FROM WORST TO FIRST, PART II

A. Bartlett Giamatti, the seventh Commissioner of Baseball, once said ‘ Baseball is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the Spring, when everything is new again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.’

With a young, talented group of players, most of who should be with them for several years, the Red Sox have the potential to go all the way in 2016. Boston baseball fans are a strange lot. The team has finished last in three of the past four years but the typical Boston fan expects nothing less than a World Series win in 2016 from this group.

If they go all the way, Boston fans will be ecstatic but, should they fail because they are not as good as we think they are, the fans will be left to face the fall and winter alone, as they did this year.

The acquisition of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval over the 2014-2015 off season, which was expected to give the Sox a lot more power, obviously did not work. In addition to failing to fulfill their promise at the plate, both made the worst fielding team, the Brick Glove Award, as selected by Nick Selbe in the on line Journal ‘Point After’ based upon their fielding statistics. If you watched them both play all year, you didn’t need a complicated formula to tell that they had to be among the worst at their positions.

Selbe pointed out that ‘ Some of the players on this list are good enough offensively to compensate for their defensive shortcomings, while others would be wise to spend the off season learning a new position.’ The Sox are planning to make Ramirez into a first baseman. If he doesn’t work any harder at becoming a first baseman than he did a left fielder, he will probably get a second Brick Glove Award. The Sox would do well to find a way to unload both these veterans even if they have to absorb some of their salaries to do so.

So, what will 2016’s version of the Red Sox look like and why am I so high on their chances to get to their fourth World Series in 13 years? Although pitching is the name of the game, the Red Sox position players, who, barring trades, are all coming back in 2016, made a statement during the last 48 games of the season, finishing 28-20.

Blake Swihart, 24, behind the plate, had an excellent rookie season, catching 84 games after the loss of Christian Vazquez to elbow surgery. He hit .274, with five homers and 31 RBI’s for the season but .330 with 34 hits in 103 at bats in the last 48 games under Lovullo. He has the added advantage of being a switch hitter.

Ryan Hanigan, 35, the other catcher, hit .247 in 54 games. If Vazquez returns ready to play in the Spring, watch for the Sox to trade Hanigan and keep Swihart to share the duties with Vazquez. Vazquez, 25, hit .240 in 55 games in 2014, his rookie season.
Travis Shaw, 25, who hit .270, with 13 homers and 36 RBI’s in just 65 games after being installed at first base during the season will give Ramirez some competition at first if he is back. Ramirez, of course, hit only .249, with 19 homers and 53 RBI’s in 105 games in left field. Shaw also has the advantage of being a more than adequate third baseman. Shaw hit .266 in the last 48 games with 50 hits.

Thirty-two year old Dustin Pedroia will be the second baseman, barring injury. He only played in 93 games this year while dealing with a hamstring injury but is still, arguably, the best all around second baseman in the league, if not all of baseball. He hit .291 with 12 homers and 42 RBI’s including hitting .308 in the last 48 games.

Xander Bogaerts, 23, had a breakout year at short in 2015. He proved that he can play the position defensively and he hit .320, the second highest average in the league. He had 196 hits, also the second highest in the league, seven homers and 81 RBI’s while playing 156 games. During the last 48 games, he hit .333 with 64 hits in 192 at bats.

Brock Holt, 27, could play third if Sandoval were traded but probably has more value as a utility player. He has proven he can play any position in the field defensively and continues to hit consistently no matter how much he is moved around. He hit .280 for the season in 129 games and .288 in the last 48 games.

The left fielder, Rusney Castillo, 28, played in 80 games after being brought up in late May and hit .253 with 29 RBI’s. In his first year in organized baseball in this country, after coming over from Cuba, he has shown the potential expected of him.

Jackie Bradley, 25, the center fielder, hit .249 for the season with 10 homers and 53 RBI’s in 74 games. During the last 48 games, he hit .283. In a streak from August 9 through September 9, he hit .442, had 13 doubles, 4 triples, 7 home runs and 32 RBI’s. In the last 48 games of the season, he hit .283.

The right fielder, Mookie Betts, 23, hit .291 with 18 homers and an impressive 77 RBI’s batting out of the lead off spot in 117 of his 145 games. Betts, who was playing second base for Portland at the start of the 2014 season, has successfully made the move to center field and then to right field. In the last 48 games of the season, he hit .342 with 68 hits in 199 at bats.

The designated hitter, David Ortiz, 39, after a slow start, hit .273 with 37 home runs and 108 RBI’s. He also played nine games at first base and handled all but one chance cleanly. During the last 48 games of the season, Ortiz hit .319.

One of the reasons people are so high on the Red Sox chances next year is because the eight position players, Swihart, Shaw, Pedroia, Bogaerts, Holt, Castillo, Bradley and Betts and the designated hitter Ortiz, hit a collective .313 over the last 48 games of the season. The average age of these nine players, even with Ortiz at 39 and Pedroia at 32, is just 27.3 years.

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