Red Sox left side defense could be a season-long issue

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The Boston Red Sox may be faced with defensive limitations on the left side including the outfield if J.D. Martinez plays a bit in left field.

Location!  Location! Location! That is the secret or not so secret to selling real estate and it also applies to baseball.  For a pitcher with poor location, you have a WHIP that starts to touch on 2.00 coupled with constantly pitching behind in counts. For a hitter, the location within the lineup can be key to success as is knowing the zone for hitting.  But for today the location I speak of is the field.

In 2017 the Red Sox were first in the American League in defense and as with all statistics there are certain elements attached that can weigh the team figures – just think Mookie Betts, but that aside this was a solid group. Dustin Pedroia was outstanding before his knee crippled his range.  Mitch Moreland is a former Gold Glove winner. Jackie Bradley can be a highlight film and the catching tandem cuts down runners and is among the tops in the AL at framing pitches. But there are deficiencies.

Rafael Devers can hit and then hit some more.  I look for Devers to have a great year to be followed by a monster year.  This lad is going to make a pile of money, but not with his glove. Is he awful? Depends on what awful is? Is he Butch Hobson? Now Hobson was awful. Devers managed 14 errors in just 507.2 innings. That is not tightening up the “D” late in a close contest.

The Red Sox brought in Mike Lowell to help tutor Devers this spring.  Alex Cora and the rest of the infield staff gave the kid some lessons, but Devers entire career has been one where improvement is minimal.  Hard work is an attribute and Devers certainly applies himself, but, face it, he is a DH or first baseman in the making.

Devers’ partner in infield defensive crime is Xander Bogaerts. Bogaerts is an acceptable defensive shortstop who hovers around neutral on UZR.  In 2017 it was a -1.7 UZR/150 with a -11 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). This was not unusual in XB’s career. The previous season it was -10 DRS with the makeup being a Silver Slugger Award.

J.D. Martinez wishes to have some playing time in the outfield and that wish will be granted.  I am sure pitchers will enjoy the potential for and undoubtedly eventually witness defensive lapses.  Last season playing exclusively in right field Martinez was -5 DRS and a dramatic improvement over -22 DRS from 2016.  Martinez also “improved” with a -14.8 UZR/150 down from -21.5 of the previous season.

Right field at Fenway Park can be an adventure for even the best of the best so Martinez will venture into left field for his positional time. That would place some serious shortcomings defensively on the left side. But Martinez, Devers, and Bogaerts can do one thing exceptionally well – hit. Of course, one must assume Bogaerts will get his average into the .300 range and start to power up.

The Red Sox management and manager Cora do not reside in a vacuum unaware of the defensive liabilities. The key will be getting a lead and having the gloves available off the bench to create a defensive noose.  Just who it will be is open for debate but Deven Marrero is the obvious choice when one thinks glove, but that is now gone. I wish him well.

The outfield may be a bit of a challenge especially if Blake Swihart slides into some type of utility role that requires outfield duty. Maybe Tzu-Wei Lin will stick? What is known is the weakness I see for the latest Red Sox installment is the potential for a soft underbelly defensively on the left side.

Defensive shortcomings for the Boston Red Sox could be crucial in late game situations. This is an overall solid defensive team, but there are potential problems on the left side.

As a side note just think of an infield of Devers, Bogaerts, Eduardo Nunez and Hanley Ramirez at first base. All are negative UZR and that could be a tragic – for pitchers – defensive arrangement.

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About Rick McNair

Born in Boston and have lived in the area all my life but not as a Red Sox fan. My first game was actually at Braves Field where I saw a very young Eddie Matthews hit a home run. The Braves left and I quickly switched loyalties. I enjoy discussing the Red Sox past and the connection of that past to the present. I will often bring in remembrances of that into posts. As a retired teacher I have the time to occasional travel to foreign baseball soil and love meeting up with other fans of RSN on the road. I am also a fan of the NY Football Giants (via NJ) - a dwindling breed in Massachusetts.
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