The 2022 season is over for the Red Sox, who finished last in their division for the fifth time in 11 years.
That will follow them into next season, a season in which manager Alex Cora said his team will be better.
Before that, though, here’s a look at what went right and wrong in 2022. Hint: It’s more wrong than right.
The Red Sox have lacked a real leadoff hitter since trading Mookie Betts. They experimented with Kiké Hernández, Jarren Duran, and Tommy Pham this year. They hoped Duran could command the full-time role, but he struggled and ultimately was optioned back to Triple A Worcester toward the end of the season.
The Sox hit just .232 out of the leadoff spot this year and reached base at a .295 clip — tied for the third-worst on-base percentage in baseball. The leadoff spot has changed over the years, much like the 2-hole hitter. Leadoff has become more of a power position, even if that means you aren’t a speedster. Aaron Judge led off for the Yankees this year, while Kyle Schwarber hit in the leadoff spot for the Phillies.
When Cora was asked what he would like to see in a leadoff hitter, he mentioned the Blue Jays’ George Springer, whom Cora coached while the two were with the Astros. Cora thinks Springer is the perfect combination of the modern leadoff hitter and one with some old-school traits that have defined the spot.
“George, for me, is the perfect guy you know out there,” Cora said. “He’s an on-base percentage guy who doesn’t chase pitches. He can hit the ball out of the ballpark, but then when he gets on, he can take off.”
The Sox don’t have that guy. Hernández is an aggressive swinger, much like Springer, but lacks Springer’s overall tool set and talent.
Next year, the Sox could mix and match again, but it’s clear this was a part of the lineup that plagued them in 2022.
On the surface, it appears Rafael Devers had another stellar season. He hit .295/.358/.521 with 27 homers. But if you delve into the stats a bit further, this year was below Devers’s standards. He drove in 88 runs. In 2019 and 2021, the two previous 162-game seasons, Devers tallied 115 and 113 RBIs, respectively.
In 2019, Devers hit .336 with a .566 slugging percentage with men in scoring position, collecting 78 RBIs. During the 2021 season, Devers hit .300 in those situations, registering a .606 slugging mark and 84 RBIs.
This year? The star third baseman hit just .258 with runners in scoring position and had just 55 RBIs.
Much of the same was true for J.D. Martinez, who had a down year overall. Martinez made a living off producing with runners in scoring position, batting .339 with a .593 slugging percentage and a whopping 1.022 OPS. In 2022, Martinez hit .218 with men in scoring position, posting a .353 slugging percentage and a .659 OPS.
The Red Sox were mauled by the other teams in the American League East. In 76 games against divisional opponents, the Red Sox were just 26-50. They were 3-16 against the Blue Jays. The day before the Sox were swept by Toronto during their final road series of the season, Cora was up-front about the team’s struggles against the division and somewhat appalled.
“We’ve got to be better,” Cora said. “We talk about being better in the offseason. Next year we have to show up against the division because I have never seen anything like this.”
Against all other opponents, the Red Sox were 52-34.
“This is where we are,” chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said. “Yes, it’s a really tough division. We know that. We feel we have the pieces here to win, but we also need to do the right things as far as building on this club to give us the best chance. We will do that.”
Martinez had just 16 homers, his lowest mark in a 162-game season since 2013 when he hit seven in 86 games for Houston. Xander Bogaerts hit 15 homers. Devers tagged those 27, but had just five in the last 54 games.
Combined, that’s just 58 homers from the meat of the order, which was less than Judge’s AL record-setting 62.
But the power outage wasn’t just about those three. Bloom and the front office acquired Jackie Bradley Jr. from the Brewers in exchange for Hunter Renfroe, and Bradley, one of the best defenders in the league, struggled offensively. Meanwhile, Renfroe hit 29 homers for the Brewers. Schwarber, a player the Sox let get away in free agency, led the National League with 46 homers.
Overall, the Sox did not have a lineup full of run producers with pop, especially with Trevor Story on the injured list for a lot of the year.
Trouble on the mound
Remember Jake Diekman? The Sox sent him to the White Sox at the trade deadline, but before that, he represented the biggest offseason signing to bolster their bullpen.
That should tell you how many loose ends the bullpen had. Red Sox relievers combined for a 4.59 ERA, the fifth-worst mark in the majors. The bullpen blew 27 saves, tied for eighth most. Its 1.36 WHIP was tied with the A’s for the ninth worst.
The rotation lacked a true ace even with Nate Eovaldi, who had his share of injuries, a part of the fold. For much of the last three seasons, the injuries to Chris Sale have left the rotation in between, believing they’ll get him back, only to be left with 11 starts since 2019.
Bloom hinted that the Sox will be in the mix for more front-line starters this offseason. They should be. The rotation’s combined 4.49 ERA in 2022 won’t cut it.
What went right
▪ Re-emergence of Matt Barnes: The bullpen woes were, in part, due to Barnes’s struggles, which began in the second half of 2021. He hit the injured list with a shoulder issue early this year, but that represented a mental break as well as a chance to clean up his mechanics.
In his first 20 games this season, Barnes had a 7.94 ERA. After returning in August, he pitched to the tune of a 1.59 ERA in 24 appearances. Getting that Barnes back next season will be vital to the team’s overall success.
• Brayan Bello’s debut: Cora said that if there was one thing that went right this year, it was the rookie righthander. In 13 games (11 starts), Bello had a 4.71 ERA. But he improved dramatically in September, with a 1.65 ERA in five starts. He should be in the rotation next year.
Playing both sides
Story represented the good and the bad in his first year with the Red Sox. He played in just 94 games, a career low, and when he did play, he proved to be a streaky hitter. Nevertheless, he’s a force, and when he’s hot, there’s no stopping him. In a 19-game stretch in May, Story belted nine homers, holding a 1.002 OPS in that span while producing 25 RBIs.
On defense, Story made an easy transition to second base, and likely would be winning a Gold Glove if he played more. If anything, Story proved he’s a vital piece of this team despite the streakiness. Health moving forward will be important. The Red Sox need him.
Julian McWilliams can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @byJulianMack.