State of the Nation: Boston Red Sox not so good


Mike Barnicle


Mike Barnicle is an award-winning print and broadcast journalist and a social and political commentator.

21 AprMike BarnicleMike Barnicle ‏ @mikebarnicle

Dear God: I’ve tried to lead a good life. Never really asked YOU for much. Begging YOU now: please make it rain in Boston Sunday. DOWNPOUR!!

There is a lot of blame to be tossed around the when you look at the reasons why the Boston Red Sox are off to a 4-10 start. Things are so bad that you have to agree that the Sox  had their best day in a week when they were rained out yesterday.

The Boston bats have been inconsistent, but overall they have put up decent numbers (at least better than a 4-10 start):

  • The Red Sox have scored 70 runs, the same as the 10-6 Detroit Tigers.
  • They’ve hit 14 homers, the same as the 8-9 Oakland A’s, 8-7 Colorado Rockies, and the 8-6 New York Mets.
  • They are hitting as a team .276, figure only exceeded by Texas .303 (!), Yankees .285, and St. Louis .281. The Sox .788 OPS trails only those three teams as well.
  • Boston has 56 extra-base hits trailing only the Yanks and the Rangers who have 57.

So that brings us to the pitching staff.

  • The starters have a 5.75 ERA, only the Yankee starters (5.84) and the Twins (6.41!) have a worse ERA.
  • The batting average against the Sox starters is an ugly .275, once again only exceeded by the Yankee’s starters BAA of .302(!) and the Twins .314(!!).
  • Sox starters have allowed 15 homers, fourth worst in baseball trailing the Yankees 16, Twins 17, and the Blue Jays 18(!).

It gets worse when you head to the bullpen. While I don’t think that Bobby Valentine has been a great in-game manager and I think like Rick Santorum, Bobby V just hasn’t figured out how to stop talking, this bullpen problem begins with Theo Epstein and continues with Ben Cherington (feel free to mix some Larry Lucchino and John Henry in there).

It starts with the only gesture that Red Sox management made towards Jonathan Papelbon is leaving his packed suitcases at the door at the end of last season. BTW: In a total of seven games, Papelbon has pitched seven innings and allowed one run ( a home run) and that occurred in one of his two non-save appearances. In his five save appearances, Papelbon has earned five saves and f the 17 batters he’s faced he’s allowed three hits, one walk, and no runs.

With Papelbon gone, the Sox used two trading chips (Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland) to acquire Mark Melancon. This poor guy had closed for one season in the relatively easy NL Central in the no pressure environment of the Houston Astros.  When he was initially acquired, with fingers crossed behind their backs, Red Sox leadership stated that Melancon could be their closer. We knew better, they knew better.

In the AL East, Melancon would have been an ideal 7th inning guy. The Sox needed to use him as a bridge to Daniel Bard in the 8th and to the closer. They needed him to be like Mark Beslisle of the Colorado Rockies. Belisle has made seven appearances covering 6.2 innings, appearing in the 8th inning three times, the 6th inning three times and the 9th inning once. He’s allowed just one hit this season. But Melancon was a train wreck who is already down in Pawtucket. He managed two innings giving up 10 hits, 11 runs, five homers and had an ERA that is a good price for a coffee-maker 49.50.

Last season, the AL pitchers had a .247 batting average against when pitching in the 8th inning. Bard had a .205 BAA and struck out 50 in 51.1 8th innings. But here’s where Red Sox ownership (despite their too much doth protestations) went cheap to attempt to avoid exceeding the revenue sharing soft salary cap. The decision was made to make Bard a starter (they played this game once with Papelbon) and acquired Andrew Bailey from the A’s. Had the Sox signed closer Ryan Madson, who is now out for the season with Tommy John surgery, fans would be more sympathetic to the plight of the Sox pen, but Bailey came to the Sox with the prefix “oft-injured.” This is not a J.D. Drew-like situation (Drew seemingly needed to be dragged on to the field to play), Bailey is one of these guys who simply gets hurt. But now the Sox were on the Bailey high wire without a safety net…and when he was injured days before the start of the season, the patchwork rotation and bullpen was in free fall before the season began.

If the goal was stay together until Daisuke Matsuzaka, Aaron Cook, Carlos Silva (he didn’t make it past March 17), et al could save the rotation, the move has failed. The Epstein Sox were no better at this game trying guys like Brad Penny, John Smoltz, and Kevin Millwood.

But the Sox pen has been horrendous. Worse than the starters, worse than Valentine, Cherrington, Epstein or Henry.

  • The staff ERA is 8.44. If you want a frame a reference, the Petco Padres pen has a 2.10. If you want reality, the Yankees pen has a 2.14 ERA, which is why NY is playing .600 baseball.
  • In 42.2 relief innings, the pen has surrendered 42 runs, 40 earned. There are 14 team bullpens who have surrendered 41 or fewer hits.
  • The Sox pen has surrendered 11 homers. The entire Nationals pitching staff has allowed three homers in 150 innings.
  • The Sox have more blown saves (3) than they have saves (2). Of course, that’s twice as good as the hideous Angels pen who are 1-for-5 in save opportunities.
  • The Sox pen has surrendered 103 total bases, the worst in baseball and 60 worse than the Phillies pen.

So far this season, the Sox pitching staff has surrendered 10+ runs four times, the same number as the 1943 Red Sox. Last year, they gave up 10+ runs nine times. They’ve given up 12+ runs three times so far, the same as all of last season.

But here are three pieces of good news for the BoSox:

  1. The Sox head on the road to play the Twins
  2. The Sox acquired Marlon Byrd from the Cubs, who while hitting like a pitcher going 3-for-43, will at least help in the Sox outfield as the team continues to await the return of Carl Crawford, and the much longer wait for Jacoby Ellsbury.
  3. They were rained out last night.

The state of the Nation – not so good.