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Is There More Talent In The Room?

A WAR Analysis Of The Projected 2023 Red Sox.

Boston Red Sox Spring Training 2023 Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Towards the close of 2022, as Red Sox fans were still reeling from the loss of Xander Bogaerts and, at that point, coping with the uncertainty surrounding Rafael Devers’s future, Chaim Bloom appeared on Rob Bradford’s podcast and made a curious statement:

“I thought last year we had more talent in the room than we did in 2021; I think this year we’re going to have more talent in the room than we did in 2021,” said the embattled Bloom. In light of the fact that the Red Sox had just finished in last place in the AL East and let their most productive player walk without replacing him, the statement raised some questions, questions like: “What room is Bloom actually talking about ? Did he get lost and end up in the wrong room? Does he use some more expansive definition of the word “room” that rejects the traditional concept of four walls and a roof?”

Of course, the fact that the 2022 Red Sox won 14 fewer games than the 2021 version does not necessarily mean that it wasn’t a more talented team (though, yeah, it probably does). After all, players under perform, players get injured, and weird things happen over the course of 162 games. The fact is that the 2021 and 2022 rosters were extremely similar, and I suppose one could argue that Trevor Story, Michael Wacha, and Rich Hill theoretically represented a talent upgrade over Hunter Renfroe, Kyle Schwarber, and Eduardo Rodriguez (though, yeah, probably not).

But put the 2021 team aside for now. Let’s talk about 2023. Is there more talent in the room today than there was at the start of the offseason? Let’s start by looking at something really simple: a comparison of the players who left this past offseason with the slate of players who replaced them, sorted by 2022 fWAR. For now, we’ll leave out people like Christian Vazquez and only look at players who were on the roster on the last day of the season, in order to solely view this through the lens of offseason improvement.

fWAR analysis of the 2022-2023 Red Sox offseason.

Well, would you look at that. By fWAR, at least, the totality of this offseason’s moves did improve the Boston Red Sox, if only very slightly. Now, there are a couple of caveats to consider here. The first is with respect to that number next to Masataka Yoshida’s name. Yoshida, obviously, didn’t play big league baseball in 2022, so I plugged in his FanGraphs 2023 projected WAR there; but, frankly, we have absolutely no idea whether he’ll be that productive. The second caveat is that fWAR is its own formula, with its own quirks, and its own advantages and disadvantages. I used it here because, in a moment, we’re going to switch to projections. But, had I used bWAR, the results would actually be significantly different:

bWAR analysis of the 2022-2023 Red Sox offseason.

Well, huh. fWAR is much more excited about the Red Sox contingent of incoming players than bWAR is, though, interestingly, both fWAR and bWAR view the outgoing players almost exactly equally in the totality. What does this tell us? Well, other than the fact that no one should ever use WAR as gospel given that the various versions of it can view things so differently, it tells us that, in all likelihood, the Red Sox only improved slightly at best this offseason, and may have actually gotten a bit worse.

But, of course, the 10 offseason acquisitions I’ve listed above do not represent the only personnel changes we’ll see on the 2023 Red Sox. The reason that four starting pitchers are listed as departing while only one is listed as incoming isn’t because Bloom is planning on going with a radical two-man rotation, but because he’s replacing those pitchers with a number of in-house options who, for one reason or another, weren’t regular starters last year: Chris Sale, James Paxton, Brayan Bello, and Garrett Whitlock. Likewise, the above analysis of incoming players doesn’t account for a graduating prospect like Triston Casas.

So let’s do this again. This time, instead of just looking at incoming and outgoing players, we’ll view the roster more holistically, looking the last year’s outgoing regulars versus this year’s projected regulars, including both incoming new faces, and holdovers from last year who will be given bigger roles. And here, rather than looking at 2022 fWAR totals (which would vastly under-credit Bello, Casas, and others who didn’t play a whole season) we’ll look at FanGraphs projections for 2023.

So here we go. On the right, you’ll see a list of 19 players (10 pitchers, 9 hitters) who semi-regularly played for the 2022 Red Sox, but who will likely not be regularly playing for the 2023 Red Sox, either because they are no longer in the organization or have been bumped down the depth chart. On the left are the 19 players (again, 10 pitchers, 9 hitters) most likely to replace their innings. And to reiterate: the fWAR numbers here are their respective projections for 2023.

fWAR projections for 2023.

Now that is a meaningful difference — an increase of 10 wins by fWAR. What’s the key takeaway here? There a couple, but the most important might be that there was A LOT of dead weight on the 2022 Red Sox. Of the 19 players jettisoned this offseason, 12 of them are projected to produce less than half of a win in 2023. Of the 19 players replacing their innings in 2023, only 4 are projected to be so unproductive.

The Red Sox did not bring in a hitter with talent comparable to Xander Bogaerts this offseason, nor did they bring in a pitcher with talent comparable to Nate Eovaldi. But what they attempted to do was upgrade by (1) making incremental improvements up and down the roster, (2) graduating two promising prospects in Bello and Casas, and (3) crossing their fingers and hoping that Chris Sale and James Paxton can combine for more than 5.2 innings pitched this year.

So, is there more talent in the room this year? We’ll see. For one thing, you could argue that Sale and Paxton were both in the room last year, they were just, like, hiding under a table or something; and in that sense, maybe you think “let’s improve our rotation by hoping that two oft-injured, aging starters don’t get injured this year” isn’t really a responsible team-building strategy. And further, you could point out that even an improvement of 10 wins from last year would only make the 2023 Red Sox a marginal postseason contender — had Bloom made most of the same upgrades on the margin, but retained Xander Bogaerts instead of acquiring Adam Duvall, while signing someone like Carlos Rodon instead of Corey Kluber, we’d likely be looking at something more along the lines of a 15-win improvement.

But still, the room does appear to be more talented, even if that talent is dispersed amongst of a bunch of relievers, a few kids, and two pitchers who haven’t produced at a big league level in years. It remains to be seen, though, whether there’s enough talent in the room for the fanbase to want to hang out in there as well.