First of all, before digging into how the Red Sox made the World Series, I feel obligated to share a few graphs after yesterday's post on the Cardinals. Boston's roster is constructed quite differently:
The players developed through Boston's farm system are still a cheap and cost-efficient commodity, but not to the same degree that is seen on the Cardinals roster. Relying on free agency is a luxury that big-market teams enjoy though.
Still, the real story of the 2013 Boston Red Sox is just how much they transformed their roster in the past season, and how much they improved. Also, lost in the massive Beantown shuffle, is that they ended up reducing their team payroll about $20 million while adding 28 victories, winning their division, and now returning to the World Series. Alot went right, to say the least.
So what exactly did they do? Here's a look, position group by position group:
Not much change here. The primary DH last year was David Ortiz, just like this year. The starting catcher has been Jarrod Saltalamacchia the past few years, though Boston switched out Kelly Shoppach for David Ross as his backup in the off-season. Ortiz ended up injured and played only 90 game last season, whereas he made it through 2013 healthy, which was worth roughly 1.0 WAR. Ross and Shoppach put up similarly underrated production as backups (though Ross costs more), but Salty took a significant step forward in 2013, contributing 1.7 more WAR. Payroll Change: +$2 million. WAR Change: +2.7.
Changes galore here. Dustin Pedroia is the only constant, though he wasn't even that constant, rebounding from a quasi-substandard 2012 to improve by 1.0 WAR in 2013. Gone at first base was Adrian Gonzalez, and in went Mike Napoli. That saved a ton of money, and surprisingly turned out to produce more WAR for Boston too. Gonzalez wasn't bad for the Red Sox, but he wasn't good either. Gone at shortstop was an underrated Mike Aviles, and added in his place was a deceptively good Stephen Drew. This was worth about 1.6 more WAR, though it also came at a price increase that balances out the saving at first with Napoli. Third base turned out to be a revolving door in 2012 and 2013, though a much cheaper one this past season. Kevin Youkilis didn't play much in 2012 and was ultimately let go. Jose Iglesias had a stunning start to 2013 at the plate and forced his way into the lineup until he was traded to the Tigers. In the end the Red Sox, though still shaky at third this year, were comparably bad at that hot corner but way, way cheaper. Letting go of Youkilis was a wildly successful decision. Payroll Change: -$10 million. WAR Change: +3.5.
Again, changes galore virtually everywhere. Jacoby Ellsbury is the lone constant, though like Ortiz, he suffered injuries in 2012 but stayed more healthy in 2013. This resulted in more production from him. Gone from the 2012 team were Carl Crawford and Cody Ross; in their places came Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino. The replacements proved to be cheaper and more productive. Victorino in particular was quite the surprise, given his declining production in Philadelphia. Something about Boston revitalized him. I hope you are sitting down when you see these numbers I'm about to throw at you. Carl Crawford was quite the albatross for Boston...Payroll Change: -$8 million. WAR Change: +9.2.
The biggest personnel change was switching Josh Beckett out for Ryan Dempster. This ended up saving about $4 million, though Dempster also proved to be a downgrade. Also, although Daisuke Matsuzaka didn't pitch much for the Sox in 2012, his $10.3 million salary came off the books, which meant even more savings. The real story with the Red Sox rotation were the steps forward taking by all the incumbents and the resurgence of John Lackey after some injury-riddled seasons. Nobody leaped up with a career year out of nowhere, but the noticeable improvement across the board made a difference. The numbers here are almost as stunning as in the outfield. Payroll Change: -$8 million. WAR Change: +6.3.
The whole Boston bullpen was worth about 3.8 WAR last year, or only 0.5 more than Koji Uehara was worth alone this season. The Red Sox "splurged" to sign him, as this is one of the few areas where they spent more money than last year's team, but I doubt they regret getting Koji's career year out of him, particularly given the implosions and injuries of Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey. Payroll Change: +$4 million. WAR Change: +1.8.
Adding up all the WAR changes yields "only" about 24 wins. However, digging a little deeper, the Red Sox were expected to win 5 more games in 2012 based on run differential, and 3 more games in 2013 based on the same metric. That nets a couple more wins, so we are up to 26 of the 28 new victories accounted for. The bench was a bit stronger this season too, which isn't surprising given the improved health of the starters and overall better talent level. Regardless, the numbers are close enough to adding up to say we have accounted for all the changes.
So how did the Red Sox do it? The idea that John Farrell came in and changed the clubhouse chemistry has some legs. A majority of Boston's improvement came from holdovers on the roster, despite the massive roster overhaul. It's the changes from players who don't seem like changes that can be the hardest to account for. Without any improvement from the existing core Boston would have probably been a .500 team, or possibly scratching away for one of the wild card spots.
However, with all that said, the much-improved health can't be overlooked either, particularly from David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, and John Lackey. Nor can the stunningly good seasons from Koji Uehara and Shane Victorino.
Also, the main reason Boston could shed payroll and improve was because they had accumulated many bloated contracts,which Ben Cherington found ways to dispose of. Case and point: Last year, the Red Sox paid Carl Crawford, Kevin Youkilis, and Daisuke Matsuzaka over $42 million combined last year for a cumulative 0.0 WAR. Literally nothing. It's not that hard to find a way to get more than nothing out of $42 million. Maybe it didn't take as many things to go right in 2013 for the Red Sox to be as good as they are, just fewer things going so wrong with a few things going right sprinkled in.
Fun fact moving forward: Boston has about $87 million of commitments for the 2014 payroll, which leaves them $60-65 million to play with this offseason if they keep the same payroll they did this season. We could see a similar free agent bonanza out of them again this off-season, though without any obvious deadweight it will be very hard for them to generate the same spectacular results. Then again, all they are looking to do is maintain instead of improve. Boston might be back to being the well-run, big-money team they were at the height of Theo Epstein's days running the franchise.