By Mark Paulette
What an absolutely strange year for the 2017 Boston Red Sox. A season which opened with such promise and intrigue, devolved into a lost hope despite the team never falling below second place for the final three months of the year. While I don’t want to diminish the accomplishments of this year’s squad, which made franchise history by capturing a second-consecutive AL East title, I refuse to agree with those who count the team’s ALDS-exit as a success because the team displayed “fight.” This is Red Sox Nation, dammit. The bar will not stoop so low on my watch. That rambling aside, here are my official Mark Paulette grades for every aspect of the 2017 Sox.
Bullpen – Let’s start with the good and work our way down, shall we? The dominant force in Boston’s team all season long, made their home flicking seeds and flipping water bottles beyond the wall in right-center field. When the misfit cast wasn’t shagging home runs (which came few and far between off Boston’s bats) or using high school portraits to assign seats, the Sox’ pen assembled one of the top units Major League Baseball had to offer. Logging 531 innings, a collective ERA of 3.15 and a WHIP of 1.17, Boston’s ‘pen was the main reason behind the team’s 15-3 record in extra-inning games. In fact, the ‘pens collective ERA in the six-plus games worth of extra innings was sub-1.50. Craig Kimbrel was simply otherworldly this season, fanning 126 batters in 69 innings. Joe Kelly found his niche, appearing in 54 games with an ERA of 2.79, and Brandon Workman, who didn’t even make the postseason roster due to the squad’s depth, was considered a mid-season revelation better than any trade which could have been made. Hell, even Mitch Moreland tossed a scoreless inning in relief. With David Price’s emergence (13k in 8.2ip), Austin Maddox’s lights-out September (one run in 17.1ip) and Carson Smith’s revival (1.35 ERA), three of the team’s top appearance makers in Matt Barnes (70 games), Heath Hembree (62 games) and Fernando Abad (48 games) were forgotten men by season’s end. Even John Farrell couldn’t miss-manage this bullpen in the end and there’s little doubt they’re deserving of the team’s top-marks. Final Grade – A.
Manager – THIS IS NOT A TYPO. Like many, there were countless times over the last six months that I found myself annoyed to no end, due to a decision or lack-there-of, made by John Farrell. His clueless stares from the dugout and nonsensical postgame explanations did little to subside the angry mobs of millions of New Englanders who believe they can do his job with greater success. Yet, this season Farrell accomplished something no other Red Sox manager has done before, leading the Sox to a second-straight division title and third in the five years under his guidance. Farrell managed the bullpen to the absolute best of its capabilities, a ‘pen whose parts where largely imported from the Island of Misfit Toys. His early-June benching of Andrew Benintendi, proved to be the spark the rookie needed to rejuvenate his season, and even managed to navigate the team to 93 wins despite having a black hole at third base for two-thirds of the year. Yes, there was Apple-Gate, the newest Boston sport’s cheating scandal and the bad press which followed, but as commissioner, Rob Manfred found, it was much ado about nothing. (They were cheating, of that there’s no doubt, but so were the Yankees). As desperate as we are to find Farrell’s replacement, a better option isn’t coming from the open market, and if this is truly a meritocracy, then Farrell deserves to keep his spot in Boston’s dugout. Final Grade – B-minus.
Rotation – Any rotation led by Chris Sale is going to be able to overcome a multitude of negative influence at the back end. Sale was better than advertised this season, becoming the first American League pitcher since 1999 to eclipse 300 strikeouts with his total of 308. Add in 17 wins and an ERA of 2.90 and if not for Corey Kluber’s second-half supremacy, Boston would be toting the Cy Young for a second-straight year. And for those who want to tell you Sale’s season drastically tailed towards the end, his post-All-Star Game ERA was 3.12. For perspective, only Sale himself, Kluber (2.25), Luis Severino (2.98) and Marcus Stroman (3.09) finished with a lower ERA in the AL for the entire year. Beyond Sale, Pomeranz dazzled with his 17-7/3.32/174 campaign, because of course we all saw that coming when he opened the year on the DL. No one said he’d be the odd man out in the rotation once David Price came back, (ahem…I need look no further than a mirror on that one). Though after the lefties at the top, the waters got a tad murkier. Price went 5-3 with an ERA of 3.82 in 11 starts, Rick Porcello’s bid for 20 losses came up a tad short as the reigning AL Cy Young finished at 11-17, and Eduardo Rodriguez continued to be baffled by the definition of “win,” earning a victory in just 25% of his starts. Doug Fister had his moments, like the one-hit complete game at Cleveland on August 22nd, Brian Johnson tossed a complete game shutout vs. Seattle in May, and Steven Wright, Hector Velazquez and Kyle Kendrick combined for one win in 10 starts, so, yeah…All in all, a 64-54 record and an ERA north of four doesn’t look incredible for a unit comprised of 10 men at different times, but sometimes numbers don’t tell the full story. Final Grade – C-plus.
Lineup – After previously defending Farrell above, I will say that the lineup he rolled out for Game Two of the ALDS read as follows: .273, .293, .271, .264, .235, .242, .290, .211, .245. That’s simply not the lineup of a first-place playoff team, which may actually prove my point from above, that Farrell excelled in managing this squad into the dance, but I digress. Apart from 45 solid days of Eduardo Nunez setting the table, Boston’s lineup lacked performance top-to-bottom. Mookie regressed, Hanley forgot what RBI’s are, Moreland went hitless for weeks at a time, Jackie Bradley Jr. entered witness protection for months on end, and Xander Bogaerts failed to realize that June-through-September can in fact count negatively against your average. In a year when the all-time home run record was shattered across the MLB, the Sox tried desperately to help as little as possible, mustering the fourth-worst total at 168. Yes, they grinded(?) (ground?) out their share of games, but too often it took 13-16 innings to do so while the bullpen kept opponents at bay. Final Grade – D-plus
Intangibles – I’ll keep this brief.
Defense – This requires a grading curve that doesn’t quite keep in-line with the other grades handed out to this point. Outfield – A. Everyone else, excluding Dustin Pedroia – C-minus. The D got markedly better compared to that Little League team that began the year, but whether it was issues at third base, Bogaerts’ inconsistency at short, or even a surprising number of mistakes behind the plate, there was a much larger sense of uneasiness than calm in Boston’s D.
Bench – Brock Holt, I love you, but it was a lost year. Don’t strain your eyes too much and get back to being your super utility self in 2018. As for Chris Young, he probably should have been cut in July if not for possessing Farrell’s eternal love. Apart from three weeks in June, Deven Marrero and Tzu-Wei Lin offered little outside of glove contributions. Sam Travis failed to impress, Marco Hernandez pulled a Pablo and injured his shoulder before he had the chance to impress, and Josh Rutledge…don’t even get me started on Josh Rutledge. Outside of Sandy Leon, who was a full-time platoon with Vazquez (99 games-to-85), Boston received minimal returns from its reserves. Final Grade – F.
Base running – Hey, Benintendi became the first Sox rookie to turn in a 20/20 season and Betts added 26 steals. That’s gotta count for something, right? Nope. All season I was on the edge of firing my remote through the T.V. when the Sox aimlessly tried to go first-to-third or score from second on a ball hit shallow in the outfield. This may be influenced by my emotions, but I don’t care. Final Grade – F-minus.
Now, for my irrational conclusion. Add all those grades up on any classic scale and you’ll end up with something in the low-C range. This team failed to perform in the postseason, struggled mightily on the offensive side, and patched together a rotation anchored by two aces and a guy who had six more losses than wins. Yet, they still won as many games as last year and finished better than the other four teams in the AL East. Frankly, that should be more impressive after some of the grades I handed out in this report card. My mind is telling me to be an old curmudgeon, but my youthful exuberance has gotten the best of me yet again. Final Overall Grade – B.
Until next year, Red Sox, when hope springs eternal.
Mark Paulette is the senior producer of The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.