Brandon Workman

Dustin Pedroia's sad connection to Jim Rice, and other surprising Red Sox numbers

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Dustin Pedroia's sad connection to Jim Rice, and other surprising Red Sox numbers

Cover the Red Sox for a year and you'll spend a lot of time staring at Baseball-Reference, the pre-eminent site for the kind of stats you would've found on a Topps card in 1986, as well as many of the advanced numbers that have transformed the modern game.

Over the course of a season, some numbers will occasionally jump out at you. Here are five, from lowest to highest, that caught my attention in 2019.

.001 — The difference in OPS between Rafael Devers (.916) in his superstar breakout year and Mookie Betts (.915) in his lackluster MVP follow-up. Anyone who watched the team knows that Devers was the more impactful offensive player, especially from May through July, when the Red Sox still  believed they had a shot at the playoffs. And yet when all was said and done, their numbers were virtually identical. It turns out that context matters.

3 — Hits for Dustin Pedroia since the start of 2018. He's had just 31 at-bats in that span, but that has been enough to drop his lifetime average from .300 to .299. He's almost certain to become a victim of the Jim Rice Effect. The Hall of Fame slugger was a .300 hitter for almost his entire career, dropping below that threshold on May 5, 1989. He played only 29 more games, and finished at .298. Let the record show that Pedroia was still a lifetime .300 hitter (technically .299535, but baseball rounds up), until grounding to short to lead off his penultimate game against Baltimore's Dan Straily. If this is it, he'll finish his career two hits shy of .300.

10 — Wins in Brandon Workman's out-of-nowhere dominant season, which saw him become the first pitcher in history to follow a 1-10 season (in 2014) with a 10-1 campaign. Only 55 pitchers since 1900 have won no more than one game while losing at least 10. Even rarer is the inverse, which has been done 21 times. Workman is the only pitcher to appear on both lists.

15 — Andrew Benintendi home runs since the second half of 2018. Benintendi entered the 2018 All-Star break with 14 bombs and nearly made the All-Star team. He has suffered a mystifying power outage since, managing just two homers in the second half of 2018 and 13 last year. That means he has dropped from 14 homers in the first 91 games of 2018 to 15 in the 195 games since.

21 — Months that Jackie Bradley Jr. has hit under .220 with the Red Sox. Compare that to three crazy outliers that saw him hit over .350 and it becomes clear how misleading it is to call him streaky, a term that suggests roughly equal performance in both directions. Take away August of 2015 (.354), May of 2016 (.381), and June of 2017 (.353) and Bradley's career average dips from .236 to .221, which helps explain why the Red Sox are likely to move on from the defensive whiz this winter.

MLB's Top 20 free agents this offseason>>>>>

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The next Red Sox GM should build around these five players

The next Red Sox GM should build around these five players

The defending MVP? No. The former Cy Young winner? Nope. The seven-time All-Star who just averaged over 13 strikeouts per nine innings? Uh-uh.

The question is whom I want back for next year's Red Sox. And the answer is kind of surprising, once you parse it and realize your list only includes five names.

The exercise crystallizes just what kind of challenge awaits Dave Dombrowski's successor as the Red Sox enter a period of bridging/rebuilding that could get ugly.

I wouldn't call any of the following "untouchable" because I don't believe in that concept. But they're the last guys I'd want to move if I were evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the roster: Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, J.D. Martinez, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Brandon Workman.

That means no Mookie Betts, Chris Sale, David Price, Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Nathan Eovaldi, to name just a few. Money plays a central role in these rankings, especially if the Red Sox are serious about corralling their runaway payroll. That's why Betts, an otherwise obvious fit, is a no for me, because it's going to cost $300 million to keep him.

First off are two obvious names: Bogaerts and Devers. They're the present and future of the organization, with one already signed to a reasonable long-term contract and the other a candidate for an extension.

Bogaerts has emerged as a heart-and-soul player, and his six-year, $120 million deal makes him a bargain. He has already topped 30 homers and 50 doubles while playing virtually every day, and he should finish above .300 for the second time in his career, too. He is a foundational piece not just on the field, but in the clubhouse, and the Red Sox are lucky to be able to build around him.

He has taken a particular interest in Devers, the supremely talented 22-year-old who is posting the kind of numbers (.307-31-112-.910) that suggest he could one day challenge for a Triple Crown. Devers remains under team control through 2023, but at some point the Red Sox will undoubtedly broach the subject of a long-term extension. He is already a monster offensively, but with considerable room to grow.

An offense built around young stars would be the envy of most teams, but this one could benefit from a veteran presence, and that's where Martinez enters the picture. The Red Sox don't suddenly need to become a small-market team, but they'd be wise to start limiting their long-term commitments after tying up too much money in Price ($217 million) and Sale ($145 million), in particular. Martinez can opt out of the final three years and roughly $62.5 million remaining on his contract, but he's at an age (32) and position (DH) where he shouldn't command more than four years on the open market.

It may be old-fashioned to say that Martinez's presence allows other hitters in the lineup to flourish, but it's true. Like David Ortiz before him, Martinez commands respect in the middle of the lineup, and as long as he's around, Bogaerts and Devers won't feel the same kind of pressure to produce. Add his very specific skills as a clubhouse hitting guru, and Martinez is worth keeping.

If only we could say the same about any of the overpriced starters. Price will undergo surgery to remove a cyst from his wrist that might solve all his problems, but if the Red Sox could get out from under the final three years and $96 million remaining on his contract, they wouldn't ask twice.

Sale, meanwhile, is still awaiting a follow-up visit with Dr. James Andrews after shutting it down for the final six weeks because of elbow soreness. And even if Eovaldi feels strong heading into the offseason, he remains not only injury-prone, but wildly inconsistent.

E-Rod, however, keeps establishing himself as a legit top-three starter. Still only 26 years old, the lefty has finally delivered his breakthrough campaign, going 18-6 with a 3.53 ERA while averaging more than a strikeout per inning. Maintaining this momentum in 2020 will be a challenge, but he's the one starter I'd bet on at the moment.

Workman seemed an unlikely candidate to be labeled indispensable when the season started, especially since he was only a few months removed from being left off the World Series roster. But the 31-year-old has inexorably transformed himself into one of the game's most uniquely dominant relievers.

Detractors point to his high walk totals and reliance on a curveball as proof that he's just a one-season gimmick, but doing so ignores (a) his 13 strikeouts per nine, and (b) the fact that his fastball is regularly hitting 95 mph again.

Workman has the makeup and stuff to serve as the last line of defense, but the flexibility and selflessness to set up if the Red Sox add a closer. Whatever role he fills in 2020, I just know I want him on my team.

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Say hello to a 21-man Red Sox pitching staff and goodbye to what we think of as baseball

Say hello to a 21-man Red Sox pitching staff and goodbye to what we think of as baseball

BOSTON -- The Red Sox bullpen looked like a packed rush-hour Green Line train. Crossing the clubhouse meant navigating a toppled Jenga stack of spare lockers. Forget about a magnifying glass -- the four-point type on the official roster required a scanning electron microscope.

"Are we having fun yet?!" Adam Scott's Henry Pollard asked plaintively on the Starz cult classic "Party Down", but in terms of virality, the final three weeks of the Red Sox season are taking on the feel of "Too Many Cooks," the Adult Swim earworm that parodied 1990s sitcom themes -- first by never ending, and then by leaving everyone in a pool of blood (don't ask).

Baseball plans to address the issue of September roster chum next year, when each team will only be able to carry three extra players. The Red Sox seem to be operating with a self-imposed 28-man limit, but just barely, and that is the embarrassing number of pitchers on the roster.

On Wednesday, they recalled four relievers they had already sent home for the winter, bringing the number of active arms to 21. That number again: TWENTY-ONE. That's every healthy pitcher on the 40-man roster except Double-A right-hander Denyi Reyes, who should probably keep his phone on vibrate, just in case.

While some teams might be ashamed to carry so many arms, the Red Sox have little choice. They refuse to concede, which means they need all the help they can get. Outside of left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, their starting pitchers are either injured (Chris Sale), ineffective (Rick Porcello), or nonexistent.

So, with a little more than three weeks remaining and the playoffs somewhere just shy of a pipe dream, Cora offers no apologies for the parade of pitching changes that will almost certainly be inflicted upon us for the rest of the month.

Buckle up, and bring your traveling neck pillow.

"We're going winter ball style," Cora said. "That's how we're going to do it. The games, instead of four hours, they're going to be five hours. Keep the fans away from the..."

Cora's voice trailed off in recognition that even in jest, he probably shouldn't verbalize just how ugly the rest of the month could get. He knows this is a ridiculous use of the roster, but it is one afforded him by the rules, and the only alternative is to run his most effective relievers into a reef and watch them sink.

That's life on a team with horrible starting pitching. The Red Sox will try to bullpen their way to October, and that requires bodies. Lots and lots of bodies.

So on Wednesday, they summoned right-handers Colten Brewer, Trevor Kelley, and Mike Shawaryn, as well as left-hander Bobby Poyner, who had been freed to head home when the Triple-A season ended on Monday. They join a bullpen that already includes Jhoulys Chacin, Travis Lakins, Ryan Weber, and Hector Velazquez. Outside of the recently signed Chacin, that's a veritable Who's Who of pitchers you probably only vaguely remember, and not necessarily positively.

"We talked about it last night," Cora said. "Obviously, it's not perfect, but our starters are not giving us enough. We need matchups, we need arms, we're going to try to maximize Brewer's cutter and Shawaryn's slider and Bobby's fastball up and Kelley's side-arm pitches. We're trying to look for outs.

"Luckily I work in an organization that, we're not going to tap out, we're not going to wave the white flag and we're going to keep pushing," Cora added.

While the organization's motivation is entirely understandable -- ugly wins are wins just the same -- that doesn't mean we have to feel great about watching it. At a time when baseball should be selling the drama of pennant races, it instead shovels compost in our faces.

The Red Sox, who now run seven lines deep in the bullpen, will be leading that charge unapologetically, though in the 6-2 victory Wednesday night over the Twins, Cora still leaned on stalwarts Josh Taylor, Darwinzon Hernandez, and Brandon Workman.

"The rules are the rules," Cora said. "Next year, you can't do that. It's probably not the first time that's ever happened in the game, so I don't feel bad about it."

The box scores are about to get crowded. Given the limitations of their roster, the Red Sox see no other options.

 
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