In 2012 the Boston Red Sox won 69 games. In 2013 they won 97, best in MLB, and then won the World Series to culminate one of the largest worst to first transformations in the history of the game. This is the third in the series of how they did it.
Here is a breakdown of the 2013 team, bWAR by position. It is, of course, approximate, as many players play multiple positions and I don’t have WAR breakdowns at that level. But the totals are right, which is ultimately what matters. Should Xander Bogarts’ contribution be divided between third and short? Maybe, but taking from one to give to the other does not ultimately damage the conclusion.
C 3.8 (Saltalamacchia, Ross, Lavarnway)
1B 4.1 (Napoli)
2B 6.5 (Pedroia)
3B -0.2 (Middlebrooks, Ciriaco, Bogarts)
SS 4.7 (Drew, Iglesias)
LF 4.1 (Nava, Gomes)
CF 5.8 (Ellsbury)
RF 6.2 (Victorino)
OF 1.0 (Carp, Bradley)
IF -1.1 (Holt, Snyder, Diaz)
DH 4.4 (Ortiz)
Total non-pitchers: 39.3
SP 10.8 (Lester, Lackey, Dempster, Doubront, Buchholz)
SP -0.5 (Peavey, Aceves, Webster)
RP 6.2 (Uehara, Tazawa, Breslow)
RP 1.2 (Miller, Bailey, Thornton, Britton)
RP -1.0 (Hanrahan, Wilson, Mortensen)
RP -0.5 (Everyone else)
Total pitchers 16.2
Total bWAR for 2013 55.5 Wins 97 Replacement level (97 – 55.5) 41.5
First look is this: the Red Sox did it with OFFENSE and DEFENSE, more than with pitching. Lester bounced back, Buchholz was great before getting hurt, and Lackey contributed. But Dempster was a washout, Doubront did not develop, and the other options were pretty bad, though Peavey was a decent late pickup. The bullpen tried Hanrahan at closer, then Bailey, and one sucked, the other got hurt. They then turned to Uehara, who had an historic season there. The rest of the bullpen was really just Tazawa and Breslow – everyone else was very nearly replacement level, with some of course BELOW replacement, as happens with every team.
But 40 WAR from your non-pitchers: THAT is a killer team. The Sox were solid defensively and excellent offensively, at least based on the results (remember, the bWAR calculation is more based on actual runs, the fWAR more on elements of runs). A team with a replacement-level pitching staff would still, with this level of offense and defense, be a winning team.
Obviously, some of the free-agent pickups worked well: Napoli, Victorino and Drew contributed greatly to this accomplishment, and Cherington won executive of the year on the basis of those signings. THAT is the media version of the First to Worst story that is the 2013 Boston Red Sox. They dumped the useless contracts on the Dodgers, used the money to pick up better players, and turned the team around in one magical trading season. Well, sort of.
Let’s make the same chart for 2012:
C 2.6 (Saltalamacchia, Shoppach)
1B 2.5 (Gonzalez, Loney)
2B 4.9 (Pedroia)
SS 2.7 (Aviles, Punto)
3B 3.1 (Youkilis, Middlebrooks, Ciriaco)
LF 2.3 (Crawford, Nava, McDonald)
CF 1.4 (Ellsbury, Posednik)
RF 2.5 (Ross, Sweeney)
UT -2.4 (Lavarnway, Kalish, Gomez, Iglesias)
DH 3.1 (Ortiz)
Total non-pitchers 22.7
SP 0.9 (Lester, Buchholz, Doubront, Beckett, Cook)
SP -2.0 (Matsuzaka, Morales, Bard, Stewart)
RP 6.9 (Tazawa, Atchison, Albers, Mortensen, Miller, Hill)
RP 0.5 (Breslow, Germano)
RP -2.4 (Everyone else)
Total pitchers 3.9
Total bWAR for 2012 26.6 Wins 69 Replacement level (69 – 26.6) 42.4
Where does this take us?
Well, the team improved by 28 (!) wins. Where were those wins, by this calculation?
The catching improved by 1.2 wins, but this was NOT due to replacing Shoppach with Ross – the improvement was ALL (and then some) Saltalamacchia. Shoppach contributed much more than Ross and Lavarnway.
First base improved by1.6 but this is misleading: Gonzalez by himself, between Boston and LA, was worth 3.5 in 2012, and 4.0 in 2013. So keeping him would have cost Boston 0.1 WAR, and the 2012 to 2013 improvement is really only 0.6 WAR, though in the real win column it is the 1.6 we list here.
Second base improved by 1.6 also, but this is just Pedroia having a better season.
Third base DECLINED by 3.3 – mostly due to Middlebrooks not playing well and Ciriaco having a few magic weeks. The Sox could have sucked about equally to have kept Youkilis, but he was gone long before the blockbuster “reboot” in August.
Shortstop improved by 2 games, but this was in large part due to the maturing of Iglesias, who contributed 0.3 in 2012 but 1.6 in 2013 (and who was traded). Punto (2.2) was nearly as valuable for LA as Drew (3.1) for Boston, in fewer plate appearances. So keeping Punto and bringing up Iglesias would have been nearly as good as signing Drew.
Left field improved by 1.8, but this was NOT due to signing Gomes (1.2) so much as to Nava not sucking so much. Crawford/Nava would have been about as good as Gomes/Nava.
Center field improved by 4.4 and it was ALL Ellsbury – no brilliant trade here, just a fine performance by an excellent (but somewhat injury-prone) player having an on year.
Right field improved by 3.7 and this WAS a great signing: Victorino exceeded expectations and had a GREAT season.
DH improved by 1.3, as Ortiz had a great season, as opposed to a merely good one.
The bench was better in 2013, but that is primarily due to the experimentation going on at the end of 2012, when there was nothing to play for and the Sox were roaring down the stretch 9-27.
On the pitching side, let’s look at it this way:
Holdover starters (Lester, Buchholz, Doubront, Lackey) improved from 1.9 in 2012 to 11.0 in 2013, a whopping 9.1 wins! Cherington gets credit, I guess, for planning on Lackey (no starts in 2012) coming back strong. And Beckett WAS worse than Dempster, though BOTH were below replacement. The spot starters in 2013, again perhaps because there was something to play for, were better than their 2012 counterparts.
Since the bullpen was worse, really, except for lucking into Uehara, one can more or less discount that in the analysis.
In summary, then, the trade in August that unloaded Gonzalez, Beckett, Crawford and Punto, and the subsequent signings of Napoli, Dempster, Victorino and Drew did NOT net the Red Sox a LOT of wins, and most of them from Victorino. And since Sweeney & Ross were going to be gone anyway, you could argue that the Sox, having not made the trade to LA, could still have signed Victorino within their budget, and have won about as many games as they actually won.
The 2013 Boston Red Sox Worst-to-First transformation was NOT, really, the story of a brilliant office. It was the story of a talented team that seriously underperformed in 2012, somewhat due to injuries and somewhat to attitude, traded working parts for other working parts, picked up a good outfielder who had a great year, had their other players get healthy and productive, and won a lot of games.
It is important, though, that I not diminish the accomplishment of “The Trade”. While my analysis suggests that it DIDN’T really make the 2013 season, I think it is fair to say that it DID make the 2014 or 2015 or 2016 season. The Red Sox would have gotten about the same performance out of Gonzalez et al as they did out of their replacements. But Gonzalez et al are under contract for several years yet, and they are not likely to IMPROVE. The big trade unloaded those unproductive years, and Cherington, rather than win 2013 Executive of the Year, should have won it in 2012.