We all recognize this Boston Red Sox team as a different type of team than we are used to watching. But does it have the ingredients for success, for a championship? It does, and that is due to one major reason: the defense. This team could have the best defense in modern Red Sox history, and perhaps in the entire history of the franchise.
I am looking specifically at our outfield defense—the Sox essentially have three center-fielders out there—and the up the middle defense at short and second.
Baseballreference.com provides sabermetric fielding statistics. The two keys stats are Runs Saved Above Average, and Runs Saved per 135 games. They calculate these stats based on a fielder’s range, put-out, and error percentages. I will be referencing these stats throughout this evaluation of the Sox defense.
Jacoby: The last season Ellsbury was healthy in 2011 he won the gold glove award, in large part due to his range, and his mistake free defense. That year he saved 7 runs above the average center fielder. Expect more of the same solid defense from Jacoby this season.
Victorino: The Flyin’ Hawaiin spent most of his time in left field last year, saving 7 more runs than the average left fielder. When he did play center, Victorino was 3 runs below the average center fielder, a sign of his decline in range as he ages. But he is still one of the better corner outfielders in the league, a must for the Red Sox to have given Fenway’s expansive right field area. In 2008 playing in center field, Victorino saved 10 runs above the average center fielder. I can’t remember the last time the Sox had someone with Victorino’s speed patrolling in right.
Jackie Bradley: Baseballreference.com does not keep stats in the minor leagues, so Bradley has no stats as of yet. However, we know scouts fell in love with his ability in center field. He gets fantastic jumps on the baseball—we saw that in spring training and in the first game in New York. He has the potential to be better in center than Ellsbury (he could already be better) so he will eat up the small Fenway left field. He also has a plus-arm, so he will keep those wall balls to singles, and will deter many runners from trying to score on him from second base on a single to left. Combine Bradley with Victorino in right and Ellsbury in center, and I challenge you to find me a better Red Sox of the last thirty years.
Pedroia: Last season, Pedroia saved 11 runs above the average second basemen. In 2011 he saved 18 runs above the average second basemen. That is the reason he is a two-time gold glove winner. He also turns one of the quickest double plays, and makes the whole time better in the field by his example, as he hones in on every single pitch.
Iglesias: Iglesias has a limited sample size in the major, but wow. In 24 games last season, he already saved 7 runs above the average shortstop. That is a pace of 43 runs saved over the average shortstop per 135 games. This was a small sample size and if Iglesias continues that pace this season, some baseball nerds’ heads could be found on a street near you, but you get the point. This guy is good. He will be historically good, with the chance of going down as the greatest Red Sox defensive shortstop ever.
Between these five guys, the Sox defense should save at least 35-40 runs above the average defense at their positions. Don’t be surprised if you see John Lackey taking those guys out to dinner every fifth night.