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Boston Red Sox v Baltimore Orioles

Monday Morning Brushback: Perfectly Balanced

The Red Sox week in review dives into Jarren Duran, Ryan Brasier, and relative power.

Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

If there’s one thing you can call the 2023 Red Sox one month into the campaign, it’s consistent.

That consistency might be rooted in their inconsistency, sure, but that’s still a steady track record. At the time of publication on this esteemed and renowned website, Boston sits at 15-14. Through the highs and lows, amid the breakouts and the injuries, the team enters the new week where they started it: just about Even-Steven.

With the team treading water, there came positive and negative outcomes—outcomes that I’d like to take a look at with all you fine peeps.

It’s Monday Morning Brushback time, y’all.

It Can Only Be Jarren

Cleveland Guardians v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

The 2022 version of me would be shocked if he could read what 2023 me is about to type: I’ve been truly impressed by what I’ve seen from Jarren Duran so far this year.

Flashback to last summer: after some uninspiring stretches at the plate and multiple defensive gaffes that were straight up embarrassing—no other word for it, they were truly embarrassing—the stonks on Mr. Duran were about as low as they could go. Hell, I’ll be the first to admit that I stated as much on Twitter:

Now here we are at the start of May, as Jarren Duran’s OPS sits north of 1.000 and his defense has been steady. It’s like I’ve been watching an entirely different player. I know it’s been a small sample size of work—he’s only had around 50 plate appearances—but it’s been an encouraging sample nevertheless.

So, what’s changed?

For starters, a peek at his Savant page shows many offensive metrics on the up and up. Average exit velocity, launch angle, barrel rate, hard hit rate, whiff rate you name it: almost everything has been taking a turn for the better. The hard hit rate—the percentage of balls put into play that leave the bat at 95 MPH or more—has been at around 60%! Your eyes haven’t been deceiving you: he’s hit a ton of balls on the freakin’ screws since becoming more of a consistent presence in the lineup.

Part of that could be his improved discipline when he’s in the box. He’s cut the rate at which he swings at pitches outside of the zone by about 10%, down to roughly a fifth of the time. You can see he’s working for his pitch and attacking when it’s offered to him. Patience is, indeed, a virtue. Drawing walks hasn’t been a part of his game (he’s only getting a free pass about 5% of the time) but when you’re turnin’ and burnin’ on a pitch in the zone, who needs walks?!?

I also want to highlight improvements that Jarren’s made off the field. He said that during his struggles last season, he was reluctant to open up and ask for help from those around him in the clubhouse. Now, after noting the support he’s received from his teammates, here he is: setting the world on fire and forcing the team’s hand to keep him in the lineup. The lesson here: sometimes, progress isn’t completely linear.

Of course, some of these stats aren’t going to be sustainable. Jarren Duran will not become the next guy to hit .400 in a season. A damn near 200 OPS+ over the course of a year is something you’d expect from an MVP. But Duran still deserves his kudos. Having a speedy left-handed bat to utilize in the outfield could be a very helpful tool for the Red Sox going forward—a tool that could be even more valuable if Jarren continues to build on the improvements he’s made thus far.

Enough is Enough

Cleveland Guardians v Boston Red Sox Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Look, I really don’t like to fully shit on players who have reached the highest level of this incredibly difficult sport—even when they struggle. I know that the margin for error in baseball is razor thin. I understand that anyone who puts on a jersey and takes the field in a Major League Baseball game is part of the *Bernie Sanders voice* top 1% of the top 1% of the top 1% of people who have ever picked up a bat or a glove. These are real people, with real family members and real friends supporting them as they chase their dreams on the diamond. These realities are not lost on me.

With all of that said, why has Ryan Brasier not yet been claimed off waivers by the Guangdong Tigers?

I can’t do this anymore, man. My patience for Ryan Brasier coming out of the bullpen has not just run thin—it has run to the point where it is nonexistent. I cannot sanction this buffoonery.

For those keeping track at home, Brasier has coughed up 13 earned runs in 14 innings pitched. The 4.72 FIP (fielding independent pitching if ya didn’t know; you read it as if it’s ERA, but it basically accounts for the things that a pitcher can control such as walks and strikeouts) doesn’t exactly bail him out; the same goes for the 57 ERA+ and 6.84 xERA. He’s striking out hitters at a considerably worse rate than before while issuing close to three times as many walks. He’s followed up posting a 46.5% hard hit rate last year—which was good for the bottom 3% in all of baseball—by actually allowing MORE hard hit balls on a per-AB basis a month into the 2023 season.

Ryan Brasier is a bad pitcher. He has been a bad pitcher for quite some time now. I think it’s time to end the experiment with him.

What, exactly, do the Red Sox see in him at this juncture? It’s not like he’s getting completely unlucky whenever he takes to the bump. The stuff he offers is crappy: his fastball, which he throws basically half of the time, has consistently sat dead red. It’s not like he’s inducing bad swings with it, either: opposing hitters are posting an expected batting average of around .350 and an expecting slugging percentage of close to .600 when they see the heater. The gas isn’t so good that he can locate it anywhere and not have to worry. Yet he still leaves the pitch on a goddamn platter, as if he’s practically begging opposing hitters to send it to Jupiter.

It’s telling when you feel nervous about someone coming onto the mound with a four run cushion. . . and then your fears are immediately justified when the worst-case scenario comes to pass. That’s exactly what happened on Saturday: Brasier entered the game against Cleveland with a 6-2 lead before loading the bases. Josh Naylor then drove a trio of Guardians in, all runners inherited from Brasier by John Schreiber.

Ryan Brasier turns 36-years-old in August. He’s in his contract year, making $2 million as the club has an estimated $14 million in competitive balance tax space remaining. What is the incentive of keeping him in the mix? That’s a serious question: am I missing something here? Is there no one else in the organization who could even adequately fit into his role?

I’m out on Braiser. . . although I did say that last year about Jarren Duran, so I’m expecting a fantastic 2024 from the reliever.

Power’s All Relative

Cleveland Guardians v Boston Red Sox Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

I was doin’ a lil’ perusin’ while writing this and stumbled upon an interesting stat from ESPN: the Boston Red Sox, somehow, are the second strongest team in baseball based on their power rankings????

The Worldwide Leader in Sports’ Relative Power Index places the Sox at .555, just behind Tampa Bay’s mark of .560. That seems pretty good to me!

It world probably help if you knew how it was calculated. Per ESPN: “The basic formula is 25% team winning percentage, 50% opponents’ average winning percentage, and 25% opponents’ opponents’ average winning percentage.” No word either way on if opponents’ opponents’ opponents’ opponents’ opponents’ opponents’ opponents’ opponents’ average winning percentage is taken into account, though.

Despite the hiccups and injuries, the Red Sox are hanging in there against some good competition. They’ve played half of the teams in playoff position entering play on Sunday, all while being in the top 5 (or bottom, depending how you look at it) in runs scored and runs allowed. Point is: it’s been a weird way to start the year, but Boston has the ability to hang around. I don’t think anyone would be calling this team a top ten (never mind top two) team in the league, but the Sox haven’t fallen so far back of the pack.

Yet that makes some of the inconsistencies that much more annoying, no? We’ve seen sloppy openings from the starting pitching, leading to late comeback attempts that fell just short time and time again in April. If the Sox can just get some more consistency—quality consistency, not the constant of inconsistency that I mentioned at the top—then maybe then can start to make that ESPN RPI rating look like the real article.

Let’s hope they take those first steps towards consistency in May.

Song Of The Week: “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)” by Pete Rock and CL Smooth

Enjoy this certified classic of East Coast hip-hop to start your week. That word gets thrown around a lot—”classic”—but there’s no other way to describe this track. Pete Rock’s production, CL Smooth’s storytelling, all of it is sensational. This is an absolutely beautiful song to honor the memory of a close friend of theirs. It’s been over 30 years since this song was released and it still sounds fresh—the very definition of “timeless.”

Same time and same place next week my friends. Go Sox.

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