The Boston Red Sox won their third World Series in a decade in 2013. The year before that they finished last and had a memorable trade with the Dodgers. In 2014, the defending champs once again found themselves in the cellar.
The offense that had traditionally powered the team wasn’t up to snuff, so they signed Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. Boston finished last in 2015, their GM stepped down, and decided to change course. Still, a 78-84 record wasn’t much worse than the Diamondbacks’ 79-83 mark, it just happened that the AL East was once again relatively strong from top to bottom.
Keep this in mind: Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval were huge busts. The Red Sox scored the fourth most runs per game (4.62), tallied the fifth most doubles (294), were just a tick below average in homers (161 vs 164 league average), were in the top half of baseball in walks, fifth in batting average and on base percentage, and seventh in slugging.
Hanley and Pablo were busts while the offense was potent.
Xander Bogaerts was in the batting title race hitting .320/.355/.421 with seven homers, 35 doubles, and 10 steals. Mookie Betts broke out with a .291/.341/.479 year that included 18 homers, 21 steals, and 42 doubles.
David Ortiz hit 37 doubles and homers with a .273/.360/.553 line. He was also the only regular without a triple, while Mookie set the pace with eight.
Dustin Pedroia had his typical season: .291/.356/.441 with 19 doubles and 12 homers, in unfortunately just 93 games. Brock Holt played every position except pitcher and catcher while hitting .280/.349/.379, but fading considerably in the second half.
Blake Swihart (.274/.319/.392), Jackie Bradley Jr. (.249/.335/.498), and Travis Shaw (.270/.327/.487) all came up from the minors and chipped in admirably as guys were hurt or underperforming.
The three big contracts signed in 2014 struggled: Rusney Castillo (.253/.288/.359), Sandoval (.245/.292/.366), and Ramirez (.249/.291/.426). Ramirez did have a monster April, hitting 10 of his 19 home runs, before running into a wall on May 4 and injuring his shoulder. Playing left field is harder than it looks—a healthy Hanley moved back to the infield for 2016 should be better. As for Sandoval and Castillo? Fingers crossed.
This is where things fell apart for the Red Sox. Rather than pony up for Jon Lester, Boston acquired Rick Porcello (for Yoenis Cespedes), Wade Miley, and Justin Masterson to pair with Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly.
The plan was that all of those guys could be solid and as the season went along, Eduardo Rodriguez, Henry Owens, and Brian Johnson could come up from the minors and replace anyone struggling or injured.
While fans and the media had a field day criticizing Ben Cherington over the lack of an ace, the plan wasn’t actually all the bad. It just didn’t work out. The veterans were so bad early on that it didn’t matter what E-Rod and the kids did; the Sox were out early and never managed to claw their way back from the deficit.
Miley (4.46 ERA, 3.81 FIP) was a serviceable mid-rotation starter for 193.2 innings, but entered the season with expectations that he could rise above that to be a strong No. 2.
Porcello had an ERA approaching six (5.90) in the first half but after a DL stint came back strong with a 3.58 mark to finish the year. Of his final eight starts, all after a month on the disabled list, just one lasted under seven innings.
Kelly (4.82 ERA, 4.18 FIP) was forgettable but remained in the rotation. Clay Buchholz was a bright spot (3.26 ERA, 2.68 FIP) but was limited to just 113.1 innings due to injury.
Eduardo Rodriguez (3.85 ERA, 3.92 FIP) and Henry Owens (4.57 ERA, 4.28 FIP) each had some memorable starts and showed much of the confidence Cherington placed in them was deserved. However, they couldn’t turn around a sinking rotation as rookies.
Rich Hill returned at the end of the season to pitch 29 innings of 1.55 ERA (2.27 FIP) baseball. He struck out 36 batters, including 10 each in his first three starts, one of which was a complete game shutout against the Orioles. No one could have expected that. It was inconceivable.
Was it a successful season?
No. Which is not to say Ben Cherington didn’t have a decent plan, but the reality—the distribution of runs scored and allowed, the call-ups from the minors, the performance of three big free agent signings—none of it was in sync.
And with three last place finishes in four years, Cherington chose to walk away when a fresh face was brought in.. Former Detroit Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski came in as president and began to reshape the team in his own way. There’s a lot of talent in the majors and minors, which makes the last two disastrous seasons hard to believe, but maybe Dombrowski can align the talent back into a winner.
Editor’s Note: This article originally stated GM Ben Cherington was fired. We have revised it to say that he stepped down.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs