John Tomase

Red Sox WAR leaders reflect what's gone right and wrong this season

There are lots of ways to get to .500, and they're not always expected.

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The Red Sox are a perfectly average team at 30-30. They haven't strayed more than two games from .500 in nearly a month, tethered as they are to whatever is slightly better than mediocre. Acceptable? Fine? Shrug?

There are lots of ways to get to .500, and they're not always expected. Entering the season, we assumed the unproven starting pitching staff would struggle, and it has been the team's saving grace. Meanwhile, we figured the Rafael Devers-led offense might surprise, and that group is disappointingly middle-of-the-pack.

So how have the Red Sox gotten here? A look at their top 10 players, as calculated by Baseball-Reference's WAR, sheds some light. Equally as telling is who didn't make the list: Triston Casas (injury), Brayan Bello (relative ineffectiveness), Ceddanne Rafaela (woeful offense), to name three.

1. Tanner Houck, 2.9 WAR

If the club had an MVP and a Cy Young Award, Houck would win both. Viewing all developments through the prism of what will help the team when it might one day contend again, Houck's emergence is by far the most encouraging sign. He's 5-5 with a 1.85 ERA and at his current pace will absolutely, positively make his first All-Star team.

2. Jarren Duran, 2.9

Winning teams need players like Duran, who does a lot well, even if he doesn't necessarily excel in any one area. He leads the league in triples (eight), which makes sense, given his jaw-dropping speed and athleticism, but after stealing six bases in his first six games, he has only swiped five since. He has also played a solid center field when Rafaela moves to shortstop.

Duran may never be an All-Star, but he has settled into his role as a solid, productive player.

3. Wilyer Abreu, 1.9

Chaim Bloom got this one right, stealing Abreu from the Astros in the Christian Vazquez deadline deal that also netted power-hitting second baseman Enmanuel Valdez. Abreu looks like a keeper -- not to mention a Rookie of the Year candidate -- thanks to his power, patience, and defensive ability in right field.

The Red Sox need to start introducing more players like Abreu to the big leagues if they're truly going to build something special through youth.

4. Kutter Crawford, 1.9

This is what happens when you put too much on a young arm too soon.

The Red Sox decided not to spend in the free agent starting market this winter, adding veteran Lucas Giolito and then promptly losing him to elbow surgery. Crawford stepped up for a month, posting a 0.66 ERA in his first five starts. But he's at 5.05 since, and the Red Sox have lost six of his last seven starts.

It was always asking a lot for Houck and Crawford to carry the rotation.

5. Brennan Bernardino, 1.6

Here's one for the power of perseverance. Bernardino didn't make the team out of spring training, surprisingly passed over in favor of veteran lefty Joely Rodriguez, who was out of options. Rodriguez pitched himself out of the big leagues in short order, and all Bernardino has done since returning is bounce between opener, middle man, and setup man with outstanding results.

He has posted a 0.72 ERA in 21 appearances, intent on proving the front office wrong for starting his season in Worcester.

6. Rafael Devers, 1.6

Even accepting that WAR is not meant to be a precise measurement of value but instead reflect a range, it's still disconcerting to see Devers so far down the list when he's being paid like one of the 10 best players in baseball.

The Red Sox are spending $29 million on a glorified DH with 11 homers. Devers needs to deliver so much more.

7. Connor Wong, 1.2

Another Bloom acquisition that looks better than expected, although that's not much consolation, considering he's all that remains of the Mookie Betts trade. Wong leads all big league catchers in average at .327, and he's uniquely athletic for the position, as evidenced by his time at second base.

That versatility should come in handy when he's Kyle Teel's backup, and that's not a dig, but an acknowledgement that catcher could be a position of strength in the not-to-distant future.

8. Garrett Whitlock, 0.9

What might've been. Whitlock could be having a Houck-like season if he had stayed healthy. Instead, the oft-injured right-hander lasted only four starts before hitting the injured list with an oblique strain and a 1.96 ERA.

He then experienced a sore elbow after a rehab start and underwent an internal bracing procedure that will sideline him until next season, when the Red Sox must decide if they want to continue trying to start him or just put him in the bullpen, where he was lights-out in 2021.

9. Justin Slaten, 0.8

Like Whitlock, Slaten was a Rule 5 find, and his emergence should provide some reassurance that new chief baseball officer Craig Breslow knows how to evaluate pitchers. Slaten is 3-2 with a 2.73 ERA in 21 games, and manager Alex Cora hasn't been afraid to lean on the big right-hander in pressure situations.

10. Tyler O'Neill, 0.7

A week into the season, O'Neill was hitting like Shohei Ohtani. He cooled considerably thereafter and now could be trade bait at the deadline, since he's only signed for this season.

It's surprising to see the former Gold Glover so low on this list, given his power (11 homers) and solid defense, but after that torrid start, he's hitting only .236, with barely half as many RBIs (17) as Rafaela (33).

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