make it any less impressive, though. If you remember correctly, while he was in the minors it was almost a foregone conclusion that Bogaerts would have to move over the third base at some point in his career. Consider this quote from Chris Mellen of the Baseball Prospectus prospect team from when the Red Sox shortstop was first called up to the majors:
"As shortstop, he’s made strides in improving his footwork and technique, and the reads off the bat have gotten better as well. The foot speed is only average, however, and further loss of speed into his mid-20s is going to decrease his average-to-slightly-better-than-average range. Given his athleticism, reactions, and instincts, a permanent move over to third base should agree well with Bogaerts, and he has potential to round into a plus defender at the hot corner."
Obviously, that's not to pick on Mellen, as that was an opinion shared by many (probably most) prospect writers. Instead, he turned heads with his improvements with the glove last season, and is only continuing that trend in 2016. Specifically, he's showing more range, particularly ranging towards the middle of the field. All of the major metrics rank him as above-average to start this season, which the eye test backs up. Plays like the one above and the one below make it almost a given that he'll stick at the position for a long time, which is incredible given where he was just a couple years ago. Brian Butterfield, you are a genius.
Finally, we'll take a look at the hot corner, the position currently being manned by Travis Shaw. I can only speak for myself on this one, but I was extremely skeptical of Shaw coming into the season. I'd be lying if I said it had nothing to do with his offensive skill set, because I was a little wary of that. Even more than that, however, was my uneasiness with him at third base. I wasn't convinced he could be passable there, never mind good. Obviously, to this point he has proven me wrong. Just watching him play, he's done enough to completely change my opinion of him with the glove. For what it's worth, UZR and FRAA are a bit down on him, while DRS is higher. Small samples make those numbers close to meaningless, but I'd lean more towards the DRS opinion than UZR. The fact that we're even having this conversation is near-miraculous. Brian Butterfield, you are a genius.
You'll notice that I didn't mention Dustin Pedroia in here, but that's more about space than anything. Pedroia is a mainstay, and while he's been fine this year he's less of a testament to Butterfield's genius given his past defensive record. As for the other three, they certainly deserve plenty of credit in their own right. No matter how great Butterfield is, no one can show this kind of improvement without putting the work in. The coach was at the forefront with each one of them, though, and he deserves all of the appreciation for putting together this kind of defense with the rag-tag team of infielders.