Boston Red Sox infield defense is a concern


The Boston Red Sox may have one of the best defensive outfield alignments in the game, but the infield could become a major concern.

How do you improve a pitching staff that ranked next to last in the league last season? Well one way is by getting better pitchers, which the Boston Red Sox have accomplished by making significant upgrades to the rotation and bullpen. Another way is by improving the defense that supports them.

The Red Sox are set to deploy what may be the best defensive outfield in the game with a trio that averaged 18 defensive runs saved per 1,200 innings last season. There won’t be many fly balls falling in for base hits with these guys patrolling the outfield, which will frustrate many opposing hitters that helplessly watch from the plate as they are robbed by another impressive defensive gem.

The infield is an entirely different story, one that poses a significant concern for the Red Sox.

More from Red Sox News

Removing Hanley Ramirez from left field was bound to drastically improve the outfield no matter who the Red Sox replaced him with, but moving him to first base may have the opposite effect on the infield. Ramirez is learning a new position for the second straight year and we don’t need to remind you how poorly that turned out last time. The transition should be smoother this time given that he is a natural infielder, but he was never particularly good as a shortstop or third baseman earlier in his career.

The last time Ramirez saw significant time at third was 2012, when he cost his team 11 runs with his glove. Perhaps he’ll find first base to be easier than the hot corner, but he is also older now, has gained weight at the expense of his athleticism and is admittedly reluctant to dive after ground balls out of concern for his surgically repaired shoulder. Not to mention that we have no idea how quickly he will learn the basics of scooping balls out of the dirt or when he’s responsible for covering first instead of the pitcher.

Across the diamond we’ll find Pablo Sandoval returning at third base, where he was arguably the worst defensive player in the majors at the position last season. Among players whose primary position was third base, Sandoval ranked dead last with -11 defensive runs saved in 2015. While he showed improvement as the season progressed, we can’t expect him to return to being even an average defensive player unless he sheds a few of those panda pounds.

Xander Bogaerts has made tremendous strides to bounce back from a rookie year where his struggles led the Red Sox to question if he could remain at shortstop. He’s proven that he can handle the position, but he’s not winning any Gold Gloves yet either. Bogaerts committed only 11 errors last season for a .984 field percentage that ranked second among American League shortstops, while he also ranked 4th with a 1.0 DWAR. He ended up with a zero in the defensive runs saved column, which puts him right around league average. Going forward we can consider Bogaerts to be a bit above-average defensively with room to grow.

More from BoSox Injection

The strength of the infield has always been Dustin Pedroia up the middle, but even the former Gold Glove winner showed signs of slipping last year. Injuries limited the second baseman to only 92 games in the field, over which time he posted a career-low -3 defensive runs saved and a .986 fielding percentage that is the lowest he has recorded since his brief call-up to begin his career in 2006. It won’t be easy for the 32-year old to return to the level we are used to seeing from him considering second baseman historically have not aged well, particularly those that play the game as hard as Pedroia does. Staying healthy will continue to be a challenge, while there is significant risk that his defensive skills will further deteriorate even if he can stay on the field.

How much of an effect will poor infield defense have on the Red Sox pitching staff? It may not be as much of a burden for a guy like David Price that strikes out a lot of hitters, but it is a concern for ground ball pitchers like Rick Porcello. The career-low 45.7 percent ground ball rate that Porcello produced last season falls well short of his career average of 51.3 percent, but if he returns to his previous form of keeping the ball down in the zone to induce weak grounders then it will leave him at the mercy of the defensive players behind him.

Clay Buchholz also has a relatively high ground ball percentage of 48.7, but he at least offsets that with a higher strikeout rate. The same can be said for the team’s newest reliever, Carson Smith, who was the only pitcher last season with a minimum of 50 innings pitched to post a ground ball rate of at least 60 percent and a strikeout rate of at least 32 percent.

Next: Red Sox players that can't miss and did

A solid defense can make a good pitcher look great and a mediocre one passable. We know the outfielders will do their part, but the quality of the infield defense remains a concern entering the season. The Red Sox have done a tremendous job of upgrading this pitching staff, but it may all be for naught if their defense lets them down.