How does the Red Sox 2021 Outfield Stack up to THAT 2018 one?

It’s been said quite frequently recently that the Red Sox have now lost their championship-winning outfield from 2018 with Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley Jr. all moving on to pastures new in the past two years.

That 2018 season was a fantastic one for the Red Sox, and the Three B’s were key contributors to the team’s performance both defensively and offensively – combining for 459 hits, 61 home runs, 308 runs and 226 RBIs between them.

Mookie Betts 614 180 32 129 80 81 91
Andrew Benintendi 661 168 16 103 87 71 106
Jackie Bradley Jr. 535 111 13 76 59 46 137
Totals 1810 459 61 308 226 198 334

Embed from Getty Images

So the question is – how does the 2021 Red Sox outfield match up to this?  Have we sacrificed significant on-field performance in the hunt for ‘financial flexibility’?

We obviously won’t know properly until the end of the season but we can do some comparisons based on the projected performances of the class of 2021 – and a few assumptions.

First among these assumptions is that the preferred outfield lineup for Alex Cora’s side will be Alex Verdugo, Franchy Cordero and Hunter Renfroe.

At first glance, the comparison between that outfield lineup and 2018’s is not at all favourable (note that all 2021 projected data used is taken from the ZiPs prediction system provided on Fangraphs).

Alex Verdugo 534 141 14 69 51 43 87
Hunter Renfroe 462 97 26 56 81 34 130
Franchy Cordero 315 69 12 43 49 24 96
Totals 1311 307 52 168 181 101 313

It’s immediately clear that totals across the board for the new trio are lower than the Three B’s, suggesting what many of us instinctively thought – that the 2021 trio isn’t as good as the 2018 one.  Importantly in this comparison, however, the plate appearance totals are significantly lower for the 2021 group, with ZiPs predicting nearly 500 fewer plate appearances for the 2021 outfield.  This is almost a 25% reduction in opportunities at the plate (which in itself suggests that the Red Sox are likely to operate more rotation in the outfield than in 2018).

The statistics, therefore, need to be adjusted to account for this.

Using a rather coarse approach of simply reducing the 2018 values by 25% (which seems safer than extrapolating the 2021 projections out by another 500 PAs) you arrive at the following comparison:

Reduced 2018 OF 1339 344 46 308 170 149 251
Projected 2021 OF 1311 307 52 168 181 101 313

Interestingly the 2021 outfield now leads in terms of home runs and RBI but are notably behind in hits and runs, with a lower amount of walks and a considerably higher number of strikeouts.

But is a comparison with the 2018 lineup fair?  That team was one in which everything clicked and everyone played to their level, something that doesn’t happen often. So maybe the real question should be – how does the 2021 lineup compare to what we could have expected from the 2018 lineup had we kept that unit together?

Again using ZiPS projections for Mookie, Beni and JBJ we’d be expecting something around the following from them in the 2021 season:

Jackie Bradley Jr. 525 108 19 67 54 49 138
Andrew Benintendi 583 127 13 72 57 67 124
Mookie Betts 654 163 32 117 98 75 100
Totals 1762 398 64 256 209 191 362

Here again, the Three B’s have significantly higher plate appearances than the 2021 line-up.  Factoring the Three B’s numbers down such that we’re comparing a more similar number of plate appearances we get the following combined figures for Mookie, JBJ and Beni in 2021:

Three B’s Adjusted 2021 Totals 1311 296 48 190 156 142 269
Projected 2021 OF 1311 307 52 168 181 101 313

In this instance, the 2021 Red Sox outfield doesn’t compare too badly at all with the Three B’s 2021 offensive output.

And I think that’s the takeaway from all of this – the heartstrings say it’s sad to lose that 2018 unit, and it is.  But we need to remember that in that line-up we had one of the best players of the current generation truly coming into the heights of his powers and two other players playing well who have seen their performance tail off to a degree in the past two years (although 2020 was obviously a rather anomalous season).

Is this outfield going to be as productive as the 2018 outfield? No. Will it be as productive as the 2018 outfield would have been had they still been together at Fenway this year? Based on the numbers, quite possibly.

Let’s just hope the buggers can catch…

Rich Hampson is covering the Boston Red Sox during 2021 as part of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter here.

Make sure you catch the fantastic podcast featuring John in conversation with Ben Reiter. It’s too good to miss.


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