The Red Sox and their fans (though not as many as seen above, at least at first) will soon be back at Fenway Park. If you’re still a bit fuzzy on all the new faces, here’s a guide to help you get to know them. (Photo by Art Martone)
By ART MARTONE
It’s a fairly universal sentiment that the sooner we put 2020 in the rear-view mirror, the better. And in Red Sox Nation, that would be true even if we’d never heard the word “pandemic”.
Me, I’ve already started the process of erasing those tapes. Soon you’ll never be able to convince me that Deivy Grullon, Mike Kickham, Domingo Tapia, Andrew Triggs and others once wore Boston uniforms. Why, just the other day I was watching a Sox-Twins exhibition game and Minnesota brought in a pitcher named Robinson Leyer. Somewhere deep in the processes of my subconscious, something stirred. Robinson Leyer? Didn’t he . . . ? So I looked it up. Yes! He was one of the Dirty 2020, a pitcher who compiled a somewhat astounding 21.21 ERA over six games and 4 2/3 innings for those (hopefully soon-to-be) Forgotten Sox.
Now it’s a new year. Not that it means anything, but the Red Sox finished with a more-than-decent 16-11-1 exhibition record. (As a reminder, they were 9-11 when spring training was cut short last year, 12-17 prior to their 2019 post-championship faceplant, and, conversely, 22-9 as a lead-in to the glories of 2018.) Not that it means anything, but they finished in the top three among all big-league teams in virtually every offensive category. And not that it means anything, but their pitching was, well . . . not awful.
And yet . . .
There doesn’t seem to be any buzz surrounding these Sox or this season, partly because of last year but also partly because the offseason game of musical chairs has filled the roster with a bunch of unfamiliar faces. We saw first-hand in 2020 what can happen with a bunch of unfamiliar faces.
So here’s a closer look at some of these new unfamiliar faces. Where they’ve been, what they’ve done, what they’re projected to do, and what we’d be happy if they did:
The pitcher from history he most resembles (statistically speaking): Zack Wheeler, currently with the Phillies. There are worse guys to be compared to.
Other names of interest that pop up on his similarity list*: Don Schwall and Dennis Bennett, who will ring some bells with fans of a certain age (like me) around here. The problem, of course, is that pitchers from the early to mid-1960s Red Sox aren’t what today’s Sox should be aspiring to.
*Actually, the name that most intrigues me — though not for any insight into Richards’ future — is Chris Young, the current GM of the Texas Rangers. He had a decent enough career with the Rangers, Padres, Mets, Mariners and Royals from 2004-17, but that’s not what intrigues me. In Matt McCarthy’s 2009 book “Odd Man Out: A Year On The Mound With a Minor-League Misfit”, he recounts taking a recruiting trip to Yale with Young in which they spent time with the team’s varsity baseball players. McCarthy liked them well enough — he wound up going there (and becoming a teammate and close friend of future Sox reliever Craig Breslow) — but not Young. After a night with the players that McCarthy described as “a little crazy,” Young observed: “Crazy? You want to know what’s crazy? Those jackasses aren’t good enough to play baseball at a big-time program and they’re not smart enough to get into Yale on their own. So what are they?” Pretty good insight from an 18-year-old, I thought.
What can we expect from Richards? If he stays healthy, he should beat B-R’s projection. (They even admit it has only a 47% reliability factor.) And if he pitches as well as he has in the past when he’s not hurting, he might tip the starting rotation into maybe-just-good-enough territory.
And if he does this, we’d be delighted:
By my count, hitters in this video went 0-for-54 with 49 strikeouts against Richards. (Which isn’t possible, since he only struck out 46 batters in 2020.) In this swirl of swings-and-misses, see if you can spot the two strikeouts of current teammate Kikè Hernandez.
And doesn’t it warm your heart to hear Don Orsillo again?
The pitcher from history he most resembles (statistically speaking): Shawn Hillegas, a knockabout 1980s and ’90s pitcher who had his greatest success (such as it was) with the White Sox.
Name of interest that pops up on his similarity list: Bill Fischer, best known in these parts as the Red Sox pitching coach under John McNamara and Joe Morgan. He looked like the prototypical manager’s-buddy kind of coach — and, in fact, he probably got the job that way, since his path crossed with both McNamara and then-Sox managing partner Haywood Sullivan during their time with the Kansas City A’s in the 1960s — but the pitchers, especially Roger Clemens, seemed to like him and he survived Mac’s firing to serve the entirety of the Morgan regime. Something, perhaps, for Andriese to look forward to?
What can we expect from Andriese? The projection is ugly — 11 home runs allowed in 76 innings?? — but a) it’s only got a 53% reliability factor, b) he pitched pretty well this spring, and c) Alex Cora is talking him up as a key arm. That’s the glass-is-half-full view. On the glass-is-half-empty side, he’s never had an ERA below 4.07 in the major leagues, and that was in his rookie year.
And if he does this, we’d (more likely than not) be delighted:
Getting thrown out for hitting Aaron Judge? Red Sox Nation might even forgive 11 home runs allowed in 76 innings.
The player from history he most resembles (statistically speaking): Leo Gomez.
Gomez is best known, if he’s known at all, as the Orioles’ third baseman for a few years between the 1966-83 span, when they were arguably baseball’s model franchise, and their brief resurgence under Davey Johnson in 1996 and ’97. Gomez and others like him were probably the reason that, even though he personally wasn’t there the whole time, the O’s didn’t do much of anything between 1984 and 1995. When the Red Sox signed Hernandez, I have to say Leo Gomez was not a name that came to mind.
Name of interest that pops up on his similarity list: Graig Nettles, one of the dastardly villains of the late 1970s Yankees. But I come to praise Nettles, not bury him: I honestly think he has a legitimate Hall of Fame case. And I honestly believe those Yankees, who won three straight pennants and two straight World Series, are underrepresented in the Hall*; their only members are two imports from the Oakland dynasty (Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter) and Goose Gossage, who was just there for the final year of that stretch. The Red Sox of that era, by contrast, had four Hall of Famers: Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk and Dennis Eckersley. Five, if you count Ferguson Jenkins.
* — I won’t hop onto the Ron Guidry-and-Thurman Munson-to-Cooperstown bandwagon; I don’t think either one of them was good enough for long enough. But Willie Randolph had a sterling 18-year career, most of it with the Yankees, in which he was consistently one of the best second basemen in baseball, and Nettles is a classic victim of the not-high-enough-batting-average bias that has kept worthy candidates like Dwight Evans on the outside looking in. Yes, Nettles only hit .248 for his career. He also has nearly 400 home runs, hit more homers than any third baseman in American League history, and was a sterling fielder who won a pair of Gold Gloves.
What can we expect from Hernandez? Like Nettles, Hernandez has probably been seen as less than what he is because of his career .240 batting average. But I also wouldn’t count on him resembling the offensive machine he’s been this spring once they come north, and I fear he’s raising expectations (among those who’ve been paying attention) to unrealistic heights. If he combines what has always been sterling defense at several positions with a competent bat, he’ll earn his keep.
And if he does this, we’d be delighted:
Who doesn’t love clutch postseason home runs?
The player from history he most resembles (statistically speaking): Eric Soderholm, a 1970s third baseman for the Twins and White Sox. Probably saw him play in person dozens of times, but can’t say I remember any of them.
Name of interest that pops up on his similarity list: Danny Valencia, a 10-game member of the Bobby V. Red Sox in 2012. He fit right in with that crew — he hit .143 and the Sox were 2-8 in games in which he appeared — and I was convinced that, like Mauro Gomez and Jason Repko and Nate Spears and countless others, that was the last he’d see of the major leagues. What do I know? Valencia spent six more years in the show and wound up with a decent .268 batting average and 103 OPS+. And every time I saw him — every single time — I’d think, “Is this the guy who was here in 2012??”
What can we expect from Gonzalez? Not much, if Baseball Prospectus is to be believed. (“[It] seems increasingly likely that he benefited substantially from” Houston’s sign-stealing scheme . . . “[The] discipline he displayed while laying off wayward breaking balls and changeups back in 2017-18 evaporated the second he bid adieu to Harris County’s most lopsided garbage can”.) The baseball-reference projection isn’t much rosier. He should see a lot of playing time, though, and you know what? Sometimes players do more than you expect. Danny Valencia is living proof.
And if he does this (consistently), we’d be delighted:
You gotta root for anybody who so entertains Rob Bradford.
What can we expect from Cordero? To just about everyone’s surprise, he recovered from his bout with Covid-19 quickly enough to make the Opening Day roster. Now comes the hard part. Jerry Remy is already seeing a pattern in how he’s being pitched — fastballs up — and, coincidence or not, Cordero struck out in 7 of his last 11 at-bats. He’s the walking embodiment of the toolsy prospect, but if there’s a flaw in his swing so fatal it’s being exploited in Fort Myers, Michael Chavis may not be spending a whole lot of time in Worcester.
But if he does at least some of this, we’d be delighted:
More Donny O. Orsillo has the call on the 10th, 9th, 6th and 2nd of these home runs, and included in one of them is the “Very gone!” shout he reserves for the longest of the long.
The pitcher from history he most resembles (statistically speaking): David Riske, involved in one of the strangest trades ever made by the Red Sox.
After Johnny Damon signed with the Yankees in the 2005-06 offseason, the Sox quickly targeted his replacement: Cleveland’s Coco Crisp. On Jan. 27, 2006, the deal was made: Crisp, Riske and catcher Josh Bard for prospect Andy Marte, reliever Guillermo Mota, catcher Kelly Shoppach, minor-league pitcher Randy Newsom and cash.
The deal was an almost complete flop. For both teams.
Crisp regressed in his three years in Boston, hitting .271 with a putrid OPS+ of 84, and was beaten out for the center-field job by Jacoby Ellsbury. The Sox dumped Bard, whom they were counting on to replace Doug Mirabelli as Tim Wakefield’s personal catcher, after a month of the season when it became obvious he couldn’t handle the knuckleball. (Did lead to a great moment in Red Sox lore, though.) Marte, thought to be a can’t-miss star, was a total bust. Mota and his 6.21 ERA were shipped to the Mets midway through the ’06 season. Newsom never made it. Only Shoppach, who stayed in Cleveland for four years as a backup catcher (with a .244 average), was a useable asset for the team that acquired him. (Well, Crisp was useable. But he certainly wasn’t what the Sox expected, or hoped for.)
As for Riske, he pitched in eight games for the Red Sox before they traded him for Javy Lopez. And Lopez, at least, spent three productive seasons in the Boston bullpen and was a member of the 2007 World Series champions.
So Ottavino doesn’t have a very high bar to surpass what Riske accomplished here.
Name of interest that pops up on his similarity list: Joba Chamberlain??? Oh, please.
What can we expect from Ottavino? There are probably fewer questions marks about Ottavino than any of the other players on this list. He’s been a fairly consistent performer over his career and, considering the conditions, his disastrous 2020 can be written off a lot easier than most off years. He’s no Liam Hendriks, but he should be a decent and dependable arm. As for his career-long postseason woes, we’ll cross that bridge when — if — we get to it.
And if he does this, we’d be . . . . speechless:
You know something? In the Curse of the Bambino days, just making a commercial for the Yankees that involved Babe Ruth would have wiped out any possibility of the Red Sox acquiring you.
The pitcher from history he most resembles (statistically speaking): Matt Kinney, a blast from the Red Sox past. He was a prospect surrendered at a trade deadline, but one they didn’t end up regretting.
Name of interest that pops up on his similarity list: Boof Bonser. And only because there was a guy I worked with at NBC Sports Boston (back when we were Comcast SportsNet New England) who was fascinated with the name “Boof”. If only I could find the image he put together of Bonser that lived on one of our in-house monitors for weeks.
What can we expect from Pivetta? The Phillies finally got tired of waiting for Pivetta to develop into the pitcher they hoped he’d be, and his acquisition — along with Connor Seabold — for two free-agent-to-be veteran relievers (who were worse than anyone could have expected in Philadelphia) has the potential to be a great, great buy-low trade for Chaim Bloom. The downside was expressed succinctly by Baseball Prospectus: “[Odds] are this will go down as yet another example of the Red Sox being lured by the siren song of a pitcher with Great Stuff (TM) and no idea where it’s going.” Pivetta was 1-2 with a 6.23 ERA this spring, so BP’s warning can’t be dismissed.
And if he does this, NESN may hear from the FCC (NSFW):
Not exactly on par with “This is our f****** city” (also, obviously, NSFW), but Pivetta can be excused after what appeared to be a pretty good peformance.
(I always loved the Royals’ reaction to Big Papi’s declaration. Again, NSFW).
But if he does this, all will be forgiven:
Pivetta’s performance last summer at the late, great McCoy Stadium. Once more, don’t get me started.
The player from history he most resembles (statistically speaking): Teoscar Hernandez, a contemporary outfielder with the Blue Jays. I’m surprised; I didn’t think Renfroe would compare so favorably to a player like Hernandez.
Names of interest that pop up on his similarity list: Jonny Gomes and Wily Mo Pena. One of the great surprise acquisitions in Red Sox history, and one of the worst. As annoyingly self-serving as he could sometimes be, Gomes was one of the leaders of the 2013 Boston Strong champions. As for ‘ol Wily Mo, he cost us 10 years and 115 wins of Bronson Arroyo’s services. Theo, Theo . . .what were you thinking?
What can we expect from Renfroe? Something between Gomes and Pena, most likely. Though if he wound up emulating the 2020 Teoscar Hernandez, I’d take it.
And if he ever did this again, we’d be delighted:
A game I’ll never forget. My niece was visiting a friend in San Diego and they were at Petco Park; I was watching the game on TV and she and I were texting back and forth. Her main regret? She didn’t get to hear Orsillo’s call in real time.
Man, Don, we miss you.
Art Martone wrote a Red Sox-based Internet baseball column for projo.com, for which he was named Best Sports Columnist by Boston Magazine in 1998. He also wrote about baseball for the Providence Journal and has had Red Sox material published in several baseball-only publications. He worked at the Journal from 1974 to 2009 and was Sports Editor from 2000 until leaving in 2009 to become Managing Editor of NBC Sports Boston’s Web site. He remained there until his retirement in 2019.