After the first month of the 2021 season, the best record in baseball belongs to the Boston Red Sox. For a team given a 1% chance to win the division, that’s quite an accomplishment. To have such a record there have to be a lot of things going right. In order to enjoy this kind of success, there have to be some astounding individual performances, to boot. While all isn’t perfect in Red Sox Nation, there is definitely a lot to smile about.
Throughout the rest of the season, we’ll be evaluating the players’ performances throughout the weeks and analyzing whose stock is rising and whose seems to be trending downward. For our first report, we’ll be looking at the month of April. Let’s get into it.
Saying that J.D. Martinez’s April was outstanding is an understatement. He’s been tearing the cover off of the ball and boy does it show in his numbers. Through May 1, Martinez leads the major leagues in standard stats like home runs (9), RBI (26), and extra-base hits (19).
Martinez and Red Sox fans of all kinds should be thankful for Ipads. With MLB loosening the restrictions on technology in the dugout during games, it seems that Martinez has gotten his groove back. Some of his early highlights include going 4-6 with three bombs against the Baltimore Orioles, and another multi-home run game against the Texas Rangers. Oh yeah, and he’s also been named the American League Player of the Week for the week of April 5.
If you’re raking this well, then the advanced numbers must be in your favor as well. Consequently, Statcast is loving Martinez as well. He finds himself in the 90th percentile in xwOBA, xBA, and xSLG. His 11 barrels put him in the top 15 in all of baseball as well. If there are any blips in Martinez’s early resume it would be his whiffs. Currently, he’s in the 12th percentile.
Verdugo finds himself on this list not only because of his steady play but also because of the expectations pressed upon them. Verdugo has the unenviable task of following in the shadows of one of the greatest Red Sox of all time in Mookie Betts. He’s not only produced on the field but his personality has allowed him to carve his own niche within Red Sox Nation. Verdugo has one of the most unique and boisterous personalities in the game. Whether it’s showing off his love for fashion or giving an impromptu hitting session to a fan, Verdugo is definitely easy to root for.
Through April Verdugo has even outplayed his predecessor (Betts). Verdugo is besting Betts in batting average, RBI, slugging percentage, and WAR. Now, it’s only the beginning of May, and no respectable baseball fan would expect Verdugo to continue to outperform a top-five player in the league. Having said that, it has to make the Red Sox organization and fanbase feel good that they have a cornerstone talent that is confident enough to make his own way.
Starting Pitching Staff
By far, the biggest Achilles heel for the Red Sox last year was their pitching. Coming into this season there was little reason to believe that it would be any different. Staff ace Chris Sale isn’t expected to be back until the All-Star break. Man, were we mistaken. The Red Sox staff, in general, has been a pleasant surprise. Through the first of May, the starters rank third in the AL in FIP (3.36). That’s a big deal because that shows the quality of pitching–it’s showing that they are not putting pressure on their defense to make miraculous play after miraculous play to keep them in games.
A recent indicator of just how solid the Sox’s starters have been was their most recent road trip in which they swept a short, two-game series against the New York Mets. In the first game of the series Garrett Richards had, by far, his best start in a Red Sox uniform. Richards went seven innings and struck out a season-high 10 batters in a 2-1 victory. The next night, Nick Pivetta kept the train rolling going five innings and striking out seven, while not allowing a run in a 1-0 Sox win.
Those are two quality starts by the bottom of the rotation. As for the top of the rotation, they have held their own as well. Eduardo Rodriguez, in his first 28 innings pitched, has only walked three batters giving him the fifth-best BB/9 in the majors (0.96). Nathan Eovaldi hasn’t given up a homer through his first 34 innings pitched and his 1.3 WAR is good for fourth in the AL.
As long as the pitching staff keeps them in games, the Sox should be in a good position to contend this year.
Bobby Dalbec, Hunter Renfroe, and Franchy Cordero all had their stocks drop. Spots 7-9 in the Red Sox lineup has been bad, to say the least. While the law firm of Dalbec, Renfroe, and Cordero isn’t 100% to blame, they have garnered most of the at-bats in these spots. All three are pretty happy to see the month of April come to an end. They have a combined slash line of .185/.244/.261. When you look at them individually, it does seem that Dalbec is a victim of a little bit of bad luck. With his xBA at .269 and xSLG at .519, it shows that he is due to come out of his slump once those batted balls start to drop. What isn’t pretty though is his whiff and K%. He ranks in only the 10th percentile in all of MLB in both categories.
For Cordero, it’s been downright ugly. Even manager Alex Cora has been quoted as saying “He’s late on fastballs and out in front on offspeed pitches, and that’s not a good place to be.” Before the season Cordero was seen as the replacement for Andrew Benintendi when the Red Sox and Kansas City Royals engaged in an offseason trade. So far he has negative WAR (-0.3) and has gone down on strikes in almost 45% of his at-bats.
Hunter Renfroe’s struggles have extended from last season. With the Tampa Bay Rays in 2020, Renfroe accumulated a -0.4 WAR and had a slash line of .188/.250/.563. In a power position like right-field, they’ll need a much better effort at the plate than what Renfroe has been offering. If these struggles continue, it will only be a matter of time before Jared Durran chants will start to rain down from the Fenway faithful.
There weren’t too many players across the league that had a better opening week than Christian Vazquez. He hit safely in his first five games, launching two homers and driving in five. Since then it’s been tough sledding at the plate for the veteran. Since April 13 he has batted .113 with 0 home runs and a microscopic SLG% of .185. The Red Sox are a different team when they are getting production from the catcher position. Vazquez needs to regain his first-week form especially with the bottom of the order struggling the way it has been.
Embed from Getty Images
Bobby Dalbec, Hunter Renfroe, Franchy Cordero, J.D. Martinez, Christian Vazquez, Alex Verdugo, Mookie Betts, Chris Sale, Garrett Richards, Nick Pivetta, Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, Bobby Dalbec, Hunter Renfroe, Franchy Cordero, Andrew Benintendi,