As we look ahead to the 2017 season, we have a firm grasp on most aspects of this Red Sox roster. The rotation should be loaded up front with considerable upside in the back. The bullpen has some weaknesses, but if everything comes together it’ll be a shutdown unit for the late innings. The lineup is going to feel the loss of David Ortiz, but it should still remain one of the best in all of baseball. The outfield defense is going to be incredible, particularly when the three regulars are on the grass at the same time. Then, there’s the infield defense, which might be a little more confusing.
Last season, the group was good in some areas, bad in others, and inconsistent in the rest. Overall, they finished around the middle of the pack in most defensive metrics. While those numbers aren’t the most trustworthy, particularly in a one-year sample, it matches up with what the eye test told us. There’s some changes this year, however, so let’s see if they should receive any sort of bump.
We’ll start at first base, because it literally has the word “first” in its name. It only makes sense. This is also probably where the Red Sox will see the biggest upgrade. Hanley Ramirez was fine in this spot last year — surprisingly so, in fact — and if they decided to go into the season with him back at the bag I wouldn’t complain. However, there were some areas in which he had trouble, particularly with his footwork around the bag. It’s something you can learn over time, but it can be costly while you wait. Although his bat is lackluster, Mitch Moreland will be an upgrade here. All of the defensive metrics agree that he is easily above-average at the position, and has been consistently through his career. Defense at first base is rarely looked at as a major need, but having a steady glove there can be a huge boon to the rest of the infield, as well as the pitcher. This isn’t just a simple upgrade from slightly below average to well above average at the position, but one that will have an impact everywhere else on the diamond.
Speaking of everywhere else on the diamond, second base is one that has been marked by defensive stability over the last decade because of Dustin Pedroia. While his offense has been up and down over the latter part of his career, his defense has been mostly consistent. He actually looked like he had taken a bit of a step back in this area in 2015, both by the eye test (at least by my eyes) and the metrics. It had me a bit worried heading into last season, but he came back in 2016 as one of the best second basemen in the game. As he gets older, one can expect his defense to decline, but after what he did last year there’s little reason to expect a major decline this year.
Xander Bogaerts is one of the more confusing defensive players on this roster. Early in his professional career, it looked like he’d never stick at short. Then, after bouncing between shortstop and third base early in his major-league career, he settled in as a solid defensive player at the most important infield position. Last year, he took another step back. The step was a big one according to the metrics, but I think the nine run drop by Defensive Runs Saved is a little harsh on the young shortstop. With that being said, he could use a little more range to get back to being a near-average shortstop. The good news is, Moreland will be a welcomed addition as Bogaerts has also had some sporadic issues making strong and accurate throws. I’d expect a bit of an upgrade here, although not one that leads to Bogaerts winning any Gold Gloves at the position.
Finally, we have third base, which could go in any number of directions this year. Pablo Sandoval is the favorite to win the job, and even he has many different defensive possibilities. For someone of his size, he was always a better glove-man than you’d expect during his time in San Francisco. That was a long time ago, though. His first year in Boston was brutal in the field just like it was at the plate, and now he’s coming off an entire missed year. The hope is that he’s only a little below average, and not an abomination. If he can’t play, it’s likely that Brock Holt, Josh Rutledge and/or Marco Hernandez would take over. All of them can play the position in a pinch, but none of them come close to excelling at the hot corner. After Travis Shaw was surprisingly competent there in 2016, we’re probably looking at some sort of downgrade here. It’s really up to Sandoval how much of a downgrade it’ll be.
At the end of the day, the Red Sox probably look like they’ll have anything from a slightly above average defensive infield to a very good one, depending on how things shake out at third. Moreland’s addition is huge to the group, as he’ll be making things easier on everyone else. If Bogaerts can improve himself to average, that should be enough to outweigh any loss they get from third base. With a pitching staff full of fly ball pitchers, this part of the roster isn’t as important as it’s been in the past, but any possible improvement will be welcome.