The 2004 Championship team was a result of a force of will. Backed into a 0-3 corner in the ALCS and decades of spectacular failure, the Idiots fought back and willed the Red Sox to their first championship in 86 years.
2007 Red Sox were a function of might making right, deploying a deep rotation, practically unhittable bullpen and a lineup that top to bottom was comprised of perhaps the most talented collection Red Sox players we’ve ever seen.
So what to make of the 2013 Red Sox? They’re a force of nature. Nature in their easy, going, self-assured, utterly inter-dependent demeanor. A force of nature for the level of comfort they take in their surroundings. A force of nature that understands the community around it and understands its place within it.
Win or lose this week, this Red Sox team should and will be the template to which all future Red Sox teams should be built. For all their talent, this is a group that has all the key components that the arguably more talented 2011 and 2012 editions lacked. They have the core strength of the 2007 team. They certainly have the willpower of the 2004 team. They also have so much more than that.
This team has a sense of self, a sense of purpose and an oddly settling demeanor that has trickled down from a front office that has returned to what’s important, while learning from past mistakes.
The thing about nature is that it’s honest- even brutally so, at times. So is this roster, which is made up of group of particularly talented pieces that doesn’t pretend to be anything they aren’t. It’s and honest group. Brutally so.
Part of that brutal honesty has been getting back to what gave rise to the organization in the first place. Key people, parts and principles that provided a formula for sustained, long term success.
-A center field quality defender in RF with a strong arm and a wide-ranging skill set.
I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the significance of Shane Victorino to the Red Sox season this year, which is ironic considering his was the most widely panned deal of the offseason for the Red Sox. Since then, he’s accumulated a 19.5 FRAA, good enough for second in all of baseball among RFers. He was 1st in fWAR (5.6) and was hardly a bust at the plate, racking up a .353 wOBA that was good enough to put him in the top third of Right Field hitters.
To put it mildly, even if his overall WAR production is halved next year (to 2.8), he’d still be worth exactly $14 million per season and when combined with his $28 million worth of production this year, would put the Red Sox a million in the black on their 3 year, $39 million deal with him.
-High FB% pull hitters in LF who get on base and whose defensive prowess shouldn’t be altogether ignored, but leeway given.
Nava spent his season beating up on righties to the tune of a .322/.411/.484 line. Gomes was a bit more disappointing vs. LHP posting a .236/.347/.447 mark. Still, putting those together gets you a .279/.379/.466 player for the magical cost of about $5.7 million.
Much like the Cody Ross, Kevin Millar, Mark Bellhorn types over the years, it proves that there’s no shortage of high FB% pull power out there on the market that can be had for cheap that when used in conjunction in a platoon of sorts, can combine into one incredibly valuable piece of a championship puzzle.
-Shorter money, defensively capable and offensively acceptable veteran First Basemen that don’t sink payrolls with hefty salaries and declining skill sets.
The most overpaid position in baseball is 1B. It always seems like a great idea to sign a guy long term who is a veritable masher, but how many of those deals ever work out? Adrian Gonzalez, although obviously capable is in decline. There’s obvious skepticism regarding the Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard and Albert Pujols deals. Even the contract that netted Mark Texeira (who was 27 when he was signed) looks less and less appealing every season.
And that’s not even getting into whether or not having a really good first baseman is even all that important. The Rangers have been among the most dominant teams in baseball over the course of the last three years, and that’s with the likes of Mitch Moreland and Michael Young playing there. The Rays have paraded a whole smorgasbord of 1B over the past few seasons, including Casey Kotchman, James Loney and Carlos Pena. The A’s have platooned the position for two consecutive years and won back-to-back division titles. There’s also the San Francisco Giants, who have patiently dealt with the ups and downs associated with Brandon Belt project while cruising to two World titles. The Pirates struggled at the position all season and not until August did they pick up Justin Morneau, who at this point is probably riding the wave of his past reputation more than his actual skill set (he can’t hit lefties).
Sure, the Red Sox will likely have to re-sign Mike Napoli to a deal that might be outside of their comfort zone, but in comparison to some of the big money grabs that other big market teams have tied up significant resources in, even a renewed 3 year, $39 million deal wouldn’t seem altogether preposterous.
-A veritable Swiss army knife of a bench that has a tool for nearly every situation.
I absolutely believe in luck (and believe in bad luck twice as much) when it comes to close games, but I’d be remiss if I were to say that there needs to be given some credit to the depth of the Red Sox bench (and bullpen) that’s allowed them to win close games. When you think about it, the Red Sox can, in fact – match up offensively with almost every kind of scenario you could conceive of:
• They have a Right handed and a left handed power bat to play 1B (Napoli, Carp)
• They have a right handed and left handed catcher with some pop (Salty and Ross)
• They have Nava and Gomes, but also Carp who can come off the bench to thump late in the game.
• Enjoyed middle infield flexibility throughout the entire season
• A token base stealer in Berry and two high-level threats to steal in the starting lineup (Victorino and Ellsbury) plus three pretty good base runners in Gomes, Ortiz and Pedroia
• Two switch hitters in the lineup, which we know – their switch sides aren’t much to write home about, but to Managers who still live in the Cretaceous period, it means something.
• Lots and lots of depth at the minor league level to absorb losses due to injury – holes that have been filled by the likes of Ryan Lavarnway, Alex Wilson, Alfredo Aceves, Allen Webster, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley, Brandon Workman, Drake Britton, Brock Holt and Brandon Snyder.
A big part of what hurt this team the past few seasons was depth and what I felt was a general antipathy to their bench as a whole. It’s not to say the past few seasons haven’t had their share of decent players on the bench, but the collection of talent and their individual uses (and their deployment) has paid huge dividends this season and shouldn’t be understated.
-Coaches and personnel who keep clubhouse issues in the clubhouse.
I doubt I need to dive deep into this one, but the Boston Sports media – or at least some very specific individuals who dwell within it – are an opportunistic, mostly grotesque collection of the worst of the human condition. Just last night even, Comcast Sports Net – which really watches more like a 24-hour long, endless temper tantrum over not having the TV rights to the Red Sox than it does serious analysis of the team – paraded out Joe Haggerty, Michael Felger AND Dan Shaughnessey to talk about who the goat would be if the Red Sox ended up losing the series. Always be prepared for the be.. I mean worst, I suppose.
It’s that kind of a group that needs to be kept in check because let’s face it – they, themselves certainly aren’t capable of it. That invisible wall between the team and the media that managers like John Farrell and Terry Francona serve as means something in this town; unlike the Dutch door with windows that Bobby Valentine was last year.
At the end of the day, Boston is a place that when you fail, the media feels compelled to want to teach the players a lesson. As such, it’s a place where it needs a coaching staff that’s not interested in doing the same. It’s about correcting mistakes, not become part of them.
-A commitment to sticking by in-house players through extended slumps and having faith in your staff to help them refine their skills and blossom as players.
We all more or less knew that players like David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury would bounce back at some point. What we weren’t as sure of, was the litany of players who had habitually underperformed or failed to live up to expectations over an extended sample; players that the organization refused to give up on.
I’m talking about guys like John Lackey. Guys like Jon Lester. Guys like Clay Buchholz, Andrew Miller and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. All of whom – at one point or another – struggled through extended stretches and who people who follow the team religiously, lacked confidence in.
But there’s a significant lesson to be learned, here.
One of the most important tenants of good asset management is that when you’ve found a formula that works, you don’t mess with it. That’s to say – that you should have faith in your front office cohorts and your ability to identify what you think will become a more valuable asset – then the confidence to see it through to it’s conclusion, good or bad. Not all good decisions end up with good results, but many good decisions achieve poor results because of an over eagerness to want to move onto the next, shiny new plaything. The Red Sox resisted that temptation this season, an as such, have found a great deal of success.
At the end of the day, the things I mentioned here aren’t just bits and pieces to a good team that can win lots of baseball games at Fenway Park – they’re lessons to be learned. As much as we might not want to admit it, 2012 might be the most important year in this franchise’s history, because it helped bring into focus the things that we’ve all known, but perhaps were too drunk on dream teams to want to bother to live by.
Success in baseball as in nature’s food chain, requires discipline, efficiency and above all else, a willingness to evolve and adapt to the situations – physically and otherwise – that we find ourselves in. This team is good because it’s an entity that can fit to any situation put in front of it. They’re good because they can be anyone of a thousand different animals at any given time. They feast on those who are weaker further down the food chain, not because they’re smarter, but because they’re simply built to do that. They’re not anyone thing, but rather a lot of things.
They certainly have the will. They can be overpowering, too. But it’s the combination of those and so much more that makes this team special. They’re not an action, they’re not an emotion and they’re certainly not a verb. They’re a force. A force of nature.