The Fenway Frauds did something stunning in 2014: They finished in last place, again. The Boston Red Sox went from last to first to last again in a three-year span. How is that even possible? It shows the volatility of cheating, of course, as the San Francisco Giants did something similar in 2012-2014 (albeit not as drastic). This strange rollercoaster also demonstrates cheating alone is never enough to prosper.
Boston won just 71 games after winning 97 times in 2013. Somehow all the things that worked for Manager John Farrell the prior year did not work this time around, and surprisingly, the Red Sox organizational leaders did not fire him. Probably because they knew he was with the program, you know? We will leave it up to you to figure out as you read the analysis below.
Exhibit A: Jon Lester
This is an interesting situation, for a few reasons. But at age 30, Lester turned in the best season of his career hitherto after posting a combined 3.76 ERA for the 2006-2013 seasons in Boston. His 2.52 ERA was a complete anomaly at the time, and with the Red Sox so far out of it, he was traded to the Oakland Athletics in late July—where he famously choked away the 2014 American League Wild Card Game.
He would go on to Chicago next with the Cubs, reuniting with former Boston GM Theo Epstein, perhaps the architect of the original Fenway Frauds. In Wrigley Field, Lester would have his best season ever at age 32, continuing this late peak beyond projected expectation(s). Overall, Lester’s ERA with the Cubs from ages 31-36 would match exactly (3.64) his overall ERA with the Red Sox from ages 22-30.
And that defying-age trend started in 2014, oddly enough, as he was approaching free agency at the end of this season. The payoff for Lester? A whopping $150M from the Cubs that took him through to the 2021 season. So, coincidence? You decide. We think it’s a little too convenient for a guy with an established baseline to suddenly get so much better at age 30 with free agency impending.
Exhibit B: Koji Uehara
This Japanese reliever didn’t come to MLB until he was 34 years old in 2009, and by the time he reached the Boston organization in 2013, he was 38 years old. His combined ERA for his two prior teams (Baltimore, 2009-2011, and Texas, 2011-2012) was very good (2.89), but he reached a new level of production in Fenway Park, managing a 1.86 ERA from 2013-2015 as he turned 40 years old.
Hmmm. How suspect is that? This all started for Uehara in 2013 when he posted an unrealistic 1.09 ERA and 0.565 WHIP as the Red Sox won the World Series. He was able to keep it going with a 2.52 ERA and a 0.917 WHIP in 2014, even as Boston floundered. But remember his age: Almost 140 combined IP for a guy in his age 38-39 seasons … with 180 Ks, no less.
His Japanese professional ERA was 3.02, so while his early MLB ERA was in close approximation to that, he clearly was doing something very different in Boston as he got older. What in the world could that have been, we ask?
Exhibit C: Burke Badenhop
Yes, we know you’ve never heard of him. But in 70-plus innings at age 31, he delivered a 2.29 ERA for the Boston Red Sox in 2014. His career ERA? A 3.74 mark overall in 8 seasons with 5 different teams. This was the only season he spent in Fenway, and it earned him $2.5M more in salary before the end of his career. His earnings prior to 2014 were $4.15M, so getting some extra dough certainly was a motivator.
His career ERA prior to joining the Red Sox was 3.98 overall, but Boston decided to trade for him anyway, acquiring him from Milwaukee, where he’d just put up 3.47 ERA in 2013. Badenhop was entering his final year of team control before hitting free agency at age 31. Put it all together, and it’s what we have seen before: The Red Sox acquire desperate mediocrity, and it flourishes in time to make payday elsewhere.
Exhibit D: David Ortiz
Our usual check-in with Big Papi shows us that he had a down year at age 38 with the Fenway Frauds, posting just an .873 OPS—his lowest mark since 2009. He had the same number of ABs as he did in 2013, but he lost 46 points off his batting average. Age was finally starting to catch up with Ortiz? Well, he still hit 35 HRs, a mark he had not reached since 2007. His 104 RBI were his best since then, too.
Conclusion: They still tried, but the talent wasn’t there
There is enough here to suggest the Fenway Frauds were still trying to cheat, but overall, the talent all took a vacation. The lineup was terrible, as Boston scored just 634 runs—down 219 runs from the season before, and a quick glance at the OPS marks of the regular hitters says a lot: .633, .789, .712, .660, .522, .683, .531, .706, and .873 from Ortiz. Ouch!
The pitching was not that bad, as we see the majority of our case studies this season above coming from the mound. The Boston pitchers gave up 715 runs overall, which was only 59 more runs than the World Series team from 2013. It was the hitters who disappeared from the title roster: A quick glance shows you how and why this happened. Sometimes, your methods come back to bite you in the ass.
We have seen this with the The House That Steroids Built series, too: You start to deceive yourself and think you can win with anyone, because … well, it’s what you’ve done in the past. Except it just doesn’t always work out that way, does it? Nope, which is why we haven’t seen these cheating franchises in Boston, Houston, or San Francisco win back-to-back titles—thank goodness!