If you’re skeptical of the “Return Ryan Braun and Corey Hart” model for the Brewers to field a competitive team in 2014, the 2013 Boston Red Sox might be a salient counterargument. After underplaying their 734 RS / 806 RA differential by five wins in 2012, the Red Sox improved on their 69-win affair with a 97-win club this year (853 RS / 656 RA). It is worth noting that, for the sake of transferring rebuilding lessons to the Brewers, Milwaukee was better in 2013 than the Red Sox in 2012, with a 640 RS / 687 RA performance.
Boston’s improvements are laudable. They unloaded a series of big contracts (and, perhaps, some disgruntled veterans), and made a switch to a less vitriolic manager. Yet, the club’s current success is defined more by core improvements and signing solid complementary players than a complete club overhaul. If we define a regular contribution as approximately 200 PA by a position player and 50 IP by a pitcher, the Red Sox maintained nine of their hitting and pitching regulars between 2012 and 2013.
|1B||A. Gonzalez||M. Napoli|
|2B||D. Pedroia||D. Pedroia|
|3B||W. Middlebrooks||W. Middlebrooks|
|SS||M. Aviles||S. Drew|
|LF||D. Nava||D. Nava|
|CF||J. Ellsbury||J. Ellsbury|
|RF||C. Ross||S. Victorino|
|DH||D. Ortiz||D. Ortiz|
|Bench||P. Ciriaco||M. Carp|
|Bench||R. Sweeney||J. Iglesias|
|SP1||J. Lester||J. Lester|
|SP2||C. Buchholz||C. Buchholz|
|SP3||F. Doubront||F. Doubront|
|SP4||J. Beckett||R. Dempster|
|CL||A. Aceves||K. Uehara|
|P1||A. Cook||J. Tazawa|
|P2||F. Morales||J. Peavy|
|P3||D. Bard||C. Breslow|
The fielding and hitting regulars were arguably more important to maintaining the club’s core, as they represent six of twelve positional spots between 2012 and 2013. Even that’s a misleading point to some degree, as a couple of those spots are reserved for bench players; really, between 60% and 66% of the Red Sox’s positional core remained in tact between 2012 and 2013.
On the other hand, their relievers were largely changed out, and the 2013 club received key/stabilizing contributions from John Lackey and innings-eater Ryan Dempster. However, Jon Lester and Felix Doubront both improved, and while Clay Buchholz did not pitch a full season, he produced 100+ exceptional innings for the Red Sox. While it is significant to say that two of five rotation spots were swapped out, at the same time, Boston was successful because of this core pitching turn-around. It is also worth noting that the Red Sox turned around their club with balance, rather than one specific strength; they contended in 2013 with two arguably below average, yet-full-time starters.
In general, a principle such as, “The Everything Goes Right Principle” might define the difference between a floundering club and competitive club in some seasons. This is not to suggest that the Red Sox didn’t makeover their franchise — they did, significantly so. It is worth celebrating that they kept key core players in place while making over their franchise; the club’s makeover was discerning, and the front office looked past shortcomings, injuries, and other issues with some of their core members. Those players paid back the Red Sox dearly, as David Ortiz arguably had his best full season in a handful of years. Coupled with Lackey’s renaissance — his first above average season in four years — and a solid return from some previously injured players, and the Red Sox got everything right in 2013.
|Player||2012 IP or PA||2012 ERA+ or OPS+||2013 IP or PA||2013 ERA+ or OPS+|
What I find specifically encouraging about the Boston turnaround, in terms of lessons for the Brewers, is that a club can change fate while keeping their core in tact. This is promising news for Milwaukee, given their current set of locked-in players up in the field, as well as their set rotation. One could argue that as much as Milwaukee needs to be creative in building up their farm system, aggressive in moving any big league talent that can return an improved core member, and, perhaps, lucky with injuries, the front office also needs to be discerning with the Brewers’ core. Instead of blowing everything up, keeping the foundation and renovating the facade can also work for a club looking to turn around their fates.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2013.