This offseason has seen the insults, comments, questions and general malaise come from all angles. The team hasn’t had much to be positive about after the worst regular season collapse of all time and the resulting flight of both the manager and GM. If that wasn’t bad enough, we have added just two bullpen arms by way of trade and a stable full of aging and injured starting pitchers on minor league deals.
If that wasn’t enough, the Yankees have reestablished their place atop the AL East by adding Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda to their rotation; both of whom would have looked great in a Red Sox uniform. So why shouldn’t we plan a mass exodus from Fenway this year and maybe a trip off the Tobin Bridge? Because the Red Sox are still even today without a completed lineup one of the two best teams in baseball on paper.
The Rays might want to argue that fact, but the Red Sox on paper would come in second with only injuries having limited them in the recent past. That might not change as many pieces are back, but with J.D. Drew no longer in the outfield and Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey out for most if not all of 2012, those have been two of the main culprits when it comes to DL stints.
The Red Sox offense has been arguably the best in baseball for the past two years (if not much longer than that). Per wRC++, they finished a close second to the Yankees in 2010 and a clear number one with a 116 in 2011.* There isn’t much to report in changes here as the offense is going to stay largely the same except right field and on the bench. That is actually a good thing though, as even Josh Reddick couldn’t save the right field position last year, which had a combined split of .233/.302/.369 and a wRC++ of 75 in 2011.
*wRC++ is a weighted measure of overall offensive skill. It accounts for league and park factors and 100 is league average.
Ryan Sweeney is not a great right field bat, but he can surely top that based on his historical numbers and a move out of Oakland. So put in that improvement and a full season of Jarrod Saltalamacchia with either Kelly Shoppach or Ryan Lavarnway backing up at catcher and the offense should have no problems matching that league leading output.
In the field, the team saw an amazing jump from 2010 to 2011 according to UZR going from a -13 for 2010 to 42.8 in 2011, which ranked them fourth overall in MLB rankings. This year will see some change without J.D. Drew’s trusted glove, but that should be offset by never seeing Jed Lowrie play short stop again in a Red Sox uniform.
Right about now everyone must be wondering about the pitching. That was the problem in September, and the team has only made minor moves other than adding a closer and seen several major injuries. That’s where one of the big things I learned this offseason when looking at the numbers. The Red Sox pitching, other than Jon Lester and Josh Beckett, was awful in 2011.* If you total the WAR from all the starters not named Lester or Beckett you get a grand total of 4.7. That is one really good ace or two middle of the rotation guys taking up a combined three spots.
Having a healthy Clay Buchholz in the rotation will cut nearly half of that by himself, leaving the experiment with Daniel Bard and Alfredo Aceves or one of the injury risks to total 2.7 WAR in the last two spots of the rotation to just equal what they got in 2011. I wrote earlier that I liked the addition of Aaron Cook and that he could be the one to add that value.
I was not a huge fan of the Bard move, but could see him being an average starting pitcher and that should be worth 2 WAR if he can stay healthy and total 150+ innings this year. I am not as confident with Aceves, and would prefer he stays in the bullpen.
The bullpen has had some huge changes this year, but they look to have more talent. Though the individual talent is not as good as Bard and Jonathan Papelbon, the skill seems more even throughout the group. The talent should be even better if Aceves stays in the pen. If Bobby Jenks can get healthy, the team should be confident that getting just 6 solid innings from their starters should be enough in a majority of games.
So they haven’t made many changes and they didn’t add any big name pitching, but the Red Sox took a team that failed in one regard last year. That factor was pitching in September from injuries. This year the team has a boat load of pitchers they are lining up to fill that spot and even more to be there in September if the injury bug strikes again.
My guess is the team goes with Bard and one of the three options from Cook, Carlos Silva, or Vicente Padilla. That will give them Aceves as their first option to move from the pen. They can also look for Daisuke Matsuzaka to be returning in the fall as well as several minor league arms not named Kyle Weiland.
The 2012 Red Sox will remind a lot of fans of the 2011 debacle, but they’ve made enough changes or tweaks the team to change the things that happened last fall. So everyone join me and relax and love the 2012 Red Sox, at least until the first time Bobby Valentine makes his first questionable choice. Then all bets are off.