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Red Sox Should Focus on Defense, Not Home Runs in 2010

Jason Bay

In the last six seasons, the Boston Red Sox have made the playoffs five times, won the World Series twice and made the ALCS three times. Out of all the statistics kept in baseball, there has been only one constant in their three trips to the ALCS – good defense.

BaseballProspectus.com uses sabermetrics (you know, those stats we have all grown to love but still can’t understand) to calculate each team’s defensive efficiency. They describe it as “the rate at which balls put into play are converted into outs by a team’s defense.” Well in the Red Sox three trips to the ALCS the team ranked 14th, tied for first, and fifth. (Note: Their 14th ranking in 2004 is skewed because after the team traded Nomar Garciaparra for Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz the team’s defense improved dramatically.) As for the other three seasons, the Red Sox ranked 23rd when they missed the playoffs in 2005, 26th when they were swept in the 2006 ALDS and 28th this season. Convinced yet? Don’t worry, there’s more.

There is a misconception that the Red Sox need to retain Jason Bay and his 36 home runs, but since 2004 the Red Sox have finished outside of the top four in runs scored just once (2006). Ironically, in that same time span the Red Sox have finished in the top four in home runs just once (2009). Therefore, it can be concluded that the Red Sox should be pursuing defensive players rather than power hitters. I think you know where I’m going with this…

Why the Red Sox shouldn’t sign Jason Bay

Jason Bay < J.D. Drew

No, that is not a mistype, but I do believe that Jason Bay is of less value or equal to J.D. Drew’s value. Fangraphs.com, a very in-depth baseball statistics website, gauges players’ worth based on a formula that determines how many wins they are worth. You can read their methods here, but if you are not a stats geek you may get a headache. You’ve been warned.

For your convenience, I popped in a couple Advil, read it all and will give you a quick summary of their process. They add up how many runs a player is worth when they are batting and fielding, both of which are park adjusted. Next, they have to gauge a player’s replacement value because if a player is not on the field very often then he hurts the team’s chances at winning due to him having to be replaced. Next, they add in a positional adjustment based on how tough a position is, which means shortstops get a boost while first basemen get knocked down a little. Add all these numbers together and you get their Runs Above Average (RAR), which you then divide by 10 (1 win=10 runs) to get how many wins a player is worth. They also found a conversion rate to give one win a monetary value, which changes every year based on the free agent market. Whew!

Anyways, through this statistical analysis J.D. Drew was worth 4.7 wins in 2009, or $21.1 million. Compare that to Jason Bay’s 3.5 wins and $15.7 million and you have a simple answer as to who was the better player in 2009. Here is how the two stacked up against each other:

Player Batting Fielding Replacement Positional RAR WAR Salary
Jason Bay 33.7 -11.8 21.6 -7.1 34.9 3.5 $15.7
J.D. Drew 24.8 10.5 18.0 -6.4 46.8 4.7 $21.1

It’s clear that Bay is better offensively, but only by 8.9 runs, while Drew holds a huge advantage (22.3 runs) on the defensive side. It’s inevitable that Bay is going to become a DH sometime in the future and the Red Sox already have a cheaper player destined for that role in Victor Martinez so it doesn’t make much sense for Boston to tie themselves up in a lengthy contract with Bay. If the Red Sox are to learn anything from the last six seasons, they should stick with what’s brought them two championships and three ALCS appearances – defense.

Let Jason Bay walk out the door and two new guys will walk in

Jacoby Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie, Craig Hansen, Michael Bowden, Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard, Nick Hagadone and Stephen Fife. What do all these players have in common? They were all compensation picks for losing Pedro Martinez, Orlando Cabrera, Johnny Damon, Derek Lowe, and Alex Gonzalez.

Since Theo Epstein took over as GM of the Red Sox in 2003, the team has taken a new, balanced approach to fielding a yearly contender. It’s an approach that has received a lot of criticism from Red Sox fans, but has produced results. If the team allows Bay to sign with another team, they will receive two compensation picks because Bay is a Type A free agent. These two picks have proved to be valuable as many of the Red Sox core players have been acquired in this fashion. It is clear that the Red Sox aren’t willing to sacrifice their future to make a small run at the World Series this year. It’s a small market philosophy by a big market team. They are building a team that will be ready to make a serious run at a World Series title in two years, while being competitive in the process. What more can you ask for?

Young guys waiting in the wings

It’s clear that when J.D. Drew’s contract is up in 2011, either Josh Reddick or Ryan Kalish will be ready to step into the role, but the real prize is in outfielder Ryan Westmoreland. The 19-year old played in 60 games last season at Lowell (A) and batted .296 with seven homers and 35 runs batted in. He also stole 19 bases without getting caught and posted a .401 on-base percentage. Baseball Prospectus has him rated as a five-star prospect and ranks him first in the Red Sox farm system. If he’s ready to come up by 2011 and Bay is still in left field with three years, $51 million left on his contract, what happens then? The Red Sox would be better off signing a short term player like Mike Cameron or Rick Ankiel and platooning them with Jeremy Hermida for a year or two.

2011′s free agent class is worth holding out for

There’s no doubt about it, this year’s free agent class isn’t very spectacular. After Matt Holliday, John Lackey and Jason Bay, there really isn’t anyone getting big money this winter. However in 2011, we will see names like Joe Mauer, Roy Halladay (assuming he doesn’t get traded), Brandon Webb, Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford, Adam Dunn, and Jayson Werth. Joe Mauer is the obvious target for the Red Sox and if the Twins can’t lock him up long term, you know the Red Sox are going to throw everything they have at him. Also as a sidenote, Albert Pujols hits free agency in 2012 and there’s a chance, albeit very small, that the Cardinals let him go to free agency.

Parting Thoughts

Now I know that this isn’t a very popular opinion amongst Red Sox nation, but I believe that Jason Bay is truly an overrated player. Maybe I’m just bitter because he was the replacement for my favorite Manny Ramirez. I’m not saying he isn’t good, but he isn’t $18 million good. I could live with it if the Red Sox could sign him for $15-16 over four years, but if they have to add a fifth year or more money then the deal isn’t worth it.

Before I wrap up this article I would like to fully endorse Adrian Beltre for the third base position on the Boston Red Sox for 2010 and beyond. The man has been one of the best defensive third basemen in baseball and has produced decent offensive numbers despite being in one of the worst parks for right-handed hitters.

The Red Sox should eat 75 percent of Lowell’s contract so that they can trade him for a decent player. Lowell becomes a very attractive option if the team acquiring him has to pay just $3 million for his services.The Red Sox could then sign Beltre to a three-year, $30 million deal and with Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and Marco Scutaro, the Red Sox would have one of the better defensive infields in baseball. And they say being a general manager is tough.

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Discussion

2 comments for “Red Sox Should Focus on Defense, Not Home Runs in 2010”

  1. Awesome article George.

    I’m all for Beltre + Holliday this off-season and collecting Bay’s compensation picks

    Posted by Bill | December 8, 2009, 6:54 pm
  2. well, i’d have to say reading this just minutes after hearing jason bay has signed with the mets, you are so right. i loved jason during his short time with the red sox, but it just makes sense to let him go. next offseason’s free agent market is going to be rich with talent and the red sox will have big contracts coming off the books. joe mauer and carl crawford are two names i would love to have added to boston’s lineup. we also need to retain josh beckett, or else look at felix hernandez or someone like that as an alternative.

    Posted by Matt | December 29, 2009, 4:46 pm

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