After losing their manager as well as their best player, Red Sox fans haven’t had much to look forward to going into the 2020 season. At a glance, it seems as though the Red Sox are destined to play even worse than they did in their lackluster 2019 campaign. With that said, one area that I think the Red Sox should be very optimistic about is their defense. Given 2020’s unique circumstances and the newcomers on the Red Sox roster, I am here to tell you why the Red Sox defense has potential to be special despite losing a four-time gold glove winner.
Assuming that there’s a 2020 MLB season, the Red Sox will have to somehow fill the shoes of the 2018 MVP, Mookie Betts. Offensively, it will be nearly impossible to replace the mix of power, speed, and contact that Betts showcases on a daily basis. However, on the defensive side, Chaim Bloom and the Red Sox have done a great job bringing in players who can make up for the loss of Mookie. In the off-season, Kevin Pillar signed with the Red Sox. He is widely known as one of the best center fielders in baseball and he is player who is capable of playing all three outfield positions. He will also give Ron Roenicke the opportunity to move Jackie Bradley Jr. to right field in certain games, which would allow him to utilize his elite arm strength while still having an elite ball hawk in center field. Pillar will give the Red Sox outfield elite ability and versatility.
The Red Sox will also benefit from the new Universal DH rule. In the past, JD Martinez has played the outfield every so often for the Red Sox. Since they wanted him in the lineup against NL opponents, it was important that they kept JD fresh in the field by getting him outfield action fairly frequently. Although he is an amazing hitter, his fielding ability is very subpar. Martinez was even a defensive liability in 2016, the prime of his career, when he had a DRS (defensive runs saved) of minus-22 and an ultimate zone rate of minus-17.2. The fact that he was even a bad fielder in his prime shows how hard it must’ve been for the Red Sox to willingly put him out there, knowing that it meant benching one of their elite outfielders. This will no longer be a problem for the Red Sox because the DH is now being used by both leagues. This may seem like an irrelevant rule change for an AL team, but it allows JD to settle into a full-time DH role and makes it easy for Roenicke to put out a lineup that has three capable outfielders day in and day out.
Moving on from the outfield, the Red Sox should also have dependable defenders at every other position. Christian Vazquez, a 2019 Gold Glove award finalist, is still behind the plate. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t have another great defensive season. The Red Sox also resigned their Gold Glove winning first baseman, Mitch Moreland. At second base, Michael Chavis figures to build off a season where he did much better than expected from a defensive standpoint. On the left side of the infield, the Red Sox have two offensive superstars in Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers. Bogaerts had a rough defensive season last year with a DRS of minus-21 but his athleticism and arm strength give him a high ceiling at shortstop, where we’ve seen him make many highlight plays. Devers still ranked near ranked near the bottom at his position from a fielding standpoint, with a minus-6 DRS. That being said, the OAA (outs above average) statistic shows that Devers has shown a lot of improvement since he was called up. This stat takes into account the number of plays made and how difficult the plays were, giving an idea of the fielder’s range while disregarding the impact of the speed of the base runner. Devers had a minus-7 OAA in 2018 while he improved to a plus-7 OAA last season. The Red Sox infield is very talented and if each player defends the way that they’re capable of, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be one of the top defensive infields in the MLB.
If the 2020 MLB season ever happens, the Red Sox will be going into the season with a great deal of uncertainty. The roster isn’t where it was in 2018, but Chaim Bloom put together a team that can be competitive if everyone plays their role to the best of their ability. People undervalue defense in baseball, but if the Red Sox can be a top notch defensive team all around the diamond the way I know they’re capable of, I truly believe that they can be a dangerous team.