After a disappointing season in which the Old Towne Team won “only” 89 games and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2006, the Red Sox front office set out to make major changes to their aging, flawed roster. In a near (but not quite) Yankee-like fashion, the Red Sox traded three promising prospects to San Diego for long coveted All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez; signed the speedy and athletic All-Star left fielder Carl Crawford to a massive seven year $142M contract; and fortified their deep bullpen by signing former relief aces Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler. As with any new addition, there is always a corresponding subtraction that follows. Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez, who stepped up to provide some much needed offensive production in the wake of the injury-fest that ensued last season, were allowed to leave as free agents. While both players will be missed, it’s hard to argue with the front office’s decision making rationale. Lastly, with Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Josh Beckett, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Mike Cameron all healthy, the Red Sox are in an excellent position to see their win total jump by as many as 8-10 wins this year. As a result, it should come as no surprise that we (along with many others in the baseball writing community) have chosen the Red Sox as our favorites to win the AL East this season. Still, as I mentioned in a previous article, we should never count the Yankees out—well, at least not until they’ve been shot, stabbed, quartered, burned at the stake, and had their ashes spread to each corner of the globe.
I don’t know about you, but I’m really looking forward to this season starting. It should be a really exciting year.
Statistics code: AVG/OBP/SLG for hitters. W-L, ERA, WHIP for starters. ERA, WHIP, IP for relievers.
The Red Sox are taking a leap of faith by giving the starting catcher job to the unproven Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Despite his immense raw talent, Saltalamacchia’s tools have failed to translate to the major league level. Still, with Salty about to enter his age-26 season, it’s probably too early to write him off as a prospect that didn’t pan out. More so than at any other position, catchers have a tendency to be late bloomers (see Jason Varitek and Jorge Posada). As such, he deserves at least one more shot to show he can be an everyday major league player. Plus, considering how deep the Red Sox lineup is, they don’t need him to be anything more than an average hitter. Jason Varitek returns to the club to catch every fifth day or so. At the very least, he should provide some decent power off of the bench. Still, expecting him to repeat his .473 SLG from last season is probably a tall order.
First Base: Adrian Gonzalez (2010 stats: .298/.393/.511)
Moving from the cavernous expanses of Petco National Park to the more intimate (and power friendly) atmosphere of Fenway Park, it’s easy to understand why so many people are predicting a huge season from Adrian Gonzalez. While I love the slugging first baseman just as much as the next guy, I think we should temper our expectations slightly. He’s just a few months removed from major shoulder surgery that kept him from being able to work out or take part in baseball related activities for nearly four months. It’s not out of the realm of possibility to suggest that A-Gon could start out the season slowly; especially with regards to the power department. Slow start or not, Gonzalez should provide plenty of production out of the clean-up spot in the lineup. He may not hit 40 home runs this season, but he could very well hit 45-50 doubles by taking advantage of the Green Monster.
Second Base: Dustin Pedroia (2010 stats: .288/.367/.493)
Dustin Pedroia was on his way to a massive season when a foul ball taken off of the top of his foot ended his year prematurely. Luckily, a full recovery is expected. As Charlie mentioned in his article for the ESPN Sweet Spot titled “Dustin Pedroia’s Power Spike,” it’s probably unfair to expect him to continue hitting home runs at the rate he was hitting them in 2010 (11.4% HR/FB ratio). Still, would anyone be surprised if he put together a career year? With the opportunity to hit in front of Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Kevin Youkilis all season, Pedroia should get plenty of good pitches to drive. 50+ doubles is not out of the question. It should be interesting to see if his foot injury has an effect on his ability to steal bases.
Third Base: Kevin Youkilis (2010 stats: .307/.411/.564)
Lost in the discussion regarding the club’s need for a “big bat” was the fact the Red Sox already had a big bat in Kevin Youkilis. While Youk will probably never be a 40 home run threat like A-Gon, he creates just as many runs through his ability to get on base and avoid making outs. This season, Youk slides across the diamond to third base. While it’s likely he won’t fare quite as well defensively in comparison to the average player at his position, it’s entirely possible we could see a net gain in his overall value due to the +15 run (per 162 games) positional value difference from changing positions. Unless he suffers from lingering effects from his thumb injury, he looks to be inline for another 5 WAR season.
The good news for Marco Scutaro is that his 2010 season was on par with Derek Jeter’s. The bad news for Scutaro is that Jed Lowrie is dangerously close to passing him on the depth chart at shortstop. Even with Lowrie hot on his tail, I don’t see him losing his starting job unless he stumbles so badly that he becomes a detriment to the team. While Scutaro has entered the decline phase of his career, he still has a set of valuable skills at his disposal including above average plate discipline, ability to draw walks, good speed on the base paths, and solid defense. Overall, he should be able to put together a season on par with his 2010 campaign (~2 WAR).
Those hoping to see Jed Lowrie repeat the unexpected power display he exhibited over the final two months of last season will likely to be disappointed. That said, I see Jed Lowrie settling into a poor man’s Dustin Pedroia, if you will. With an above average walk rate, 12-15 home run power, and a solid batting average, a .280/.360/.440 triple slash line is pretty reasonable to expect out of Lowrie for the next few seasons. Keeping Lowrie in the utility role allows Terry Francona to maintain flexibility with regards to his lineup and roster.
Left Field: Carl Crawford (2010 stats: .307/.356/.495)
As player who’s produced 12.6 wins above the replacement level over the past two seasons, much is expected out of Carl Crawford this season. Considering his tremendous skill set (speed, defense, ability to hit for average, and 15-20 home run power), he shouldn’t have any problem putting together an incredibly solid season all around. This season, he’ll be hitting out of the three hole (a la Tim Raines), sandwiched between Pedroia and Gonzalez. As a result, Crawford should see plenty of decent pitches to drive with authority. One area that I’d like to see him improve is his plate discipline. If he can ratchet his walk rate from 6-7% to 8-9%, Crawford would become a much bigger offensive threat. I’m not predicting this will happen, but if it did, he’d be a much more valuable weapon.
I’m going to ignore both Ellsbury’s and Cameron’s stat lines from last year because they were both heavily influenced by debilitating injuries, and I suggest you do the same. Going into his age-27 season, the electorate seems to be split with regards to what we should expect out Jacoby Ellsbury this season. While some expect him to bust out in a big way this year, others expect him to continue on his pre-2010 career path. I’m among the latter group. To date, Ellsbury hasn’t given us any reason to believe he’s going to start taking more walks or hitting more home runs, so why should we expect anything outside of his .290/.345/.405 line he posted during the first two full seasons? Still, it’s not like Ellsbury is without value. At the very least, he should provide some great speed on the base paths in the form of 60 stolen bases and double digit triple numbers.
Mike Cameron will play the role as fourth outfielder this season. Now fully recovered from the torn abdominal muscle (ouch!) that hampered for the bulk of last season, he should be able to provide greater levels of offense and defense this year. Due to his ability to play every outfield position, Cameron should accumulate 300+ plate appearances this season.
Right Field: J.D. Drew (2010 stats: .255/.341/.452)
Was last season the beginning of the end for J.D. Drew? Considering his age, past ailments, and difficulty hitting lefties last season, it certainly seems possible. Still, I wouldn’t count out the stoic right fielder just yet. Drew still has 20-25 home run power; spectacular plate discipline; above average speed on the base paths; and provides excellent defense in Fenway’s cavernous right field. In hopes of saving Drew’s legs and back this year, Francona will likely slot him into the DH slot a little more frequently than he had in the past. Age and injuries aside, a 2.5-3.0 WAR season is probably a reasonable projection out of the 35 year old outfielder.
Designated Hitter: David Ortiz (2010 stats: .270/.370/.529)
After producing a miserable .143/.238/.286 triple slash line last April, David Ortiz’s time as a productive major league player appeared to be over. Then, something funny happened on his way to the scrapheap. Ortiz hit .286/.385/.558 the rest of the way, thus resurrecting his career. Can he carry his post-April success over to 2011? That remains to be seen. As I mentioned in detail last month, Ortiz’s slowed bat speed has rendered him useless against left-handed pitching. While we can’t pinpoint the exact time, his slowing bat speed will eventually start to affect his ability to hit righties as well. Will that time be in 2011? Hopefully not, but it seems as if Ortiz is playing on borrowed time. If Ortiz can stave off Father Time for one more year, the Red Sox’s already deep lineup will be that much better.
Starting Pitcher 1: Jon Lester (2010 stats: 19-9, 3.25, 1.20)
Over the last three seasons, Jon Lester established himself as one of the premier starting pitchers in the major leagues. Last season, he led the AL in K/9 with 9.74; improved his ground ball rate from 47.7% to 53.6%; and finished among the league leaders in wins, ERA, FIP, xFIP, and WAR. While it is a little disconcerting that his walk rate rose from 2.82 per nine innings in 2009 to 3.59 in 2010, elevated walk rates appeared to be a team-wide problem last season. Hopefully, with a new catching situation this season, that trend will reverse itself. Having just turned 27 years old, the future for Lester looks bright. Barring injury, he’s a near lock for another 5-6 WAR season.
Starting Pitcher 2: John Lackey (2010 stats: 14-11, 4.40, 1.42)
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’m not exactly bullish about John Lackey’s prospects going forward. Despite my concerns, there are some reasons to be optimistic. As Troy mentioned previously, Lackey’s strikeout and walk peripherals were much improved over the final two months of last season. Furthermore, his curve ball whiff rate improved from 8.9% to 14.3% during that same time. If Lackey can carry his late season success over to the upcoming season (especially with regards to his curve ball), one of the biggest questions surrounding the Red Sox rotation will have been answered. For the time being, I’ll continue to be optimistic, but guarded.
Starting Pitcher 3: Clay Buchholz (2010 stats: 17-7, 2.33, 1.20)
For Clay Buchholz, regression is inevitable; ground ball pitchers can only sustain a .261 BABIP for so long. If Buchholz is going to successfully combat the effects of regression, he’ll likely do so through improving his strikeout and walk rates. Luckily, he won’t have to change his approach too much to do so. Last season, he induced whiffs on 9.4% of his pitches. Unfortunately, most of those whiffs occurred on strikes one and two, not three. By slightly altering his pitch selection pattern, Buchholz should be able to coax a few more easy strikeouts, rather than be forced to rely his defense to convert batted balls into outs. In terms of his success rate with avoiding walks, simply attacking the strike zone, rather than nibbling on the edges, should pay huge dividends. Last season, only 44.2% of his pitches were “in the zone,” which likely contributed to his 3.47 BB/9 rate. If he can improve his zone rate to the 54-56% range, he could see his walk rate drop below 3.00 per nine innings.
Starting Pitcher 4: Josh Beckett (2010 stats: 6-6, 5.78, 1.54)
Troy covered this topic pretty well already on Monday, so I won’t go into too much detail here. Needless to say, the two biggest factors dictating whether or not Beckett can return to form are his abilities to not only stay healthy, but also avoid home runs. If he can be successful in both of those arenas, Beckett should be able to put together a very solid season. If he can’t, that’s another story entirely. Let’s not cross that bridge until we get to that point.
Starting Pitcher 5: Daisuke Matsuzaka (2010 stats: 9-6, 4.69, 1.37)
If only Dice-K could get his walks under control… Every year, several people make that statement when referring to frustrating right-handed pitcher from Japan. While the statement is true, it’s probably foolish for us to continue opining about something that will probably never happen. At this point, he is what he is—a back of the rotation starter. It’s time we all accepted it. We may have signed him with the intent to be more than what he’s become, but frequently, things don’t work out as we planned. Looking ahead, we should more of the same from the mercurial right hander: high walk totals, ridiculous pitch counts, and fly ball heavy batted ball trends. Lastly, keep in mind that he only needs to produce 2 WAR in value to justify the cost of his salary ($10M).
Relief Pitchers: Jonathan Papelbon (2010 stats: 3.90, 1.27, 67); Daniel Bard (2010 stats: 1.93, 1.00, 74.2); Bobby Jenks (2010 stats: 4.44, 1.37, 52.2); Dan Wheeler (2010 stats: 3.35, 1.08, 48.1); Matt Albers (2010 stats: 4.52, 1.48, 75.2); Dennys Reyes (2010 stats: 3.55, 1.45, 38); Tim Wakefield (2010 stats: 5.34, 1.34, 140)
The Red Sox have built what looks to be a very solid bullpen. In the closer role, Jonathan Papelbon returns in hopes of regaining his once dominant form. Still armed with a lively fastball and a devastating splitter, he’s retained the ability to make hitters look foolish on the strikeout. Unfortunately, the same can not be said for his ability to inhibit walks. If he’s serious about regaining his pre-2009 form, he’ll need to rediscover his elite level control.
Daniel Bard and Bobby Jenks will take care of most of the highest leverage situations in the seventh and eighth innings, while Wheeler, Albers, and Reyes will likely make appearances in lower leverage and situational matchups. Wakefield will serve as the unofficial sixth starter, long reliever, and mop-up man. His presence on the roster will provide Terry Francona with considerable flexibility. Felix Doubront, Hideki Okajima, Alfredo Aceves, Michael Bowden, Rich Hill, Andrew Miller, and Scott Atchison will be the most likely of early season call-ups from AAA Pawtucket.
For more on the Red Sox bullpen, check out Charlie’s article titled, “The Pen is Set: Upgrade Complete.”
2011 Red Sox prediction: 97-65 (4 games ahead of the Yankees)
Categories: Boston Red Sox