Red Sox offensive improvement rests with Rafael Devers, Andrew Benintendi
By Rick McNair
Can the Boston Red Sox offense continue to be a run-producing machine? Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers could provide the answer if others fall short.
The Boston Red Sox 2018 offense was a beautiful thing with a surge in run production and power that rehabilitated the lineup after a less than spectacular 2017 performance. There was no real mystery in assessing this transformation as J.D. Martinez becomes patient zero as catalysts in the resurgence.
An often repeated baseball axiom is offense feeds upon itself meaning that when one or more bats get hot the others follow suit. Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts just joined in the bashing of pitchers.
The lineup survived a catching staff that was last in the American League in offense and the ongoing orthopedic woes of a career .300 hitter that created a gaping defensive and offensive hole at second base. But that is the past and now the future awaits.
Baseball projections have a nice market niche and provide a gateway to a prediction based on an algorithm and there lies a potential wrench tossed in the offensive wheels of progress in 2019. The first projection (via Baseball-Reference) is Andrew Benintendi with a slash of .279/16/78 followed by fellow left-handed bat Rafael Devers at .257/19/61. This is not the trajectory I or just about all within the huddle known as Red Sox Nation expect. Both reflect a minor regression – amazing.
I will be critical on both – especially the mercurial potential of Devers. The 22-year-old somewhat disappointed me in 2018 with his .240 average and .229 against lefties. You can see the tease with incredible power – especially to the opposite field, but after a glorious half season in 2017 (.284), I expected more and I certainly believe I will get it this season.
Benintendi is as smooth as freshly spun silk and had put on some muscle with the hopes of adding a jolt to his power numbers. Unfortunately, that failed – his home run output actually decreased by four and the RBI total shrunk by three. Maybe I expected too much? I certainly think .247 against lefties leaves considerable room for improvement.
Devers’ problem is not exactly the baseball version of the Kothe Conjecture since his hitting sins are rudimentary baseball. Devers pitch selectivity which manager Alex Cora tried various methods with limited success to improve this aspect of Devers’ game. It is quite simplistic – when you swing and miss nothing good results. And pitchers just love to see an overly anxious batter flail away.
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Benintendi is far more polished than Devers and I am reminded of Mike Greenwell – a career .303 hitter – when Benintendi is at the plate. A swing like his you simply sit back and enjoy. I expect somewhere in his future a Silver Slugger or batting title and for Devers just maybe a run at a home run title. Devers could certainly become this generation’s, Mo Vaughn. Back to those disturbing projections.
I find the projections similar to astrology – fun to read but not take seriously. You reflect back and you observe some remarkably accurate projections counterbalanced by equally head-scratching misses. In the big picture, the importance of the two rising stars is a slack patrol. A slack patrol? What happens if someone needs to pick up the slack?
Betts went on the DL for a short span in 2018 and Martinez does have a history of being out of service – maybe not as much as the Orange Line of the MBTA, but the history is there. Players break down – ask Dustin Pedroia or Steven Wright – and that is where the potential Dynamic Duo could come to the offensive rescue.
The Red Sox expect more since the curve for young talent generally follows an upwards trajectory. Cora will also tinker with his lineup in an attempt to maximize potential. Benintendi certainly has the bat and foot speed to be just about anywhere – less so for Devers. If somewhere a fix-it-up is needed both may provide the impetus to keep the good ship Red Sox off the shoals.