John Henry’s declaration that the Red Sox have relied too much on analytics in recent years has made for interesting sports radio fodder, but does the Red Sox owner really mean what he says? After all, his team employs Bill James, the father of sabermetrics, and spends more money on statistical analysis than most major league teams. Henry made his fortune analyzing the commodities and stock markets, so crunching numbers is in his blood.
I don’t mean to put words in Henry’s billion-dollar mouth, but I believe he intended to say, “We will continue to use analytics — You remember our 2004, 2007 and 2013 teams, don’t you? — but analytics will no longer trump the obvious.”
The Red Sox projected big numbers from Pablo Sandoval when they inked him to a five-year, $95 million contract over a year ago. But they ignored the obvious, most basic statistics: Sandoval’s batting average and OPS had dropped in three consecutive seasons. Last year, Sandoval’s first in a Red Sox uniform, made four.
The Red Sox also seemed to ignore Sandoval’s ever-expanding waistline. Sandoval has battled weight issues his entire career. His extra pounds likely contributed to his troubles at the plate and clearly limited his range at third base. Statistically, you could argue that Sandoval was one of baseball’s least productive players — offensively and defensively — last season.
The Red Sox also had high expectations for Hanley Ramirez, but again overlooked the obvious. Ramirez’s career has been mired with injuries, peaks, valleys, and overall indifference. Last season was no different. He was one of baseball’s top sluggers for month or so before a shoulder injury limited his play for the remainder of the season. Never much of an infielder, Ramirez played Fenway’s left field like it was covered with landmines.
His work ethic and ability to bounce back from injuries were questioned by previous coaching staffs in Florida and Los Angeles, but the still Red Sox emptied the vault (four years, $88 million) for the unreliable Ramirez to be the focal point of their offense while learning a new position.
The Red Sox also swung and missed with Rick Porcello. Last off-season, the Sox traded a valuable commodity (Yoenis Cespedes) for Porcello and promptly signed the right-handed pitcher to a four-year, $82.5 million contract extension. Paid like an ace, Porcello performed like a pitcher struggling to stay in the majors. The Red Sox clearly saw something in Porcello that others did not. He may emerge as a solid mid-rotation pitcher, but nothing more.
New baseball chief Dave Dombrowski brings different methods and skills to the table. Regarded as a top baseball executive, Dombroski developed his craft in the scouting and developmental departments of the White Sox and Expos before running the shows in Florida and Detroit. Metrics mean something, but his eyes tell him more.
Upon arrival in Boston, he quickly identified the team’s biggest needs and quickly attacked, signing David Price and trading for Craig Kimbrel. Price is the ace every contending team needs and Kimbrel, a bonafide, card-carrying closer that solidifies the entire bullpen. As the Kansas City Royals have proven, the road to the World Series goes through the bullpen these days.
The Red Sox spend significant time and money on scouting and analytics. Dombrowski is charged with merging the two components. He’s old school, so count on the eye test to be the deciding factor. And don’t count on the new Red Sox missing the obvious anytime soon.