Restructured Red Sox outfield has early positive results
By Rick McNair
For the Boston Red Sox fans, the rewarding 2018 season and a championship were not that long ago. The driving force was a great outfield that posted an American League best 23.9 WAR. Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, and Jackie Bradley Jr. were the core of the outfield bringing superb hitting and exceptional defense.
J.D. Martinez occasionally wandered into the outfield and did have 493 innings; defensively, the best one can say is Martinez could hit. Sam Travis (who?) and Blake Swihart also got some innings, but neither would be considered significant contributors.
The original trio was a memory in just four seasons, and the outfield performance degraded, especially on defense. The 1.9 WAR and -2.5 UZR/150 were painful, especially to watch. The outfield sunk to 14th place in the AL.
The outfield is now back and with a vengeance. The Sox top the AL with a 4.6 WAR, but the downside is defensive, they are statistically a bit shaky with a -0.7 UZR/150 and a -6 Defensive Runs Saved, but I am sure RSN will take it over the plunge of 2022.
Time for a Chaim Bloom kudo on this turnaround. I see three factors: first, the signing of Japanese star Masataka Yoshda to a five-year deal at $90 M, panned by "experts" for doing so. I have a baseball friend in Japan who raved about Yoshida and compared him to Ichiro Suzuki as a hitter. I'll hold judgment on that one.
Red Sox's resurging outfield is contributing, and Bloom can take a bow
The second factor was another of the typical Bloom signings of one year, and that was Adam Duvall to an incentive-loaded deal that could reach $10 million. Duvall is 34 years old and did not prosper in 2022 with a 12/36/.213 line.
The third factor is either faith or executive stubbornness, which means Jarren Duran. What happened? Is this a hot streak by a mediocre player? Is it an example of a highly valued prospect achieving his potential late? Even Duran's wobbly defense has improved, and his speed is of plus quality, and he shows it. Does Boston finally have a Jacoby Elsbury clone?
The third factor has become instrumental with the departure of Duvall to a hustle injury, and it presents a pleasant dilemma when Duvall returns. BSI's Zander Manning covers that.
More outfield pluses for Bloom are acquiring replacements off the baseball scrap pile. Last season right-hand hitting Rob Refsnyder was brought in and hit .307, and Refsnyder remains, and Bloom brought in a lefty counterpart in Raimel Tapia. The lefty-hitting Tapia provides an excellent balance, and Tapia is no slouch against lefty hurlers, with a .279 career average against southpaws.
The last piece in the outfield is Alex Verdugo, who has become Mr. Walkoff. Verdugo is this close to becoming a star player, which may have happened this year. Has Verdugo finally become Mike Greenwell?
The Red Sox have other outfield options, most notably Enrique Hernández, of whom circumstance has forced him to play short. I observed that Hernández is a career .239 hitter, but it seems dangerous .239.
My personal Bloom monitor has slid from a plus to a neutral, but as some of his moves gain traction, that can change. The outfield reconstruction has been a positive, and it could be skill, luck, or both.
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