Three Questions Facing the Red Sox this Spring

After a September collapse that knocked the Red Sox out of the playoffs, many fans and analysts expected the organization to make some big sweeping moves this offseason.  While a shakeup with field and front office management occurred in late-September and early-October, the on-field talent remained largely the same.  Sure, Jonathan Papelbon was allowed to leave via free agency; Marco Scutaro, Jed Lowrie, Kyle Weiland, and Josh Reddick were traded away for relievers; and Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek were given nothing more than non-roster invitations to Spring Training.  Still, outside of Papelbon and Scutaro, none of the others mentioned were expected to play major roles on the 2012 team.

Still, despite last year’s team being largely in tact, several questions (whether fair or not) remain as we head into Spring Training.   On Sunday, Tim Britton at the Providence Journal, addressed a few of his questions in his morning column.  While he asked some pertinent questions, it got me thinking about a few of the questions I have regarding the 2012 Red Sox.  Here are a few of them:

What Can We Expect from Daniel Bard?

I see this as the biggest question facing the Red Sox this season.  We already know that the front three of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, and Clay Buchholz have the potential of being one of the most dominant trios in the major leagues, provided they can stay healthy.  After that, it’s anybody’s guess what the Red Sox will get out of the fourth and fifth slots in the rotation.

After spending three years dominating as Papelbon’s understudy out of the bullpen, Bard is being given a chance to stretch out his arm and nail down a job in the starting rotation.  While no one doubts his stuff (plus-fastball, plus-slider), many have expressed concern about how he’ll react moving from one role to the other.  People are quick to mention the failures of making this transition (like Joba Chamberlain), but it’s interesting that few remember the successes like Derek Lowe or Alexi Ogando.*  Clearly, there will be an adjustment period.  After making the transition, he will need to be more efficient with his pitches; rely more on his change-up to neutralize lefties; and adjust to facing hitters 2-3 times through the lineup as opposed to just once.  Furthermore, he’ll tire quicker that most starting pitchers at his age because he won’t have built up the same level of endurance and arm strength.  He’ll be kept on innings and pitch limitations for the entirity of the season.  As a result, he probably fits better out of the fifth slot in the rotation, as opposed to the fourth.

* Note:  I don’t think Chamberlain was a failure, but many do.  I believe his issues were a function of injury and poor handling by the Yankees.

So what can we expect out of Bard?  Well, here’s what a few of the major projection systems say about him so far.  I’m not including ZiPS or Bill James because the only projections I could find for him were from October when the plan was for him to remain in the bullpen.

OLIVER – 3.10 ERA, 4.3 fWAR, 165 innings

RotoChamp – 3.43 ERA, 161/56 K/BB, 155 innings

PECOTA (partially projected as starter/reliever) - 3.61 ERA, 133 innings

The projection systems see him performing favorably in 2012.  Ultimately though, I see him throwing 150-160 innings of 3.75 ERA ball, while producing around 2-3 fWAR.  I’m anticipating lower strikeout and higher walk rates, but that’s to be expected.  We probably won’t see too many starts that extend beyond 6+ innings this season unless he finds a way to be extraordinarily efficient.  As a result, the Red Sox will need to make sure they get at least 170-180 innings out of the other open slot in the rotation.  If they don’t, it could have adverse affects on bullpen performance and fatigue.

Will Kevin Youkilis Remain Healthy and Productive?

As David Schubert said in his guest column here at Fire Brand, “‘Kevin Youkilis‘ and ‘full season’ aren’t going to be seen in the same sentence without the words ‘won’t be playing’ somewhere in between.”  I tend to agree.  As productive as Youkilis has been for the Red Sox over the years, we’ve learned to enjoy it knowing that an injury was probably lurking somewhere around the corner.  Over the last three seasons in particular, the injury bug has limited his time on the field as he’s suffered through an assortment of nagging hip, hernia, hand, and back injuries.*  Still, despite only playing in 358 of a possible 486 games, he’s managed to produce 13.7 fWAR in value; making him the 23rd most valuable player in baseball in that time.

* Go about one-third of the way down the page to view his injury history.  It’s lengthy to say the least.

All of that said, Youkilis is about to enter his age-33 season, and appears to be on the decline.  After producing a .400+ wOBA for three straight seasons, Youk’s production came crashing down last season.  While a .366 wOBA (126 wRC++) is still very good, it was a far cry from what we’d come to expect out of the fiery, goatee cloaked corner infielder.  Theoretically, through hard work and determination, we he could rediscover his 2008-2010 form.  Unfortunately, a big rebound seems unlikely given his age.

Defensively, he seemed to suffer after crossing the diamond to third base, and lacked the lateral range and quickness he previously exhibitied at first base.  Not surprisingly, these deficiencies were reflected in the objective defensive metrics:  UZR (-2.3), DRS (-5), and FRAA (-1.3).  Some of issues were likely the result of getting reacquainted with playing the position, so it’s possible he could rebound defensively in 2012.  Still, considering his age and injury history, it’s probably safer to project him as being below average defensively at third.

Will Cody Ross and Ryan Sweeney Pay Dividends in Right Field?

Last season, the veritable right field pu pu platter of J.D. Drew, Mike Cameron, Josh Reddick, and Darnell McDonald was downright terrible, producing a combined .652 OPS*.  This season, the Red Sox have two players capable of forming an above average platoon in Ross and Sweeney.

* For reference, that’s equivalent to Yunieksy Betancourt’s 2011 production.  Yikes!

Sweeney is an incredibly athletic outfielder with a decent arm and great range.  Although he’s best suited for one of the corners, he can play all three positions in a pinch.  Considering the vast dimensions of Fenway’s right field, he seems like he’d be the ideal successor to Drew.  Barring an unforseen slump, he should do a great job preventing runs.  Offensively, he’s a bit limited, but he gets on base and hits righties pretty well.

Ross, on the other hand, tends to be more offensively oriented.  He has good power, improved patience at the plate, and mashes lefties.  His offensive performance against righties has been pretty mediocre throughout his career, and should be considered a liability.  Given his power capabilities, he’ll probably be the first man off of the bench for critical pinch hitting situations late in the game.  Defensively, he has below average range a decent arm.  As a result, he should hardly be considered to be an ideal candidate to play right field.

If the Red Sox use Ross and Sweeney in a strict platoon (or at least something reasonably close to one), they could get considerable value out of right field.  Given the environment around major league baseball currently, that seems unlikely.  Still, it’s a combination that should not only pay dividends, but also far exceed last season’s production.  Plus, in a worst case scenario situation, Ryan Kalish should be ready to play by mid-season.  If one of them falters, he could slide right into the lineup.

Categories: Boston Red Sox Cody Ross Daniel Bard Kevin Youkilis Ryan Kalish Ryan Sweeney

After being slapped with a restraining order for stealing Nick Cafardo's mail, I was forced into retirement for a brief period of time. As fun as it was to lounge around the community pool and play shuffleboard with noted internet columnist, Murray Chass, I quickly felt a yearning to write again. Now in my second tenure with Fire Brand, I have set lofty goals of achieving world domination, ending the plight of the hipsters, and becoming BFFs with Mike Trout. I am fluent in two languages (Sarcasm and English, in that order); have an intimate relationship with M&Ms; firmly believe that Lucille is the best character on Arrested Development; and spend my spare time trolling select members of the Boston media. You can follow me on Twitter @Chip_Buck.

12 Responses to “Three Questions Facing the Red Sox this Spring” Subscribe

  1. Walt in Maryland February 15, 2012 at 9:34 AM #

    Your Bard prjojection is reasonable, assuming he's reasonably healthy. In listing successful reliever-to-starter transitions, you missed a big one — C.J. Wilson. There is absolutely no reason why a pitcher with Bard's repertoire and MLB success can't be an effective starter. But they'll have to watch the innings.

    I'm thinking more and more that the Sox won't be picking up Youkilis' option for 2013. If they're preparing to say good-bye to Youks and Ortiz in the same off-season, I hope they have their eyes on a big bat somewhere.

    • Gerry February 15, 2012 at 1:07 PM #

      Agreed. Of course there is a small chance his great stuff and 3 years MLB experience in the most pressure filled situations won't translate, but that small percentage is far outweighed by the excellent chance that he will morph into a mid to top rotation pitcher. Having him as #4 following Buch or #5 following an Oswalt or Floyd Is all but certain to lengthen the rotatiion with quality arms. IMO the Sox, in the face of inordinate offseason doomsaying, have become a true stealth contender.

      I am hoping Youk and Papi stay with the Sox beyond 2013, but the Luxury Cap may be as much determining factor as on field results, as they represent close to $30M in 2013, and with the bats and play of Middlebrooks, Lava, Kalish, maybe Linares, and whatever the bats of Ross/Sweeney/Aviles project, the bats of Youk and Ortiz MAY be replaceable, but it will take a village to do so. That said, I am hoping both Youk and Papi retire as Red Sox icons somewhere in the future.

  2. Mr Punch February 15, 2012 at 1:01 PM #

    Your Bard projection is not implausible, but it's equivalent to 90% of Buchholz's innings in his best year, at his career ERA. The big questions, I think, don't come down to individuals except for Youkilis. The Bard question really should be whether or not the Sox can patch together a rotation after the top two; the Ross/Sweeney question is whether or not they can get any production out of the corner outfield spots. Last year, of course, the answers were no and no.

  3. Walt in Maryland February 15, 2012 at 4:48 PM #

    Getting a solid, healthy season out of Buchholz is huge. The Sox can live with Bard's growing pains and limit his innings if he's slotted as the No. 4 starter. And I absolutely refuse to lose sleep over the No. 5 starter. The bar is very low in that spot, and they'll figure something out, either in spring training or during the season. People clamoring for them to sign Oswalt or trade prospects for Floyd RIGHT NOW seem to forget this.

    Last year, the Yankees won the division, and got 300 innings of better-than-league average pitching out of Colon and Garcia. Their second-best starter (Nova) pitched for the MLB minimum.

    • ChipBuck February 15, 2012 at 5:09 PM #

      Good opint about the Yankees situation last year, but I do want to caution about expecting lightning to strike twice. It's possible, but a lot of luck will need to be involved for that to happen again.

      • Sam February 20, 2012 at 5:41 PM #

        Good Opint,What? Yanks now have 2 better options than Colon & Garcia, with Kuroda and Pineida, thats not going to be lightning,that's the law of averages going up for them.

  4. Tim February 15, 2012 at 5:10 PM #

    I don't think it's fully appreciated how much a hernia inhibits a ballplayer and how that condition impacts the hip and back. Youkilis still possess a good batting eye and good bat speed, with power returning now that the hernia was repaired. He's my dark horse MVP candidate.

    • Charlie Saponara February 15, 2012 at 11:57 PM #

      Good point Tim. I wrote about how Youk's power was sapped after the injury. Based on that, I don't think Youk's skills are rapidly regressing, but health is clearly a concern at this point.

      • TOB$ February 16, 2012 at 6:12 PM #

        Youk's health is a major concern, I see aviles getting much more time here then we all expect.

  5. TOB$ February 16, 2012 at 6:11 PM #

    For AL East positional rankings, click here:

  6. kahlil February 19, 2012 at 11:26 AM #

    i think bard will be streaky. he will go through stretches where he looks unhitable and then have a game or two where he doesn't make it out of the third inning.similar to his setup career where he (i believe) set a record for consecutive scoreless innings and then had unexplainable lapses.
    youk's best asset has always been his versatility. this year will test that while he will be asked to play third, first, and dh at times. spelling gonzo and ortiz while training middlebrooks. get the man on a pilates and yoga routine.
    i think that right field is the stage that we set to audition our organizational depth at outfielders.

  7. lucidsportsfan March 9, 2012 at 3:45 AM #

    You know what my biggest worry is? Jacoby. He was a MONSTER last year (…. ). He can't possibly repeat that level of production. So even if he's just "very good" this year, we're all going to be wondering what's wrong with him.