What will it take for the Red Sox to repeat as World Series champions? A lot. But what skill can we expect to be duplicated from last year’s team? Their defense.
What does it take to repeat for any major sports title? A lot! Every year it feels like the analysis of the championship team has a specific stat that jumps out as the reason that specific team won it all or a player who plays above and beyond their ability. Just look at the 2013 Red Sox World Series team. Almost that same team came back the next year and stunk up the joint.
So I got to thinking, what is the most important part of the 2018 Boston Red Sox team that must continue into 2019? The offense? It should produce similar numbers to last year but I won’t be surprised if the production dips a little. The pitching? Reasonable, but a bullpen without a closer is such an unknown that even if the starters hold up, games could still be lost. Just ask Jacob DeGrom how frustrating last year was for him.
The one aspect of a baseball game that can be an equalizer to help you win a game if your offense is struggling or your pitchers are out of sync, is your defense. Yes, you still need to score more than your opponent to win games. But how many runs do you need? A pitcher isn’t always going to throw a 2 seamer where it needs to be, or he might hang a curve that’s smashed into the gap.
More from Red Sox News
- Boston Red Sox setting Trevor Story up for failure amidst Xander Bogaert departure
- Red Sox missed perfect free-agent signing to torment Yankees
- Red Sox finally get validation after Andrew Benintendi-White Sox contract
- Red Sox fans’ concern about Justin Turner signing speaks volumes
- Latest Red Sox-Rafael Devers contract update might be final straw for fans
Your defense can turn that smashed ball from a double into an out. Or turn a double or triple into an out because your outfielder threw him out trying to advance an extra base.
Over the last few years, as Red Sox fans, we’ve been lucky enough to witness some of the greatest defensive plays this decade. Between Jackie Bradley Jr. in center, Mookie Betts in right field, and who can forget Andrew Benintendi in game 4 of the ALCS. We’ve been awed on a regular basis. So how good were the Boston Red Sox in 2018 in catching a ball in play? Pretty good.
Like most stats in baseball people have their preferences. I hate fielding percentage because its based on an opinion stat. I like Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR). UZR attempts to show how many runs saved or allowed a specific player had for their team. As usual, I prefer to go to Fangraphs.com when I need an explanation of a stat or to see how it’s calculated. And seeing as they even admit that the UZR calculation is hard to explain here is the definition and a link to the Fangraphs UZR page.
"UZR puts a run value to defense, attempting to quantify how many runs a player saved or gave up through their fielding prowess (or lack thereof)."
Instead of looking at team total rankings I looked at position by position to make sure that one position didn’t weigh down the production of the other 8 positions.
The 2018 Red Sox were the only team to have all three starting outfielders in the top 5 in UZR for their respective positions.
LF-Andrew Benintendi was 5th among left fielders with a UZR of 5.2.
CF- Jackie Bradley Jr. was 2nd among center fielders with a UZR of 7.4.
RF- Mookie Betts was 1st among right fielders with a UZR of 15.3.
Third Base- To no one’s surprise, third base was a box of chocolates for the Red Sox. You never knew what you were gonna get from game to game. Rafael Devers was 15th in MLB with a -4.5 UZR. Eduardo Nunez filled in at points but he was just as inconsistent as Devers.
Shortstop- Xander Bogaerts was 11th in MLB with a UZR of 1.1.
Second base- The real question mark for the Red Sox because they ended the year with Ian Kinsler at second base and he had a UZR of 9.7. This year he’s in San Diego. Second base this year will depend on the health of Dustin Pedroia, who even when not at his best offensively, still is a wizard with the glove. In Pedroia’s last fully healthy season he was second in UZR at 8.9.
Catcher- According to Fangraphs, catcher defense can’t be measured by UZR for a myriad of reasons they detail here. In my opinion, the Red Sox are fine at catcher. Sandy Leon does a great job calling a game and Christian Vazquez has a cannon of an arm.
Now, how do these numbers stack up with the rest of the league?
Only two other teams have more than 4 players in the top 10 in UZR at any position (Atlanta and Cleveland have 5). That essentially tells me that the Red Sox had and will have one of the best defensive teams in all of baseball.
In my opinion, defense is a skill that doesn’t just go away. A major league ballplayer doesn’t forget how to read a ball off the bat. And the age of most of the fielders for the Red Sox is so young that their skill shouldn’t start to deteriorate yet.
There is even a chance the defense gets better because their worst position, third base, will be manned by Rafael Devers who should get better defensively with another year under his belt.
At the end of the day, the 2019 Red Sox are primed to have another stellar year. Sure the Red Sox bullpen might take years off our lives if they don’t find a serviceable closer, but they should score enough to win most games.
Even if they don’t score as much as last year, their defense should make up for that. And if it does, then we will be riding the duck boats again come October celebrating back to back World Series championships.