Boston Red Sox spring training has been less than impressive

FT. MYERS, FL - FEBRUARY 27: Jackie Bradley Jr. #19 of the Boston Red Sox walks during the inning of a Grapefruit League game against the Philadelphia Phillies on February 27, 2020 at jetBlue Park at Fenway South in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
FT. MYERS, FL - FEBRUARY 27: Jackie Bradley Jr. #19 of the Boston Red Sox walks during the inning of a Grapefruit League game against the Philadelphia Phillies on February 27, 2020 at jetBlue Park at Fenway South in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /

The Boston Red Sox haven’t looked good in spring training and there are signs that point to the upcoming season being even worse than previously thought.

Before everyone starts in on me, yes, I know that “it’s only spring training” and that “these games don’t matter.” Let’s also add “you can’t tell anything from spring training” (which I don’t necessarily agree with) and “their record in spring training can’t predict how they’ll do once the season starts.” Any more? Now that we’ve got all of that out of the way and taking all of that into consideration, I’ll cut right to the chase: so far, the Red Sox have been less than impressive in Ft. Myers.

For the sake of keeping this article manageable, let’s first focus on the span of 2016 to 2019 which is when the young homegrown core of this team (Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley, Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, and Christian Vazquez) blossomed together and had their greatest success. Below are the Red Sox spring training records as well as their final regular season records and results during this period.

2016: Spring training: 14-18 (12th place), Regular season: 93-69 (1st place, lost ALDS 3-0)
2017: Spring training: 18-14 (4th place), Regular season: 93-69 (1st place, lost ALDS 3-1)
2018: Spring training: 22-9 (1st place), Regular season: 108-54 (1st place, won World Series)
2019: Spring training: 12-17 (last place), Regular season: 84-78 (3rd place)

Obviously it’s tough to take too much away from the spring training results since the Red Sox finished toward the bottom of the Grapefruit League in 2016 and still won the AL East. In the other two years they won the division, they finished fourth and first in the Grapefruit League, though, so there is something to be said about performing well in February and March. This is lent further credence when looking at how disappointing 2019 was.

Alex Cora now infamously took it far too easy on the team during spring training last year and it showed as they started the season sluggishly and never looked right, stumbling to a last place finish in the spring and a third place finish in the regular season. With as much turmoil as the Red Sox have had this offseason, from Cora’s dismissal to trading away Betts and everything else in between, the mantra all winter from fans and the team seemed to be “let’s just get to spring training and start playing some baseball.”

Well, here we are in the second full week of Grapefruit League action and so far, the results have been less than spectacular. Before going any further, we’ll acknowledge that the first few weeks of spring training are hard to gauge because of all of the prospects, non-roster invites, and fringe players the team is interested in checking out playing. Regulars usually only get an inning or two of work in. It isn’t until roster cuts and the last week or two of games where we’re watching the actual team that’s going to start the season play.

With all of that being said, one still knows good, smart, crisp, baseball when one sees it and so far this spring, the Red Sox haven’t played much of that. As of the time of writing, they’re 4-6 and in 11th place in the Grapefruit League. In addition to the loss of Betts, David Price, Rick Porcello, and Brock Holt they’ve been without Xander Bogaerts until this week (ankle injury) and Chris Sale (pneumonia, elbow injury).

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Some prospects have looked good (Jarren Duran, Bobby Dalbec, Connor Wong), some have looked like they need more time in the minors (Jeter Downs, CJ Chatham), and while a few have looked like they might see major league action on the Opening Day roster or shortly thereafter, most have looked just okay to varying degrees with none really standing out. Eduardo Rodriguez and Nathan Eovaldi have looked great so far in their starts and the latter is only battling the chance to stay healthy as the season approaches.

Overall, though, the team has not looked good. Perhaps nothing crystallized this as much as the game against the New York Yankees on March 3. Martin Perez, who projected as the fifth starter when he was signed in December but now looks like he’ll be pressed into the third spot after the departures of Price and Porcello plus Sale’s injury, started the game and the results were less than stellar.

Perez threw 34 pitches while only recording two outs. He gave up four hits, six runs (one earned), didn’t strike anyone out, and walked a batter. He also uncorked two wild pitches. While he was let down by atrocious defense behind him, he didn’t look sharp at all with several balls hitting the dirt after traveling 55 feet (including those two wild pitches). Worse than Perez was the defensive effort behind him. CJ Chatham threw wide to home on what should have been an easy play that allowed DJ LeMahieu to score.

Tzu-Wei Lin botched a fly ball in center field. Gary Sanchez hit a weak grounder to Michael Chavis who made a lazy lob to Perez, who himself took his sweet time covering the first base bag and didn’t get there in time. Any time you let Gary Sanchez beat you down the line, it’s a bad play. Perez let in a run on one of his wild pitches and gave up a sacrifice fly to Mike Tauchman and an RBI single to LeMahieu before he was finally, mercifully pulled.

Perez didn’t pitch well (which answered the question I posed a few articles ago) and was beset by a series of bloopers, flares, and bleeders that are frustrating to deal with when you’re on the receiving end of them. That’s baseball and it happens. But he was hurt even more by the atrocious defense. This wasn’t a team of scrubs, either. Everyone in the field for the Red Sox was a major league player except for Chatham at shortstop, Duran in right field, and John Andreoli in left field.

Analytics and advanced statistics are all the rage these days in Major League Baseball, but for a true picture of how a team is doing, I still prefer to use my eyes and my brain and so far this spring, what I’ve seen has, on balance, not been good. The Red Sox are being outscored to the tune of a -14 run differential. We knew the pitching was going to be bad this season, but this is even worse than anyone could have thought.

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The Red Sox still have a LOT of talent in the field and at the plate and they’ll score a lot of runs. With this pitching staff and bullpen, though, they’re going to give up a ton of runs, too. It’s hard to draw any conclusions from spring training, but it typically does set the tone for the forthcoming season and based on what we’ve seen in Ft. Myers, it’s going to be a long summer.