A pair of Red Sox infielders are among MLB’s fearsome twosomes
The pair of infielders join a star-studded list that includes former Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts, who ranks No. 2 along with Dodgers teammate Cody Bellinger. Sticking in the Los Angeles area, Angels outfielder Mike Trout and third baseman Anthony Rendon top the list of baseball’s best tandems.
The addition of George Springer, who was once rumored to be a free-agent target of the Red Sox, has launched the Blue Jays to the No. 7 spot with their new center fielder pairing with shortstop Bo Bichette. Toronto was the only AL East team to rank ahead of Boston. The Yankees were ninth with Aaron Judge and DJ LeMahieu. The Rays didn’t make the cut despite reaching the World Series last year while the Orioles remain far from consideration.
The rankings were compiled by adding the projected Wins Above Replacement totals for the two best position players on each team. That explains why Boston’s star infielders didn’t climb higher on this list despite ranking in the top two spots in the American League in extra-base hits when we last had a full season in 2019.
The bats of Bogaerts and Devers have the potential to be among the most feared duos in the league but WAR encompasses more than their production at the plate. Neither is a significant threat on the base paths but it’s their defense that keeps them out of the elite tier. Devers is a butcher with the glove, leading the league in errors over the past two seasons while ranking among the worst at his position in defensive runs saved. Bogaerts is probably better than he’s given credit for in the field but his -19 DRS over the last two seasons remains abysmal.
Even when accounting for their defensive shortcomings, the WAR projections appear to be on the conservative side. Bogaerts is projected for only 4.2 WAR despite that he’s topped that figure three times in his career, including a career-high 5.9 WAR in 2019. His 1.5 WAR in only 56 games during last year’s shortened season put him on pace to top it again.
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Devers is projected for a slightly higher 4.3 WAR which is a bit head-scratching considering his defensive limitations hold him back even more than they do for Bogaerts. Devers posted a career-high 4.9 WAR in 2019, well short of his teammate’s. Devers regressed in all facets of the game last year while producing only 0.6 WAR. We know the upside he possesses though and his bat has the ability to make him the best in the lineup .
Bogaerts dealt with an ankle injury that hindered his production last season but he’s healthy now. Devers showed up to summer camp out of shape following several months in quarantine but we fully expect him to bounce back with a normal spring training to prepare for a full season. It would hardly be a shock if either player exceeds their WAR projection this year.
If we used their 2019 production instead of the projections, Bogaerts and Devers would have a combined 10.8 WAR that would rank third on MLB.com’s best tandems list. Granted, the projections are conservative for everyone else as well – Betts and Trout each produced 10+ WAR while finishing first and second respectively on the AL MVP ballot in 2018 but neither come close in these projections. Trout leads the way with a projected 7.1 WAR while Betts is fifth with 5.7 WAR. It still goes to show the upside that these two Red Sox infielders possess and a return to their 2019 levels would bump them up this list.
Are we certain that these two infielders are Boston’s best position players? Alex Verdugo would like to have a word with the those who made that decision. His track record doesn’t quite stack up since he’s never played a full season but his 3.2 WAR in only 106 games as a rookie for the Dodgers in 2019 put him on pace to be in the same territory as Devers that year. Verdugo led the Red Sox and was sixth among AL position players with 2.2 WAR last season. If he builds on that success in a full season, Verdugo could easily set a career-high WAR that puts him in the discussion for being one half of Boston’s best tandem.
If we’re using WAR to compile these rankings then a lack of defensive value from designated hitter J.D. Martinez might keep him from cracking the list. However, he’s only a few years removed from a career-high 6.5 WAR in 2018. Martinez will benefit from the return of in-game video this season so he will quickly erase the bitter taste of last year’s dreadful results.
Skeptics remain pessimistic that the Red Sox will climb out of the basement and back into contention this year but there is no denying this roster has talent. Nearly half their lineup warrants consideration for being the team’s best position player and their top two will end up being among the best tandems in the majors this year.