Fixing the Boston Red Sox defensive problem


A good defense is an underrated aspect of building a baseball team. A good defense can make a pitching staff look better and make spectacular plays to rob the opposition of runs. Defense helps win games.

The Boston Red Sox do not have a good defense.

The Red Sox rank near the bottom of the league with -14 Defensive Runs Saved, according to data provided by Baseball Info Solutions. While not everyone on the roster has contributed to this poor mark, there are a couple of glaring holes that are dragging the team down and costing Boston wins.

It starts with Hanley Ramirez, who rates as the worst defensive player at any position in the majors with -15 DRS. Moving to left field was expected to be an adjustment for the converted infielder, but halfway through the season Ramirez still doesn’t look comfortable out there. He misreads routes, he still hasn’t figured out how to play the ball off of the Green Monster at Fenway Park, and he appears lackadaisical in the outfield. It’s time for this experiment to end.

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But then where do you put him? You can’t take his bat out of the lineup, considering he leads the team in home runs and RBI. Ramirez’s .827 OPS trails only Alejandro De Aza among Red Sox hitters, but De Aza has only played 26 games since joining the team. Ramirez has to play, it’s just a matter of finding a better place to play him at.

That’s where the other glaring hole comes in. Ramirez may be the worst in the majors with his glove, but Pablo Sandoval isn’t far behind. The third baseman rates as the third worst in the majors at any position with -13 DRS. He has committed 10 errors this season and his .938 fielding percentage is the second lowest at his position in the league.

Ramirez has experience at the hot corner, having played 98 games at the position in 2012 in time split between the Marlins and Dodgers. Shifting over to third base was a much easier transition for the natural shortstop than his move to the outfield has proven to be. Ramirez wasn’t very good defensively at third either, posting a -11 DRS at the position that season, but Sandoval has cost the Red Sox more runs than that already this year in only 72 games. Ramirez should be able to handle third base at least as well as Sandoval has been, while the outfield defense would improve significantly by inserting literally anyone else in left field.

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As well as Sandoval has been hitting lately, the Red Sox can’t afford to take him out of the lineup either. The solution is to move him across the diamond to first base to replace the struggling Mike Napoli. First base is considered to be an easier position to field, allowing for a smooth transition. Sandoval actually does have some experience at the position and has performed at about a league average level in 63 career games at first.

The added bonus of Sandoval being a capable first baseman is that it allows them to make the long overdue decision to sit Napoli, who is hitting below the Mendoza Line while posting a career worst .652 OPS that ranks 76th out of 85 qualified AL batters. While Napoli has played great defense during his time in Boston, he seems to have lost a step and dipped below average with -1 DRS. He has committed 5 errors this season, fourth most in the league at his position.

Sandoval wouldn’t be a significant downgrade from Napoli at first, while Ramirez could potentially be a slight upgrade at third. The Red Sox could then recall Rusney Castillo to use in left field, turning the outfield defense from a liability into a strength. Not only is he a significant upgrade defensively, but he would presumably boost the offense as well under the assumption that he can’t hit worse than Napoli has been.

With just a few changes, the Red Sox could turn their poor defense into an above average one. This will never be an elite defensive team with the roster they have put together, but with David Ortiz filling the DH role until his career winds to an end, the Red Sox are limited in how they can utilize the expensive veterans that they splurged on last winter.