Welcome to 2022. Generally speaking, I think most of us are hoping for a better year than last, but looking at things strictly from the perspective of the Boston Red Sox, there was little to complain about. In a year in which they were expected to be fringe contenders at best, they ended up just a couple of wins away from a World Series berth. It was an undoubtedly positive year. That being said, there is always room for improvement. Just like the rest of us do, Red Sox players, coaches, and executives could certainly make some resolutions to make this year better than last, and I’m here to help. Below are eight employees (plus another guy) of the Red Sox, and a resolution they should make for 2022. The hope is that they are not like the rest of us in the sense that they actually stick to their goal.
Chaim Bloom: Extend Rafael Devers
We’ll start simple first. Well, simple for me as a person who doesn’t actually have to do the work of negotiation. The Red Sox need to do everything they can to get an extension done with Devers. Granted, these negotiations are two-way streets and we always have to leave open the possibility that the player does not want a long-term deal, but we have no reason to suspect that is the case here like it appeared to be with Mookie Betts. Yes, there are defensive questions for Devers moving forward, but he has the kind of bat that it doesn’t matter. Even if he had to be a full-time DH, which I don’t think is at all a foregone conclusion, the value he brings with his abilities at the plate would be enough to justify a long-term deal. He should be one of the faces of this franchise for the next half-decade plus, and Bloom and company should be aggressive in ensuring that is the case.
Alex Cora: Better utilize the second spot in the lineup
I will acknowledge off the top that batting order complaints are almost always overblown, Many of us complained about Cora’s lineups all of last year, and clearly the team ended up being just fine. All of that is fair. Still, the division figures to be hyper-competitive next season, and every edge matters. Statistically speaking, the second spot is the most important in the lineup. It gets the second most plate appearances in the lineup and theoretically has a chance to have a runner on base for every plate appearance. Last season, Alex Verdugo got the most plate appearances in that spot. Verdugo is fine, but one of Xander Bogaerts, Devers, or J.D. Martinez should be in that spot, or an addition who is not currently on the active roster. Cora’s a spectacular manager, but like I said, everyone has room for improvement.
Xander Bogaerts: Improve lateral range
Also in the category of making sure you get the little things right and searching for small advantages, the Red Sox need to be better defensively on the infield. They were perhaps the worst infield in all of baseball last season from a defensive perspective, and a lot of that had to do with Bogaerts. I don’t necessarily agree with the evaluations that peg him as one of the very worst defensive players in the game, but he’s also very much not a plus. According to Baseball Savant’s metrics from his career, as well as the good old fashioned eye test, his lateral range is his biggest issue. He’s never going to be a Gold Glover, but if he can just be okay with his lateral range the infield defense will improve tremendously.
Christian Vázquez: Better recognize breaking balls
There’s no doubt that Vázquez was one of the few disappointments on this team last year, coming into the season as one of the better catchers in the game and leaving it perhaps fighting to prove he is still a starter in this league. His newfound power from the previous two seasons dissipated and he was well below-average at the plate. Some of this can certainly be traced back to changes to the physical baseball, but that’s not all of it. From the batted ball metrics, it seems his biggest issue compared to 2019 and 2020 was with breaking balls. Posting an average exit velocity of just 80 mph last season against those offerings, Vázquez had previous sat around 86 mph. He doesn’t need to crush the pitch on a regular basis, but he needs to be able to recognize the hittable chances he gets and make his opponents pay.
Bobby Dalbec: Keep calm and patient
Perhaps the biggest wildcard on the Red Sox roster as things stand now, Dalbec was basically two different players last season. For much of the year, he looked like he simply wasn’t more than a role player at the highest level, but in the second half he turned it all around, at times putting the entire lineup on his back. There are a lot of things that happened in that time, but what stands out the most from where I sit was his willingness to take pitches in the second half, instead waiting for hittable offerings and taking a free base if it comes to that. It seems Kyle Schwarber’s presence played a big role in getting there, and whether or not Schwarber is back in 2022, Dalbec needs to stay in that mode. If he starts expanding the zone early and often again, that power won’t play and the entire line will suffer.
Nick Pivetta: Harness the slider
All in all, Pivetta was much better than I expected in 2021, and while he’s certainly not a star he showed enough for me to believe he can be a solid back-end starter on a good team. He’ll have his blow up outings to be sure, but the stuff is also good enough that he can dominate anyone at any time. If he is to ever take that step forward into mid-rotation arm territory, consistency will be the name of the game, and the slider will be the key to that. Pivetta’s slider was a good pitch and a big reason he was able to miss a healthy number of bats, but he also had a tendency to leave it up over the plate where he got punished. He’s always going to give up some homers, but if he can get the homer rate down to even average — and locating the slider would be a huge step in that direction — there’s another step forward to be had.
Chris Sale: Keep the long haul in mind
If you are looking for someone to give Dalbec a run for his money in the wildcard category, Sale is probably your guy. He very much looked like a guy working his way back from major injury in his outings to close out 2021, though his final look in the postseason provided some optimism. I suspect we’ll see some more up and down, at least to start next season, but the Red Sox will need him to not only pitch well, but give them consistent innings all season. Knowing what we know about Sale, he’s going to be amped up to be back on the mound to start next season. We want Sale amped up, of course, but we also want him able to pitch all year, and easing himself into the year in his first few starts is probably the best course of action.
Tanner Houck: Trust the splitter
It remains to be seen exactly what role Houck will be playing for the Red Sox in 2022, but he will be throwing important innings in whatever role that is. Presumably at some point that will be as a starter, and he’s going to need that third pitch to really be part of his repertoire this year. He’s done just fine at times so far only using it sparingly as he’s worked to get the splitter to where it needs to be, but the next step in that development has to be using it as a legitimate third pitch. At a certain point you just have to see what you have and whether or not it can work. Houck’s splitter definitely looked better to my amateur scouting eyes later in the year in 2021, and another offseason of work should add a little more. He’ll still lean on his fastball and slider to be sure, but I’d like to see him start trying to work that splitter in 10-20 percent of the time on a regular basis.
John Henry: Single-handedly end the lockout
You got this.