Red Sox

New defensive stat could be a boost for Red Sox' Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers

New defensive stat could be a boost for Red Sox' Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers

The Red Sox have identified infield defense as a potential area of improvement in 2020, and the next-generation stats tend to agree.

What's surprising is the snapshot provided by the NEXT-next-generation stats, which were unveiled on Wednesday and actually paint a less dire picture, albeit still not exactly an inspiring one.

There's gonna be some math ahead, so bear with me.

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Publicly available defensive metrics remain well behind their offensive counterparts when it comes to reliability. Stats such as ultimate zone rating (UZR) and defensive runs saved (DRS) aren't as laser-precise as the Statcast tracking data used to determine, for instance, launch angle and exit velocity.

That's changing, however. For the past two seasons, Statcast has been able to track the routes outfielders take to fly balls, yielding a wealth of information, from jump to sprint speed to chase angles to distance covered.

The result is outs above average, which is exactly what it sounds like. Last year's leaders included Nationals centerfielder Victor Robles (plus-23), three-time Gold Glover Kevin Kiermaier (plus-17) of the Rays, and Brewers fence-scaler Lorenzo Cain (plus-14), but not, surprisingly, Gold Glover Mookie Betts (plus-7).

On Wednesday, Statcast unveiled infield outs above average, and the 2019 numbers challenge some assumptions we may hold about the Red Sox. (For a primer on the whole system, by the way, MLB.com has you covered.)

While the numbers don't portray Boston's infield defense as elite, they don't suggest it's terrible, either. The Red Sox ranked 16th in outs above average at plus-3. That pales in comparison to the league-leading Cardinals (plus-42) and Rockies (plus-33), but it's not nearly as bad as Boston's minus-43 defensive runs saved, which trailed only the Mariners in all of baseball.

The differences are particularly stark on the left side of the infield, where shortstop Xander Bogaerts ranked dead last in DRS (minus-21) and Rafael Devers found himself in the bottom 10 at minus-6.

By OAA, however, Bogaerts cost the team just three outs, while Devers actually checked in at plus-7, which better conveys how much he improved after an error-prone April. That put Bogaerts at 23rd out of 35 qualifying shortstops and it actually ranked Devers fourth among third basemen.

So why the difference, and which numbers should we believe? The Statcast leaderboards include more data, factoring in everything from defensive positioning at the point of impact, to the speed and angle of the ball off the bat, to the distance covered by the fielder, to the speed of the runner at the plate. They combine to produce an out probability. Convert a play that's only an out 10 percent of the time, and you'll gain .90 outs to your total. Screw up an in-between grounder deep in the hole, and you might lose half a point.

The numbers suggest that Bogaerts remains a step slow laterally (minus-2 outs to both his left and right), but that he makes the plays he gets to, as evidenced by an 87 percent success rate. Devers, meanwhile, recorded nine extra outs on balls to his left, which trailed only the Gold Glove-winning Nolan Arenado (plus-12) and tracks with the eye test — he's especially effective cutting across the diamond.

The numbers on second baseman Michael Chavis (plus-4) were actually encouraging, and the Red Sox should improve at that spot merely by not entrusting too many innings to Marco Hernandez (minus-2) or any at all to the departed Eduardo Nunez (minus-2).

It's important to note that teams have developed proprietary methods to interpret Statcast defensive data and they don't share their conclusions publicly. That said, the introduction of infield OAA to the mainstream should help refine the way we evaluate infield defense, and we'll see where the Red Sox fall in 2020.
 

Chaim Bloom estimates when Chris Sale could return from Tommy John surgery

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File Photo

Chaim Bloom estimates when Chris Sale could return from Tommy John surgery

Chris Sale turned 31 on Monday. He also had Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow on that same day. The procedure will sideline him for at least the rest of the 2020 season and beyond. 

But when exactly can we expect Sale back? Boston Red Sox chief of baseball operations, Chaim Bloom, wouldn't confirm to an exact date, but he did provide some insight into how long Sale might be sidelined.

"We don't know exactly," Bloom said, per Christopher Smith of MassLive.com. "Typically you see around that 14-15 month range."

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Okay, so maybe that's not the most specific answer, but it at least gives us a ballpark idea of when Sale could return.

A 14-15 month recovery period would have Sale return sometime between early June and early July in 2021, if his recovery goes well. Of course, there are so many variables to take into account about how Sale may be progressing but also about how the Sox may be faring. If they aren't doing well, the team could take an extremely cautious approach with Sale in hopes of having him fully healthy for the 2022 season.

But Bloom's estimate at least gives Sox fans an initial target for Sale's potential return. The target date will certainly be fluid especially considering that some pitchers take 18 months to return from the surgery.

But no matter what, Sale won't be suiting up for the Red Sox until mid-2021 at the earliest. And that's bad news for the squad considering their lack of starting pitching depth.

Red Sox ace Chris Sale officially undergoes Tommy John surgery

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Red Sox ace Chris Sale officially undergoes Tommy John surgery

Chris Sale's long road to recovery from a pesky elbow injury began on Monday.

The Boston Red Sox officially announced that Sale underwent Tommy John surgery on Monday to reconstruct the UCL in his throwing arm. Noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. Neal ElAttrache performed the surgery.

The Red Sox and Sale decided that he would need to have the surgery about a week and a half ago. The coronavirus crisis made it a bit uncertain as to when Sale would be able to have the procedure done, but now, it is in the books.

Sale won't pitch at all in 2020 and it's likely that he will miss time in 2021 as well. In fact, he could miss that whole season given that a typical recovery from Tommy John surgery takes about 18 months.

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Either way, the Red Sox will be without Sale long-term and as a result, their starting rotation looks very thin. Eduardo Rodgriguez will slot in as the team's ace while Nathan Eovaldi and Martin Perez are the Nos. 2 and 3 starters respectively.

The other two rotation spots are up for grabs but before the league was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was assumed that Ryan Weber had the inside track for the fourth starter position. The fifth starter role was much less settled and the team may have used an opener strategy given their lack of starting pitching depth.

Without Sale, the Red Sox will likely have to rely a lot on their offense to carry them to victory moving forward. But we won't get a chance to see how they look until the MLB returns. And at this point in time, it's unclear when that may be.