May 17, 2024, 06:28AM

Red Sox Mirage

The team’s pitching is excellent (so far), but overuse of the bullpen and a mediocre offense will doom the team this year.

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About one-quarter of the way through the 2024 Major League Baseball season, the Boston Red Sox are an okay team. The Sox began the season with low expectations. MLB.com, FanGraphs, and others had the team finishing last in the American League East for the third consecutive season. As of Thursday, May 16, the team was 22-21 after playing 43 of its 162 regular season games. Enjoy this decent Red Sox baseball while it lasts because eventually the team will falter.

Here’s a quick synopsis: stellar pitching, decent offense, suspect fielding, and a lot of injuries. The Red Sox had by far the lowest ERA through 43 games (2.74). That's great. Pitching coach Andrew Bailey deserves credit for coming into an organization that had a below-average pitching staff last year and helping make this possible. But there are problems. The team's poor defense means it gives up many unearned runs—particularly earlier in the season. More importantly, there’s little indication that the guys performing well for the Sox can keep up their elite numbers.

Kutter Crawford and Tanner Houck are both excellent this season. Crawford had a 2.24 ERA through nine starts, while Houck sported a 2.17 ERA. Other pitchers like reliever Greg Weissert (1.53 ERA in 18 games), Brennan Bernardino (0.50 ERA in 16 games), Justin Slaten (2.05 ERA in 14 games), Cooper Criswell (2.10 ERA in six games, including five starts) have unreal numbers this season.

Maybe the Red Sox lucked out, and every one of those players is in a crazy breakout season. I have no doubt they’re competent big leaguers, but this pace is historically excellent. No MLB team has sustained an ERA that low while competing in a league that had the designated hitter in place. The last team to finish a season with an ERA of 2.75 or lower was the 1981 Houston Astros. That was a National League team in a strike-shortened season that ate up most of the summer—the time when MLB offense peaks. That starting pitching staff also had two Hall of Famers: Don Sutton and Nolan Ryan.\

Injuries also present the Red Sox with another problem: bullpen overuse. Earlier this month, the team had Cooper Criswell and Josh Winckowski pitching abbreviated starts and bullpen games every fifth day, putting extra miles on their later-inning arms. Criswell typically goes, at most, five innings, but Winckowski gave the team even less. The bullpen should receive more rest with Brayan Bello and Nick Pivetta back in the rotation. They’re both competent big-league starting pitchers, but the team cannot undo the innings it already put on its relievers' arms.

Couple that with a troubled starting lineup, and one can see why many predicted the Red Sox were a last-place team before the season began. Injuries to Trevor Story, an injury-prone power-hitting shortstop, and Triston Casas, a strange dude who nonetheless hit 24 home runs in his first full season, weaken their lineup.

With designated hitter Masataka Yoshida also down, the team's first baseman and DH, Garrett Cooper and Dominic Smith, are two players other big league clubs didn't want. The team hasn’t found an answer at second base. Players like Enmanuel Valdez and Pablo Reyes, who got time at the position early in the year, are now in Triple-A. The team's $50 million man, Ceddanne Rafaela, clearly on the team for his defense, had an abysmal .239 on-base percentage through 43 games. With SS Story out for the season, Rafaela is the team's best option, but the move hurts the Red Sox offensively.

Catcher Connor Wong is showing he can hit, and Rafael Devers, the highest-paid player in team history, will likely blast more home runs as the season progresses. One-quarter of the way through the year, the team ranked eighth among 15 American League teams in runs scored—a metric aided by one 19-run game last month. The lineup was also better earlier in the season, especially when factoring in outfielder Tyler O'Neill's hot start. (He’s since become a strikeout machine.)

The Sox also face tougher competition as the season progresses. The team lucks out as two of its n Tampa Bay Rays and St. Louis Cardinals. As of Monday, their next 122 scheduled games are the seventh-toughest schedule out of 30 MLB teams, according to Tankathon. The Red Sox notably have 10 games remaining against the Baltimore Orioles and 13 against the New York Yankees, the two best teams in the American League East.

None of this is to say the Red Sox are a terrible team; they’re just somewhat worse than their record shows.


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