It's official. The Red Sox suck. They might not suck a month from now, they certainly didn't suck last year, but on the 22nd of May in 2014, they certifiably suck.
Why? How could a World Championship team that never lost more than 3 in a row, devolve so quickly into a team with the 6th worst record in baseball, that's 4th in their division, and has just lost 6 consecutive games? Here are the reasons:
#1 Lost Offense
The 2014 Red Sox are scoring 4.07 runs per game, and are 17th in MLB in runs. The 2013 Sox scored 5.27 and scored the most runs in baseball. The Sox are scoring 1.2 runs per game less this year, and are on pace to score 194 less in the season. Where did those runs go?
Jacoby Ellsbury took many of them when he left and was not replaced. In 2013 Ellsbury got on base 219 times. He got 48 extra-base hits. He stole 52 bases. He got on base, he got into scoring position, and his presence at leadoff allowed Dustin Pedroia to hit later in the lineup.
Ellsbury was replaced with Grady Sizemore (.218 average, .293 OBP) and Jackie Bradley Jr. (.206 average, .302 OBP). As a team, the entire Red Sox roster is on pace to steal 50 bases this season. They stole 123 last year.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia's production also was not adequately replaced. He wasn't a Silver Slugger candidate or anything, but he did produce, giving the Sox an .804 OPS and 14 homeruns. He's been replaced by AJ Pierzynski, who doesn't quite fit with the Red Sox philosophy of patience. Pierswingski's OPS is .656, his OBP is .045 lower than Salty's in 2013, his SLG is .103 lower. Salty struck out 3.2 times per walk, but Pierswingski strikes out 6 times per walk. Salty saw 4.03 pitches per plate appearance in 2013, Pierswingski sees 3.47 in 2014.
Losing this production, the Red Sox depended more on a guy like Daniel Nava to put back-to-back solid seasons together for the first time in his career. Nava was a pleasant surprise in 2013, with a .385 OBP, hitting a few homeruns, knocking in 66, scoring 77.
In 2014, he hit .149 in 67 at-bats in Boston. In AAA Pawtucket, he's hitting .267 in 75 at-bats. He's being struck out more than he's walking, by AAA pitchers. He is getting on base (.371 OBP), so maybe he deserves a call up soon. What could it hurt to try?
This team relied too much on hoping its young players would work out. Xander Bogaerts has done his part on offense (although his defense has been abysmal). But Will Middlebrooks is hitting .197, and I already mentioned Jackie Bradley Jr.
The Red Sox are getting on base. They're 4th in baseball with a .331 team OBP. However, they have no power. The team's .379 SLG is 19th in the Majors (and about .050 lower than the team's SLG in 2013). The Sox are 21st in homeruns with 36.
#2 Clay Buchholz
The 2013 Sox were 11-1 in Buchholz starts before he got hurt in June. They were 3-1 in his starts when he returned in September, then 3-1 in his postseason starts. In 2014, the Sox are 3-6 when Buchholz takes the mound.
By this time last year he had 9 quality starts. He has 4 in 2014. He says he's healthy. I wish he were injured.
#3 Team Defense
The Red Sox have the 12th most errors (30) in baseball, last year they had the 8th fewest (80). They're on pace to commit 28 more errors in 2014 than they committed in 2013.
The Red Sox allowed 43 unearned runs in 2013, but in 2014 are on pace to allow 83. So instead of allowing an unearned run once every 4 games, the Sox are allowing an unearned run every other game.
#4 Felix Doubront
Doubront was decent at the back of the rotation last year. He won 11 games, threw 16 quality starts, and finished the year with a 4.32 ERA. Not bad for a back end starter. The Sox were 18-11 in his starts. They're 4-5 in his starts this year. And he's banged his elbow against a car door, and hit the DL with a classic OIBI (Only In Baseball Injury, pronounced wee-bee).
#5 No Clutchness
Did you know the Red Sox blew 42% of their save opportunities in 2013? The Sox were the 3rd worst team in baseball in converting saves. Why is that stat so shocking? Because they won so many close games.
Even when a reliever blew a lead, the Sox would find a way to come back and win. That same reliever might dig deep and keep the game tied, or keep the Sox within 1 run. Then the offense would find a way to win in the 9th or in extras.
The Sox hit .278 with runners in scoring position (RISP) last year. They're hitting .240 with RISP this year. More impressively, the Sox had a .794 OPS with RISP in '14. It's down to .695 this year. The Sox slugged .078 higher with runners in scoring position last year.
Xander Bogaerts, who is having a fine offensive year with a .381 OBP, is hitting .158 with runners in scoring position.
Jonny Gomes was Mr. Clutch last year, hitting .346 with RISP. He's down to .286 this year. Ortiz went down from .315 to .222. Pedroia from .312 to .270. Ortiz and Pedroia are the team's best hitters. If they're not doing the job with RISP, the offense can't function. On the bright side, we know they can, and they probably will improve those numbers.
The Sox offense should get better, but there's a ceiling to it. Pedroia, Ortiz, and probably Bogaerts will improve with runners in scoring position. However, the rest of the offense is what it is.
Once Clay Buchholz does start to pitch better, he'll probably get hurt.
The team's defense improves with the return of Stephen Drew. And perhaps the offense as well, if Bogaerts plays 3rd and Middlebrooks brings his sub-Mendoza average to the bench.
I don't think Felix Doubront will be much better than what he's been.
Clutchness is unpredictable. Last year the Sox had clutchness in their blood. This year it's like they've been infected with a virulent strain of anti-clutchness.
Elise Amendola/Associated Press