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Red Sox’s turnaround more about incumbents than newcomers

Sep 21, 2013, 12:15 AM EDT

Boston Red Sox v San Francisco Giants Getty Images

We’ve heard it a million times now: the Red Sox changed the clubhouse culture for the better when they brought in Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes and Ryan Dempster over the winter. And that’s certainly true. I imagine this has been the best Red Sox team to cover in several years, and they do, as a group, look like they’re having fun out there.

Of course, the winning probably helps. That’s often the response when chemistry comes up in stathead circles. Did the chemistry lead to winning or did the winning lead to chemistry? There typically is some narrative building going on. But these Red Sox did seem to need the jolt that Victorino and Gomes provided.

Still, that the Red Sox clinched their first AL East title since 2007 by winning Friday night has more to do with the players that were already there than the newly hired help, unless you want to give Gomes and the rest the credit for those turnarounds, too.

Here are the rWAR improvements from 2012 to ’13 of the incumbents (or the incumbents plus John Lackey, if you prefer. Lackey didn’t pitch last season following Tommy John surgery).

4.6 – Jacoby Ellsbury (1.0 to 5.6)
3.4 – Clay Buchholz (0.9 to 4.3)
2.9 – John Lackey (0.0 to 2.9)
2.2 – Jon Lester (0.7 to 2.9)
1.3 – Dustin Pedroia (4.9 to 6.2)
1.2 – Daniel Nava (1.5 to 2.7)
1.0 – David Ortiz (3.1 to 4.1)
1.0 – Jarrod Saltalamacchia (1.4 to 2.4)
0.9 – Felix Doubront (0.3 to 1.2)

The only Red Sox to return in significant roles this year and fail to improve are Junichi Tazawa, who has been about the same, and Will Middlebrooks.

Now, part of that improvement could be chalked up to chemistry, but health has been a bigger factor. And I think the return of former pitching coach John Farrell as manager had a lot to do with the bounce-back seasons from Buchholz and Lester. Of Boston’s five best players this year, Victorino is the only one who wasn’t there in 2012.

The Red Sox had a great offseason, with only the hideous Mark Melancon-for-Joel Hanrahan trade and Dempster signing looking like misfires opposite the Victorino, Napoli, Stephen Drew and Koji Uehara successes. However, it’s the pieces that were already in place that will lead the way as the team returns to the postseason for the first time since 2009.

  1. pinkfloydprism - Sep 21, 2013 at 12:31 AM

    I would not call the Melancon for Hanrahan deal a misfire. Melancon was horrible last year, and Hanrahan got hurt. Who knows how he would have pitched this year if he was healthy? Probably not as well as Melancon, but then again, Melancon would not have been that good in Boston either.

    • dan1111 - Sep 21, 2013 at 2:01 AM

      Yeah, no one could have predicted their respective performances this season. Hanrahan was dominant over the last few years, while Melancon had no track record of sustained success. It is a trade that didn’t work out in hindsight, nothing more.

      Dempster didn’t work out either, but he also looked like a good pickup before the season. 2 years/26.5 million is inexpensive for a pitcher with his track record, and there is always going to be some risk in a signing like that.

    • baseballisboring - Sep 21, 2013 at 5:44 AM

      Well, I think he’s talking about the result as opposed to the process.

    • thinman61 - Sep 21, 2013 at 8:05 AM

      I was opposed to the Melancon for Hanrahan trade at the time. By fundamentals they’re basically the same pitcher, with Melancon showing signs at the end of 2012 that he’d figured out his issues while Hanrahan looked like he was just entering a tailspin as last season ended. Plus Melancon is younger, and would have been under team control for longer.

      The Red Sox basically traded Melancon for an older, less cost-controlled version of himself. Then threw in Jerry Sands, Stolmy Pimentel, and Ivan De Jesus for good measure.

      Fortunately most of Ben’s trades worked out better than this one.

      • dan1111 - Sep 21, 2013 at 8:22 AM

        They did trade away five seasons of Melancon for one season of Hanrahan. But it’s hard to get that excited about that, because Melancon just didn’t look that valuable at the end of last season. The prospects could come back to bite them, though.

      • cur68 - Sep 21, 2013 at 11:01 AM

        Skinny, you serious? There really IS a ball player named “Stolmy Pimentel”? This isn’t a typo or you Scrabbling a name? If so, and this man really exists, then I MUST complain to the management. We need to know these things!

        (Stolmy Pimentel??? hehehehehehehehehe…the poor kid…hehehehehehehehehehe…)

      • thinman61 - Sep 21, 2013 at 4:08 PM

        Real dude, and that’s his real name. He made his MLB debut out of the Pirates’ bullpen on 9/4, pitching 1.2 innings of 3-hit, 2-run ball.

    • BalladOfKyleBlanks - Sep 23, 2013 at 4:02 PM

      Kind of true, but kind of not. Hanrahan’s peripherals were not good to poor, and there were some corresponding red flags. Also, Hanrahan was much more expensive and about to become a free agent. Melancon has a few more years of team control. It’s not a horrible trade, but definitely a misfire.

      • pinkfloydprism - Sep 23, 2013 at 4:18 PM

        Maybe they were hoping to spin it into a draft pick?

      • BalladOfKyleBlanks - Sep 23, 2013 at 5:44 PM

        Yeah. Good point. Still seems like a not great move

      • pinkfloydprism - Sep 23, 2013 at 7:09 PM

        Agreed…. the way it turned out. Had he pitched well and healthy, it would be a different conversation.

  2. quintjs - Sep 21, 2013 at 1:28 AM

    Good article – it was missing the beards = wins analysis but based on the last couple of weeks I am guessing that was assumed.

    I think more so than anything what the new signings did (Victorino, Napoli, Gomes) was help bond the fans to the team again. The losing always hurts but last years team was so… that they were just so hard to support from the ownership to front office to the players. This years team has character and fight and its a team you want to support. win or lose.

    • dan1111 - Sep 21, 2013 at 1:48 AM

      The beards are all newcomers, which kind of disproves Matthew’s post.

      • yankeefan1950 - Sep 21, 2013 at 4:46 PM

        Pedroia and Saltalamachia are newcomers?

      • dan1111 - Sep 21, 2013 at 7:47 PM

        The beards on their faces are.

  3. Glenn - Sep 21, 2013 at 3:48 AM

    I sat in a different chair when watching them this year. I am sure that is the reason for the improvement. ;-)

    • proudlycanadian - Sep 21, 2013 at 8:17 AM

      Kindly change chairs next season. Please!

      • drewzducks - Sep 21, 2013 at 5:07 PM

        Sorry PC but you’re gonna need more than a seat change to turn things around next year, unless Gibson finds himself strapped into an electric one.

      • proudlycanadian - Sep 21, 2013 at 5:32 PM

        The Jays were done in by injuries just like the Red Sox were done in by injuries last season. The good luck enjoyed by the Red Sox will change next season. Cheers and good luck in the playoffs.

      • pinkfloydprism - Sep 21, 2013 at 8:45 PM

        So, that awful start to the year when everyone was healthy was due to injuries?

      • proudlycanadian - Sep 21, 2013 at 8:47 PM

        Reyes and Lawrie were both injured.

      • pinkfloydprism - Sep 22, 2013 at 10:57 PM

        I do not think they would have made that big of a difference…and Reyes went on the DL on 4/13 when the team was 5-6. So he obviously was not helping too much.

  4. baseballisboring - Sep 21, 2013 at 5:48 AM

    Yeah, I think their turnaround has a lottt more to do with talent and performance than “chemistry”. But you’re right, they have been fun to watch. I definitely thought they’d be better than they were last year, but I probably had them pegged for like, 85 wins or so. I never expected John Lackey to rewind to 2008, or for Buchholz to break out in such a big way (while unfortunately missing a lot of time), and I hated the Victorino deal, but hey, we can safely call year one a success. They had so much bad luck last year, I mean, some of it had to turn around.

  5. proudlycanadian - Sep 21, 2013 at 8:22 AM

    Nice argument Matthew. The spare parts they added during the off season helped; however, other than Victorino, they are still spare parts. For the most part, the team remained healthy.

  6. rjostewart - Sep 21, 2013 at 9:07 AM

    I would argue that Dempster has done precisely what he was brought in to do, which is pitch a lot of innings that would otherwise be taken by the 2013 equivalents of Aaron Cook and Kyle Weiland. Although I will acknowledge that it’s at a hefty price tag.

    In fact, I maintain that some – not all, but some – of the 2012 team’s issues could have been prevented by trading for a “Dempster type” instead of Proven Closer Andrew Bailey.

    • 18thstreet - Sep 21, 2013 at 9:14 AM

      I agree. I’m not claiming Dempster has been a good pitcher, but given the garbage that the team was trotting out in September 2011, and how they would have killed for an average pitcher who could at least keep them in a game, I think a guy like Dempster has huge value as a 5th starter.

  7. sandpiperair - Sep 21, 2013 at 10:17 AM

    Does anybody remember how critical UYF was during the offseason about the Red Sox’s offseason moves? Of course, now that they’ve worked out, he’s nowhere to be found. You were wrong, my friend. Dead wrong.

    • dan1111 - Sep 21, 2013 at 10:48 AM

      I also thought they were doing nothing but building a mediocre team. I’m glad I was wrong.

      • pinkfloydprism - Sep 21, 2013 at 1:03 PM

        Everyone thought they were building a mediocre team. My friend posted this on facebook last night: “Great job Red Sox! Gotta love this team.”

        to which I replied: “Said no one in March.” Because it is true… no one gave this team a shot… me included. I thought they were going to be what the bluejays turned out to be this season.

    • drewzducks - Sep 21, 2013 at 5:04 PM

      He’s gone the same way as his beloved, hopeless Yanks; down the drain with no future prospects in sight.

  8. Jack Marshall - Sep 21, 2013 at 10:48 AM

    Please distribute this post to the idiots who will be doing the play by play and the color, preferably with a death threat.

    They will be flogging the opposite narrative ad nauseum, unless they are stopped by force. And you can’t fairly compare the relative skills and virtues of Farrell and Valentine without acknowledging the vastly different hands they were dealt…and that neither did the dealing. I haven’t heard that fact from a game announcer yet, either…not even on NESN. It’s so much easier to proclaim that somehow the trip from Toronto back to Boston made Farrell a genius.

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