The up-and-down, last-place-then-World-Series cycle of the Red Sox continued to rotate this season. Boston plummeted from 97-win championship campaign to a losing season faster than you can say "fried chicken and beer."
How did this happen? How did the Red Sox become (soon) the first team ever to go from last place to first place to last place over three seasons? Oh, many reasons. But given that Sox fans don't have a billy goat to blame their problems on anymore, we're forced to look to the field for a look at how Boston crashed to the bottom of the AL East.
Holes in the lineup
The Red Sox had three position spots that provided awful offense this season, performaing at the bottom two of the American League in OPS despite playing in hitter-friendly Fenway Park:
- Catcher: Second-Worst (.600 OPS)
- 3rd Base: Worst (.571)
- Center Field: Second-Worst (.594)
When one third of your lineup spots are playing at such horrendous levels, your run production is bound to suffer.
Shane Victorino Injury
Victorino provided one of the biggest sparks to Boston's World Series run last season, hitting 15 home runs (and a 120 wRC+) with Gold-Glove-Award defense, contributing 5.6 fWAR in only 122 games.
This year, the Sox have missed the all-around production Victorino provided in right field. A right hamstring strain kept the Flyin' Hawaiian out for 71 games, and that was before his season-ending back surgery.
All told, Victorino played 30 games and could only manage a .303 on-base percentage. Replacement Daniel Nava has not been able to replace Victorino's 2013 value (or his own 2013 value, for that matter), and the Red Sox have been missing offense from an important slot.
Red Sox fans rightly expected the left side of the infield to be set for years, featuring hotshots Will Middlebrooks (Baseball America's 51st-best prospect in 2012) and Xander Bogaerts (8th-best in 2013).
Well, it hasn't happened yet. Middlebrooks' bat has fallen off the Green Monster since his outstanding 2012 debut, bottoming out this season with a .185/.254/.262 line and only two home runs.
Bogaerts' offense has been better, mostly by default. The Aruba native has posted a .240/.303/.371 line with below-average defense at shortstop and third by most metrics. His bright future is not now.
Jackie Bradley's rookie season has gone poorly too. The outfielder has struggled to a dreadful .207/.277/.278 with only one home run in 406 plate appearances after rating as Baseball America's No. 50 prospect entering the season. Bradley's value has come almost entirely from top-notch defense: +14 runs saved, 14.1 UZR and 11.6 SDI.
There is still plenty left to be written for the former top prospects. The Red Sox control Middlebrooks (who just turned 26) through 2018, and they control Bogaerts (still 21 years old) and Bradley through 2019. But for this season, the youngsters provided little value.
Buchholz and Peavy struggle through 2014
The Red Sox had every reason to believe that the 2013 versions of Clay Buchholz (1.74 ERA, 2.78 FIP) and Jake Peavy (4.17 ERA, 3.96 FIP) could be great assets for this year's team.
Unfortunately, the two hurt the rotation by pitching far worse than they did a season ago. Buchholz regressed to his career average with a 4.05 FIP, and his failure to close out innings has left him with a 5.29 ERA. And he is the guy who has logged the most starts and innings for Boston.
Peavy limped to a 1-9 record with a 4.72 ERA and 4.79 FIP, serving up 20 home runs in 124 innings for one of the worst homer-allowed rates in baseball. Of course, now that he is in San Francisco, he has posted a far better 2.29 ERA and 2.73FIP.
Things are looking up for the Red Sox, as "up" is the only place to look when you are at the bottom. The team acquired a new trio of outfielders in Rusney Castillo, Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig. Plus, fans know that Boston always has the budget to attack the free agent market.
If you're any believer in weird trends, Boston's 2014 last-place finish just means an AL East title is on the way in 2015.