Boston Red Sox
2020 Record: 24-36
Last place, AL East
Team ERA: 5.58 (28th in MLB)
Team OPS: .775 (9th in MLB)
What Went Right
It depends on your perspective. Ownership saved a boatload of cash by dealing Mookie Betts to the Dodgers, so good for them. That means nothing for fans, though. Alex Verdugo, acquired in the Betts deal, at least produced in his first season with Boston by posting a .308/.367/.478 batting line with six homers and four steals through 53 games. Xander Bogaerts put together another solid season at the plate while Christian Vazquez backed up what he did last year. Thanks to a strong finish, Jackie Bradley Jr. put together an impressive walk year. Mitch Moreland, Brandon Workman, and Kevin Pillar all enjoyed strong seasons before being traded while Bobby Dalbec showed some interesting pop in a small sample down the stretch. The Red Sox also got a solid contribution from Kevin Plawecki as Vazquez’s backup behind the plate. As for the pitching department, Nathan Eovaldi bounced back from an injury-plagued 2019 and Tanner Houck provided some long-term hope for the starting rotation.
What Went Wrong
Just about everything else. The Red Sox posted their lowest winning percentage since way back in 1965. Pitching was the biggest reason for that. As noted above, their team ERA checked in at a ghastly 5.58, with only the Rockies and Tigers doing worse. This included a 5.34 ERA from their starters and a 5.79 ERA from their bullpen. Their pitchers’ walk rate was their highest since 1996 while their rate of homers allowed was tied with the Nationals for highest in the majors. With Chris Sale done for the year after Tommy John surgery and David Price traded to the Dodgers, the Red Sox were looking to Eduardo Rodriguez to lead their paper-thin rotation, but he missed the entire season due to inflammation of his heart muscle (myocarditis) after recovering from a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. Collin McHugh had a setback with an elbow issue before ultimately opting out of the 2020 season. The Red Sox gave starts to guys like Matt Hall, Kyle Hart, Mike Kickham, and Chris Mazza. I deserve hazard pay for looking this up, really. As for the bats, Rafael Devers saw some minor regression from his breakout 2019 and J.D. Martinez completely fell off the map. Andrew Benintendi struggled before missing the remainder of the year with a rib injury, putting his future in question. Michael Chavis continued to strike out at an alarming rate while batting just .212/.259/377 with five homers over 158 plate appearances. The last-place finish resulted in the Red Sox parting ways with manager Ron Roenicke.
** To state the obvious here, 60-game samples aren’t ideal when evaluating players, but there’s no question that J.D. Martinez looked lost at the plate this year. After posting a .939 OPS with 36 homers in 2019, he struggled to the tune of a .213/.291/.389 batting line with just seven homers in 54 games. It was his lowest OPS since his final season with the Astros. While he was mashing fastballs when he was at his best, he hit just .186 against them in 2020. Martinez been known to utilize video as part of his routine, so having decreased access this year surely didn’t help matters. But Martinez seems to believe his struggles stemmed from his hip rotation. The long offseason gives him a chance to get back on track, but there’s some uncertainty here as he moves into his mid-30s.
** One thing we do know is that there’s no worries with Xander Bogaerts. His counting stats have fluctuated a bit over the past three seasons, but his .300/.364/.502 batting line this season was right in line with where preseason expectations likely were. He had a comparable follow-up in the power department in this shortened season after putting up 33 homers in 2019, but perhaps the best news was that he was able to swipe eight bases in 56 games after amassing just four in 155 games in 2019. Shortstop is a deep position and Bogaerts isn’t as flashy as some of the other players on the board, but he probably deserves more respect than he often receives from a fantasy perspective.
** Rafael Devers set the bar insanely high for himself after his monster 2019, so some regression was probably baked into the expectations for this year, but he flat-out looked like a different hitter. After bringing his strikeout rate down to 17 percent last season, he struck out at a career-high clip (27 percent) this season while delivering an underwhelming .263/.310/.483 batting line. He was more aggressive on pitches outside of the strike zone and his contact rate crashed as a result. And that’s not even touching on his defensive struggles, putting his future position into some doubt. It was a discouraging year for Devers, but the one thing we can hang our hats on is that he still hit the ball extremely hard. According to Baseball Savant, his average exit velocity was in the top-four percent in the league while his barrel percentage was in the 80th percentile.
** What to make of Andrew Benintendi at this point? After establishing himself as an early-round fantasy option in 2018, the former top prospect took a dramatic step back with a .266/.343/.431 batting line last season before going just 4-for-39 (.103) to begin 2020 before going down with a rib cage strain in mid-August. He was unable to make it back before the end of the 60-game campaign, so he’s going to enter 2021 with a lot to prove. Benintendi has never been especially potent against southpaws, but he even struggled against right-handers in 2019 and his contact rate is headed in the wrong direction. He’s never stood out in all the trendy batted ball metrics, so he’s really going to have to earn his way back into fantasy prominence.
** As noted above, Alex Verdugo had a fine debut with the Red Sox this season, batting .308/.367/.478 with six homers. 15 RBI, 36 runs scored, and four steals through 53 games. It was good enough for him to be a top-100 player in Yahoo leagues. After beginning the truncated season batting sixth and seventh in Boston’s lineup, he found a home in the leadoff spot down the stretch. We obviously have to keep the sample size in mind, but Verdugo’s strikeout rate jumped 7.4 percent compared to 2019 and he benefited from a .371 BABIP. He also didn’t stand out in areas like hard-hit percentage, barrel percentage, and average exit velocity, so his xBA actually checked in at .239. It would have been nice to see a full 162-game season, but just be careful about paying full freight based off his 2020 production.
** Nathan Eovaldi was a huge disappointment last year after returning to the Red Sox on a four-year, $68 million contract, but he was one of the bright spots for the team this year. Pushed into the Opening Day starter role with Eduardo Rodriguez sidelined, Eovaldi delivered a 3.72 ERA and 52/7 K/BB ratio in 48 1/3 innings over nine starts. He missed some time after suffering a mild calf strain in late August, but he returned with a 0.64 ERA and 19/1 K/BB ratio over three September starts. On the whole, he posted career-bests in strikeout percentage, walk percentage, and swinging strike percentage. At the very least, he’s put himself back on the map in mixed fantasy leagues.
** Maybe Tanner Houck should have been with the big club since Day One? Or maybe that means the Red Sox would actually be trying to win baseball games? Ranked as the team’s No. 10 prospect by MLB Pipeline, the 24-year-old Houck was pressed into duty in mid-September and allowed just one run in 17 innings with 21 strikeouts. This included a 10-strikeout performance against the loaded Braves to finish out the season. Houck also walked nine batters and wasn’t an especially good control pitcher in the minors, but he’s become more comfortable with his pitch mix — most notably the development of a four-seamer — and his slider is straight-up nasty. Appropriately enough, his delivery has been shown to resemble a right-handed Chris Sale. It’s easy to imagine him falling into late-round flier territory in mixed leagues in the spring. He’s someone to be excited about for Red Sox fans, at the very least.
Team Needs: A new manager, for one. There’s been plenty of focus on Alex Cora’s potential return, but chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom has been rather vague about that possibility. The Red Sox will hopefully have both Eduardo Rodriguez and Chris Sale in their rotation again at some point next year, but they still need lots of pitching help, both in the rotation and the bullpen. Depending on what happens with Jackie Bradley Jr., the outfield should also be a focus.