Ask any Red Sox fan what they would like the team to accomplish this winter, and the answer will certainly to acquire a big bat. The lineup in 2017 was underwhelming, to put it lightly, and was the obvious thing holding the roster back from being a truly elite team. The pitching is there, and there’s no reason to believe that should regress by all that much in 2018. If the team can improve the offense substantially, it stands to reason that they should be right back in the thick of a championship run once again. At least, that’s the hope.
I don’t really disagree with any of that, but one thing I do take issue with is the idea that the big bat from the outside is where the improvement will come from. A new presence in the middle of the lineup will certainly help and I’m 100 percent on board with that kind of move this winter, but the bulk of the improvement from this team could and should come from players already on the roster. In fact, looking around the diamond, Boston stands to improve at the plate at just about every position. Today, we’ll go position-by-position to see where the improvement will come from. But first, for reference, we have a chart showing the team’s wRC+ (an all-around measure of offense adjusted for park effects, with 100 being average and anything below 100 being below-average) as well as where that ranked in all of baseball.
Red Sox Position-by-Position Offensive Production
|9 (AL Only)
Alright, now let’s go through the list.
We start with one of the positions where I’m less than certain that the Red Sox will improve at the plate, though it was also one of the few positions where the production wasn’t a total disaster compared to expectations. Earlier this week, I discussed the trio of catchers competing for playing time in Boston, but Christian Vazquez figures to get the bulk of the playing time. He put up a 91 wRC+ last year, but that was inflated by a .348 batting average on balls in play. Though his line drive-oriented hitting style should allow him to stick around the .300-.315 BABIP range and his plate discipline could improve some, I still peg him around an 85 wRC+ guy. The wildcard here is who the backup will be and how they perform. At this point, I don’t think it’s safe to count on much from Sandy Leon or Blake Swihart, though both (Swihart especially) have some upside. All told, this catching group should be roughly the same on offense with some wide error bars given all the uncertainty.
Red Sox fans loved Mitch Moreland in 2017 because, like Vazquez, he exceeded expectations. It also helped that Moreland got off to a hot start — first impressions matter, people! — and he had some clutch hits. Overall, though, he really wasn’t a great hitting first baseman. This is a position where teams look for some of their best offensive production, and by wRC+ Moreland was a very slightly below-average hitter regardless of position. It seems nearly certain that there will be a new first baseman here next year, whether it be Jose Abreu, Carlos Santana, Eric Hosmer or some other player out there. I’d be willing to bet they will be better at the plate than 2017 Mitch Moreland.
Here we have another position where, if we’re being honest, I’m not sure how much of an upgrade we can count on. The Red Sox were actually solid at second base even if Dustin Pedroia was fighting injuries and struggling with power when on the field. The veteran will miss at least a month or two to start the year, and all indications are that Boston will stick with their in-house options to fill that void. While I have an affinity for Marco Herandez and think Deven Marrero and Tzu-Wei Lin are fine, I’m not sure them combined with a possibly healthy Pedroia at some point will finish higher than the middle of the pack in wRC+.
This one is pretty simple. Prior to late-July, the hot corner was an absolute disaster for the Red Sox in 2017. Like, almost unfathomably bad. Next season, they should be getting a full season of Rafael Devers, who looked wholly unfazed in his first experience against major-league pitching. Even with a little bit of a sophomore slump, there’s no reason to think he will do anything except blow away Boston’s 2017 production at third base.
In the blink of an eye, Xander Bogaerts has become arguably the most polarizing player on the Red Sox. After another disappointing second half and an overall lack of power or aggression at the plate, there are some who are flat done with Bogaerts. I think that sentiment is ridiculous, to be honest, but I get the frustration. That being said, Bogaerts had been safely above-average at the plate in each of the previous two seasons and even a conservative projection will have him improving upon his 2017 performance. When you add in the fact that there is a new hitting coach and that Bogaerts is the hitter on the team most likely to improve from a new set of eyes, there’s a chance we could be looking at a true breakout from Bogaerts in 2018. At the very least, I suspect the overall production at shortstop will exceed 2017’s and finish closer to the top five than outside the top ten.
Heading into last season, expectations were through the roof for Andrew Benintendi. He was the consensus number one prospect and the consensus favorite for the American League Rookie of the Year. He had a solid year, but it fell below the expectations. The good news is that he showed a great understanding of the strike zone, and that’s as good a building block as any. I suspect the power will come up moving forward and the BABIP should climb well above .300 as well (it finished at .301 in 2017) and I’d expect something close to a 120 wRC+ next year. There is, of course, a chance he is not in left field. In that scenario, J.D. Martinez or Giancarlo Stanton would likely be there. And, yeah, I think they’d improve the offense here.
This represents another wildcard, and center field is a bit weird for a couple reasons. For one, there is still a chance that Jackie Bradley Jr. is traded, even if I’d put it at less than 50 percent at this point. In that case, Benintendi would likely shift to center field and all of the stuff I said above applies here. If Bradley does stay, it’s fair to say that none of us really know what to expect from him at any given moment at the plate. That being said, while there will be peaks and valleys I’d expect much of his former power to come back and for him to be at least a league-average hitter in 2018 with potential for much more. Remember, even with the streakiness in 2015 and 2016, Bradley finished with wRC+’s of 123 and 199, respectively.
Here, we have Mookie Betts’ spot. I won’t spend a lot of time here, because I don’t think this one is too complicated. Betts was very good on the whole in 2017, but his offense was disappointed. However, his batted ball profile was just about the same as ever and he still showed great plate discipline. His BABIP should skyrocket from last year’s .268 mark and I’d be willing to bet on a 125+ wRC+ next year for Betts.
Finally, we get to the spot which receives most of the blame for Boston’s offensive woes. At least, as much as any single position can be to blame. This DH spot had the unfortunate combination of being without David Ortiz for the first time in over a decade and being with a disappointing Hanley Ramirez. I’ve gone on record as saying that I believe in a bounce-back for Ramirez based on simple regression as well as the fact that his shoulder was bothering him in 2017. It’s certainly not a sure thing, but I think between the possibility of a Ramirez bounce back and the chance of signing someone like Martinez to take over the spot, there’s a better chance than not for Boston to be back towards the top of the DH leaderboard.