We are now a full week into the new year, which means if you’re anything like me you have already slowed down on at least some of your resolutions. It’s human nature. But we try, and we continue to try, because what else can we do? So even if we have given up on some, hopefully we do well with others, and that’s what we’re asking of Red Sox players in this week’s roundtable.
For this week’s question, I asked the staff to each pick one player in the organization — major or minor league, doesn’t matter — and pick one resolution for them heading into 2021.
Despite being the Red Sox’ clear-cut best player last year, I’m going with Xander Bogaerts. Obviously, there isn’t too much to complain about with Bogaerts, as he’s been one of the most consistent shortstops in the league — he hasn’t finished a season under 3.2 fWAR since his rookie year, and he has molded himself into a dominant hitter. However, his one flaw is that his defense has been entirely underwhelming. Over the past 3 years, Bogaerts has finished third-to-last, last, and second-to-last in defensive runs saved among shortstops. It’s safe to say he’s been one of, if not the, worst defensive shortstop in the majors over this time period. He’s been able to make up for this with his hitting, although an improvement for Xander is sure to bolster a Red Sox defense that finished 2nd-last in defensive efficiency (% of balls in play converted into outs) in 2020. I’m not expecting a Gold Glove or anything, but my 2021 resolution for Xander Bogaerts is some sort of progress on defense.
Hunter Renfroe, who has a name I’d really like to hear Scooby Doo pronounce, should have one resolution in 2021: Take more walks and strike out a little less. To be fair, he’s been trending in the right direction, raising his walk rate from 6.8 percent to 9.3 percent to 10.1 percent over the last three seasons. And his strikeout rate has shifted from 24.7 percent to 31.2 percent to 26.6 percent. But as someone with a career .290 OBP something really has to give if he’s going to take the leap from “interesting” to “exciting” player. Even in a down 2019, Andrew Benintendi put up a .343 on base percentage. Obviously there’s a lot going on for each player and we can’t draw parallels and conclusions in a paragraph, but a 2021 Renfroe who even meets in the middle at a .320 OBP with some home run and doubles power could really help fill out the Sox lineup. Get on base just a bit more, which the Sox coaching staff will certainly encourage, and you can call it resolution accomplished.
My resolution is going to be for Jarren Duran. Duran has done a fantastic job to put himself in the discussion over the past year and change, but that discussion needs to cease being a debate over the next calendar year. Duran’s resolution is to take a starting outfield job by the end of August, and to hold the job for the remainder of the regular season, and postseason if applicable.
I believe this to not just be doable for Duran, but to be relatively easy to accomplish compared to other resolutions that may be on this list. Duran doesn’t have a lot of competition on the Red Sox at present. He has the following names to contend with: Alex Verdugo (who is going nowhere), a struggling Andrew Benintendi (also likely to stay right where he is), Hunter Renfroe (fourth OF/platoon bat), and minor leaguers Marcus Wilson, Michael Gettys, and Cesar Puello.
I fully expect Duran to pass his test, even if the Red Sox do decide to add another outfielder before spring training.
My 2021 baseball resolution is for Bobby Dalbec. He needs to work on his breaking ball recognition and cut down on the whiffs on high fastball, so I hope he gets to work with major-league hitting coaches.
Andrew Benintendi: Lock in to your tools
Coming out of college, Benintendi showed five tools and some prospect evaluators wondered whether Benny had an 8 hit tool. He slayed the minors with his advanced approach and impressed in his major-league debut, but has yoyo’d ever since, culminating in a frustrating 52 plate appearance sample to open the pandemic season. Like I’ve said before on these pages, I’m discarding virtually everything from the 2020 season. So while I don’t think this is a make or break year from Benintendi, I’d like to see some advancement. Maybe he’s just a 60 hit/40 power guy. A lot of times prospects don’t fully tap into the tools they show when they’re younger and a 60 hit/40 power player is still valuable with his defense. 60 hit tools occasionally bounce into seasons where they hit .300 or higher, too. For instance, some of Benintendi’s stat lines mirror that of pre-transformation Christian Yelich. That doesn’t mean he can turn into an MVP candidate, but it goes to show that even four and a half years into a career, players are still learning how to tap into their tools and round out their performance. Benintendi could fix a lot of the narrative around him by rounding out his performance and tapping into his.
My new Year resolution is for Nathan Eovaldi and it’s something he hasn’t done since 2015: Pitch 150+ plus innings this year. Eovaldi is going to be a huge part of this rotation whatever it looks like going into Opening Day, but much like last year, they don’t really have depth. They don’t really have a full complement of five starters let alone depth, which makes it all the more important he reach this number. If it is a realistic goal for the Red Sox to remain in the mix until Sale comes back, then Eovaldi has to be on the field. If he isn’t and the rotation is sending out multiple bullpen days a week like last season then when Sale finally makes his return, it won’t matter.
I’d like to see Michael Chavis cut down on his strikeouts and put more balls in play. Chavis really struggled in 2020 and lost out on securing a permanent spot in the lineup. While I don’t expect him to ever be a Gold Glove caliber fielder, I haven’t given up on his ability at the plate. In the era of lots of home runs and strikeouts, its not a cardinal sin to strike out somewhat frequently, but Chavis has been at a more than 30 percent strikeout rate in each of his first two seasons in the majors and he hasn’t countered with enough power to balance those strikeouts out.
If Chavis can lower his strikeout rate, there’s hope he could improve and potentially become an everyday player at second base or wherever the Red Sox need him. His hard hit rate ranked sixth among Red Sox batters with at least 90 at-bats last season, putting him above Alex Verdugo, and he was fifth in home run to fly ball rate, posting a relatively solid mark of 16.7 percent. (For context, the league average in 2020 was 14.8 percent). This is probably going to be a make-or-break kind of year for Chavis and the key will be his ability to be a more selective and effective batter. That starts with striking out less often.
Rafael Devers needs to make a resolution to be more professional. We all know the type of talent that he has, as evidenced by his incredible 2019 season and his excellent second half of 2020. It’s not the bat that I’m worried about with Devers, it’s his body composition and his defense. Last spring Devers came into camp out of shape. As a result of this he committed 14 errors in just 57 games. Defensive struggles are nothing new with Devers who makes nearly as many throwing errors as he does fielding errors. However, watching him daily makes you realize that so many of them are preventable. I believe that if Devers took better care of his body and was more confident in his own range and preparation that the game would begin to slow down for him. There would be less mental errors, many of his throwing errors just seem rushed, and his improved range and flexibility would help him prevent many fielding errors. I know how I was at 24 so I realize it isn’t easy, but if you want to be great you need to make sacrifices and Devers needs to do the hard things in order to be the player he can be.
This may shock you, but I’m going with Matt Barnes and just being more consistent with his command month-to-month. When Barnes is on, there aren’t a ton of relievers in baseball I would take over him. He is in the upper echelon with his strikeout rate, and at his best he is underrated in his ability to limit hard contact. However, there is always a four-to-six week stretch every season where every other outing is a disaster. This is a big year for him heading into free agency, and it would obviously benefit him greatly to have that consistent year as a near-elite reliever. It would also benefit the Red Sox, either by having a strong late-inning arm on a contending team or at least a valuable trade piece in July.