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The Flyby: How to Build a Better Team

We’re looking at organizational changes.

Division Series - Cleveland Indians v Boston Red Sox - Game Three Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

This week we have one FanPost to go over. The prompt asked you to look at what lessons we could learn from playoff teams. As we know, the Rays and Dodgers are presently in the World Series, with the Dodgers up two games to one. They have some real differences in how they approach team-building, too, so any answer could really have made sense.

Learning From the Best - Bosoxsince89

What they said: Most sports tend to jump too quickly at new concepts and fail to think independently. This is most evident with super bullpens. Of the four Championship Series teams, three are known to be extremely analytics oriented. Red Sox can learn from things like spin rate, barrel%, and other numbers in this mold. All four teams had a strong pitching core. Pitching prospects are risky, but you can minimize the risk by bringing in smart pitching guys and changing the way we look at prospects.

Similarly, I also feel like the Red Sox need to do better with developing starting pitching, though it’s not a be-all end-all.

It’s worth noting that the Red Sox do still have a high payroll, and can actually fill this pitching need in free agency every few years as they’ve done in the past. The current iteration of the Red Sox have been built via trades (Chris Sale from the White Sox for Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, and a couple other minor players; Eduardo Rodriguez from the Orioles for Andrew Miller; and Nathan Eovaldi from the Rays for Jalen Beeks) largely. While this is another way to build a rotation, it’s obviously been quite costly, especially at the top.

Wild Card Round - Chicago White Sox v Oakland Athletics - Game Three Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Yoán Moncada hit .225/.320/.385, with six home runs in 52 games. You might look at that line and think it’s not that impressive. In some respects, you would be right, especially compared to 2019when he hit much better, at .315/.367/.548. What those numbers don’t tell you though is that Moncada also played very well defensively (he has been named a finalist for the Gold Glove at third base), and that he was worth 1.6 fWAR over 52 games. It’s not totally fair to just extrapolate that onto a full season, but that’s close to being on pace for 5.0 fWAR, a year after putting up 5.7 fWAR. For context, Rafael Devers was worth 0.5 fWAR this season (and 5.9 in 2019) in 57 games. While I’m not arguing we kept the wrong third baseman, it’s nice to think about having both in the lineup (especially considering the Sox revolving door of second basemen this season).

Michael Kopech didn’t pitch in 2020, but still remains an extremely appealing high ceiling arm. It is anyone’s guess as to what Kopech will end up becoming, but it’s hard not to want his firepower, particularlylooking at the dearth of pitching prospects in the upper minors for the Red Sox.

Jalen Beeks has also come into his own as a strong pitcher since moving on to the Rays. Beeks peripheral numbers in particular look promising long-term. While his stuff plays up in the bullpen, and he was used as a reliever in the Rays organization, had he stayed in Boston, odds are fairly high he’d still be in consideration as a starting pitcher, especially following all the injuries to the Red Sox pitching staff in 2020.

That said, none of the trades listed above were mistakes. I still do the Chris Sale deal 10 times out of 10, and the same for the Nathan Eovaldi trade (although the following signings are a little more controversial).

Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Had the Red Sox been better at developing starting pitchers in the early 2010s, there’s a decent chance the Red Sox wouldn’t have had to trade for a Chris Sale or a Nathan Eovaldi. Some notable names from the early 2010s, via a stroll through SoxProspects historical rankings board: Casey Kelly, Anthony Ranaudo, Drake Britton, Stolmy Pimental, Felix Doubront, Matt Barnes, Allen Webster, Rubby de la Rosa, Henry Owens, Brandon Workman, Trey Ball, Brian Johnson, and of course, Kopech.

Some of these names were used in trades for needed talents. Kelly helped bring Adrian Gonzalez, and Kopech was used to bring Sale, as said. Others went to the bullpen and became useful major league pieces, albeit less useful than many had hoped (Barnes and Workman). Others just busted out entirely in the Sox organization and never fulfilled their lofty promise like Ranaudo, Webster, de la Rosa, Owens, and most notably, Trey Ball.

The last time the Red Sox developed a legitimate starting pitcher who ended up actually being a starting pitcher for the Red Sox long-term was Clay Buchholz. He hit the major leagues in 2007, which means the Red Sox organization has essentially failed to develop major league starting pitching for well over a decade at this point.

There’s hope: Tanner Houck came up toward the end of 2020, and lit Sox fans hearts on fire. While we can expect a little regression (we’d have to, as he pitched to a dazzling 0.53 ERA in his first 17 innings of MLB action), he has all the tools to be a back-end starting pitcher at the least, which is still more than the Red Sox have been capable of developing in the past decade.

New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Who is behind him that the Red Sox can look forward to? Before Noah Song got his notice to report to the military, I would have said him. I feel like Song is the best combination of a high ceiling and a relatively high floor among pitching prospects in the system. While there is still hope he can become a quality starting pitcher down the line, it will take some time. His four pitch mix may be best in the system.

Beyond Song, some like Bryan Mata, Jay Groome, Thad Ward, or new prospect Connor Seabold. If the Red Sox can develop even one good starting pitcher out of the four above or Song, then the Red Sox will have done something they haven’t been able to do since 2007, and that’s a necessary step toward rebuilding this roster.