Boston Red Sox at Minnesota Twins

Last Sunday I wrote about how the Sox have a step up on a majority of major league competition because they did well in the margins, specifically quality fourth and fifth starters. This week I will examine the opposite — the $39.5 million dollar albatross in clogging the Sox bench.

After John Lackey’s $18.7 million contract, the next three highest paid Sox are J.D. Drew ($14 million), David Ortiz ($13 million) and Mike Lowell ($12.5 million). So far those three hitters have a combined (through Friday) for 22 hits in 121 at-bats with 16 walks and two home runs. That comes out to a baseline average of .181 and a .262 on-base percentage.

On the advanced side of the Hall of Metrics they are averaging a weighted Runs Created plus (wRC+) of 65.666 which is actually a little misleading because Lowell actually has a very decent wRC+ number of 121, albeit in only 20 official at bats this year. The average wRC+ between Ortiz and Drew is 38 (44 for Ortiz, 32 for Drew). Conversely, runs are hard to create when you are not getting on base and the mean between the three players’ weighted on-base average is .281, again with Lowell skewing the numbers with a .361 wOBA while Ortiz and Drew are at .251 and .233, respectively.

It all adds up to … not much. And that is precisely the problem because $39.5 million is supposed to add up to, well, at least $39.5 million worth of production.

Lets break down the numbers. If each player’s contract is broken down into pay per 162 games then multiplied by total team games played (17 in this case) then the actual dollar amount of the trio at this point in the season is approximately $4.14 million. That breaks down to Drew at $1.47 million, Ortiz at $1.36 million and Lowell at $1.31 million. Consider that the cost of a win on the open market these days is about $5 million and it would be reasonable to say that each player’s early season Wins Above Replacement would combine to be about 1.0 or perhaps a tick less, maybe a tick more if they got out of the gate hot.

What is the actual WAR of the hapless troika? That would be a sterling -.3.

That is basically saying that Drew, Ortiz and Lowell are combining to lose a third of a game for the Sox as opposed to winning a game. That is approximately a 1.7 WAR split which would translate into about $8.5 million in value from expected performance and the reality of the situation.

Ortiz is the biggest culprit in the WAR department (no pun intended) at -0.3 as Lowell and Drew cancel each other out at .2 and -.2. I am also a day late in getting to his numbers because I am sure that his WAR went up by hitting a home run on Friday night against the Orioles.

But Ortiz pales next to Drew whose WAR is actually buoyed by the fact that he has a 1.5 Ultimate Zone Rating on the year. Out of the trio, only Drew has played in every Boston game (Ortiz has 12, Lowell 6). His 57 at bats are 47 percent of the total at-bats between the three players and his wRC+ is by the lowest at 32 and he is worth negative five runs when extending wOBA to weighted Runs Above Average (wRAA) at -5.0. The sabermetric wisdom is that a win is about nine or 10 runs which means that Drew’s bat, without UZR included) is worth about -.5 WAR.

Or think about the big picture. The $39.5 combined the trio will make in 2010 is about 23.5 percent of the Sox season payroll. Ask yourself then, are Drew, Lowell and Ortiz producing a quarter of the Sox win shares?

No, they are not.

This is not the margins we are talking about. This is the bread and butter of the Sox attack and through a little more than a 10th of the season, it is a clogged artery leading to a massive coronary.