Exceptional seasons from Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts going for naught
Playing nine innings while wondering whether Chris Owings is the new Sean Berry . . .
1. You know what’s even more impressive than Rafael Devers’s current stats, which include league-leading totals in hits (160), doubles (43), RBIs (94), and total bases (283)? His projected stats over the full season, that’s what.
The 22-year-old third baseman, who had eight straight hits at one point against Cleveland and is hitting .464 over his last seven games, projects to hit .327 with a .954 OPS, with 211 hits, 130 runs, 57 doubles, 33 homers, and 124 RBIs in 158 games. That is not just a great season for a Red Sox third baseman. That is not a just great season for a 22-year-old. That is a great season for just about any third baseman in the history of baseball.
2. Skeptical that Devers’s season is approaching that magnitude? Well, let baseball-reference.com be your guide. Per the site’s incredible Play Index, there have been just nine seasons in baseball history in which a player has had at least 50 doubles, 30 homers, 210 hits, and a .320 batting average.
The most recent player to do it was Matt Holliday for the 2007 Colorado Rockies (36 homers, 50 doubles, 216 hits, .340 average). He is one of the two Coors Field sluggers on the list, the other being 2000 Todd Helton. The most recent non-Rockies hitter to do it was Albert Pujols in ’03 with the Cardinals (43 homers, 51 doubles, 212 hits, .359 batting average).
3. When Fangraphs posted its annual trade-value column in July — which considers production, age, potential, and contract status among its variables in ranking players that would have the most value in a trade — Devers came in 14th. That was five spots ahead of Xander Bogaerts, but behind the likes of Gleyber Torres (12th), Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (10th), Juan Soto (sixth), and Ronald Acuna Jr. (first).
A month later, Devers should be higher on this list — at least ahead of No. 11, Walker Buehler, since pitchers are so high-risk.
Which of those players would you trade him for, straight up? It’s a short list. I’d take him over Guerrero, for sure.
4. While we’re having fun with projections, Bogaerts is on pace for 36 homers, 192 hits, 122 runs, a .308 average, and a .947 OPS. That’s pretty close to a sequel to arguably the best overall offensive season a Red Sox shortstop has ever had: Nomar Garciaparra’s 1998 season, when he hit .323 with 35 homers, 195 hits, 111 runs, and a .946 OPS at age 24.
One could argue that Garciaparra’s 1999 and 2000 seasons were better — he won back-to-back batting titles, hitting .359 and .372 — but he didn’t have quite the same power in those years. But Xandah is having a peak Nomah year, and peak Nomah years were awfully fun.
5. Of course, all of these enjoyable ways of providing context to Devers’s and Bogaerts’s excellent seasons also come with some frustration, none of it their fault. The 2019 Red Sox offense has been exceptional, even if it hasn’t had the knack for timely hits the way it did a year ago.
They’re averaging 5.72 runs per game (second in the majors), up from an MLB-best 5.41 last year. Mookie Betts, for all of the frustrations he has endured this year, still leads the team in WAR (4.9). J.D. Martinez is on pace for 37 homers and a .943 OPS.
If this team had any competent pitching at all, it would be one to admire rather than one that feels like a giant season-long what-if.
6. Not sure Brandon Workman has received enough credit for his outstanding season, so consider this an overdue tip of the cap to a pitcher who often seems like a one-man bullpen. Workman has been exceptional, allowing just 3.8 hits per nine innings (23 hits, 55 innings), while striking out 75, for a 12.3 K/9 rate.
It was a long road back for a pitcher who was so dependable in the 2013 World Series run; he pitched just 10 games in 2015-16 after Tommy John surgery.
7. The line so far for Craig Kimbrel, exasperating Cubs closer: 14 games, 12⅔ innings, 13 hits, 8 earned runs, 4 homers, 5.68 ERA, 1.66 WHIP. I’ll say it again: The Red Sox’ mistake wasn’t letting him go (they paid for his prime, and shouldn’t overpay for his decline), but never finding adequate, experienced replacements for Kimbrel and Joe Kelly too. Gotta admit, though, that stat line would fit in well with the Red Sox bullpen he left behind.
8. For the first time this year, we can ask this question — “What are we supposed to make of Chris Sale?” — with a positive tone. The Sox have won his last two starts, and the combined stat line looks like vintage Sale: 14⅔ innings, 7 hits, 3 earned runs, 2 walks, 25 strikeouts.
I don’t know if this means he’s back; he did get hammered for 8 runs in 3⅔ innings by the Yankees in his first start this month, so we need to see more. But it’s encouraging, and that’s better than what he’s usually provided during his enigmatic season.
9. Baseball-reference gives the Red Sox a 1.1 percent shot at making the playoffs and a 0.1 percent shot of winning the World Series. I suppose the optimists among us would quote Lloyd Christmas here from “Dumb and Dumber”: “So you’re saying there’s a chance?”
But it feels as though it should be a bigger chance coming off two wins in a three-game set against Cleveland. This much is sure: With their next 13 games against the Orioles, Phillies, Padres, Rockies, and Angels, the time for that overdue 10-game winning streak is now.