All in all, 2021 offered optimism for the Boston Red Sox. Very few expected them to be competitive with the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, or Toronto Blue Jays. Even fewer imagined Boston would find itself in the ALCS against the Houston Astros.
Yet, here we are.
While the Red Sox’s postseason did not end as they hoped, the entire campaign gave players, coaches, the front office, and fans plenty of reasons to feel good about the future of Boston baseball.
Manager: Alex Cora
Position: Second in AL East
Postseason: Made playoffs as Wild Card; lost in ALCS
Inconsistency was the biggest factor towards Boston’s ultimate demise. When they were hot, they looked like the best team in all of MLB. When they weren’t hot, however, things went downhill fast. This is what caused them to relinquish their spot atop the AL East, nearly drop out of playoff contention altogether, and ultimately lose to the Astros in the World Series despite taking a 2-1 lead.
Offensively, the bats looked really good. Boston found a nice mix of power and contact, putting the ball in play while also plating runners frequently. However, their baserunning and fielding were both treacherous. On the basepaths, the Red Sox looked like they had no idea what they were doing, getting caught stealing, picked off, or running into outs. In the field, they practiced an old refrain: making errors. The team had its fair share of flashy plays, but there were also gaffs: misthrows to first base, dropped fly balls in the outfield, and passed balls at the dish.
Boston’s inconsistency carried over into the pitching department, too. Nathan Eovaldi was the team’s only reliable starter to begin the year while players like Eduardo Rodriguez, Garrett Richards, and Martin Perez all faltered. Chris Sale returned in the back half of the year and looked very effective, though even he was responsible for some blow-ups from time to time. In the bullpen, Rule 5 pickup Garrett Whitlock looked fantastic while closer Matt Barnes had a phenomenal first half of the season before looking abysmal in the second half. Rookie Tanner Houck also frequented the majors in the latter part of the year, admirably serving a split role between the bullpen and rotation.
Most Valuable Player: Xander Bogaerts
Bogaerts often provided a spark for the Red Sox this season both offensively and defensively. The 28-year-old ultimately slashed .295/.370/.493 with 23 homers and 79 RBI. His 10.3 percent walk rate represented the best mark of his career. However, his 18.7 percent strikeout rate was his highest such mark since 2014. He added a .356 xwOBA, 130 wRC+, and 23.7 fWAR on offense. He was similarly solid defensively, posting a 2.3 UZR, which was the second-best clip of his career. While he certainly had his ups and downs, he was Boston’s best and most reliably player on both sides of the ball.
Starting Pitcher of the Year: Nathan Eovaldi
Eovaldi was clearly Boston’s best starter of the season. While Sale came on strong at the end of the season, he faltered in the postseason. On the other hand, Eovaldi was steady for the entire year and even into October. The 31-year-old right-hander posted an impressive 9.63 K/9, 1.73 BB/9, and 0.74 HR/9. The 2018 World Series hero also logged a 2.79 FIP and 5.6 fWAR.
Relief Pitcher of the Year: Garrett Whitlock
Very few people knew much about Whitlock heading into this season. Fresh off Tommy John surgery, the reliever went from the Yankees to Red Sox during the Rule 5 draft. In his first MLB season, he absolutely shone. The 25-year-old went 8-4 with a 3.06 SIERA, 1.6 WAR, 9.94 K/9, 2.09 BB/9, and 0.75 HR/9. He was a strong distance option for Boston, going 73.1 innings over the course of 46 games, and could be relied on during high-leverage situations.
Best Hitter of the Year: Rafael Devers
Devers had a productive season, slashing .279/.352/.538 with 38 homers and 113 RBI. While he struck out a lot (21.5 percent strikeout rate), he also logged a 9.3 percent walk rate. His 134 wRC+ represents a career-high while his 4.7 oWAR is the second-best mark of his career. An arm issue plagued him in the playoffs, damaging his swing and hurting his offensive production. However, when healthy, Devers was Boston’s top contributor at the plate.
Best Fielder of the Year: Kiké Hernández
Hernandez was a fantastic defender this season, providing the Red Sox with extreme defensive value at both second base and in the outfield. He ranked in the 89th percentile in Outs Above Average and the 100th percentile in Outfield Jump. The 29-year-old also posted 9.3 fWAR on defense, which drastically edged out his prior best finish (3.1 wins in 2019). His phenomenal glove and speed give the Red Sox flexibility and a sense of relief when perusing free agency this offseason.
Comeback Player of the Year: J.D. Martinez
Martinez had an awful 2020 season but drastically bounced back this year. The 33-year-old appeared in 148 games, slashing .286/.349/.518 with a .371 xwOBA and 128 wRC+. While his 18.4 offensive fWAR represented his second-lowest such mark since 2013, it was still 26.3 runs higher than his performance last year. Martinez is on the verge of a critical club option decision, and his clutch campaign will help his cause. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.
As far as Boston’s coaching staff goes, only one member (first base coach Tom Goodwin) won’t return for 2022. On the other hand, the team does have plenty of free-agent decisions to go over. The biggest are Kyle Schwarber, whose mutual option will let him test free agency, and Rodriguez. Martinez decides his own fate with a $19.35 million club option. Adam Ottavino is also set to hit the open market while Garrett Richards, Martin Perez, and Christian Vazquez all have club options. Meanwhile, midseason pick-up Travis Shaw and September hero Jose Iglesias are also free agents that should land MLB deals somewhere. Specifically, Iglesias is a top target for Boston.
All in all, the Red Sox’s biggest focus needs to be pitching. The instability that plagued the staff in 2021 cannot continue. They will also have to work on re-signing impending free-agent bats and replacing any that sign elsewhere.
Follow Andersen Pickard on Twitter @AndersenPickard
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