Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Jon Lester throws a pitch against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium in New York

With trucks heading to Florida yesterday it’s a good time to look at the questions for what the Red Sox hope will happen in 2010. With breakouts and new levels of performance there is always the possibility of regression. That can also include getting better as you return to the mean. What are the top ten possible regressions for 2010?

10. Can Manny Delcarmen find the plate – While Manny never had great control there was an alarming rate of walks in 2009.  He walked 5.13 batters every nine innings or more than a batter every two innings.  We found the signs of arm problems here and I think that with health he should be better, but a better walk rate is required for him to be a solid contributor.

9. David Ortiz’s walk rate – Like I said before regression doesn’t always mean negative.  Ortiz had the lowest walk rate since 2004 and down from his career rate.  I’m sure much of this was his inability to punish pitchers early on and getting behind in counts.  His career rate is 13.1% and should be a solid target for him in 2010.

8. Jonathon Papelbon’s control – Not only did his walk rate climb, but you can see his first strike numbers and zone % were down.  He had trouble getting pitches in the zone and when he did he had the highest contact rate against since 2005.  All this change caused a rise in his BB/9 from 1.04 to 3.18.  He can still be successful at this level, but he can’t be the dominant pitcher he was.

7. Jacoby Ellsbury’s defense – We all debated how much to trust numbers like UZR, but there is a statistical agreement that 2009 was not a good year for Ellsbury in center field.  He had better numbers in 2008 and much better in limited time in left field.  A return to average or better defense this year could be huge for the Red Sox.

6. Kevin Youkilis rise in strikeouts – Youkilis set a career high in strikeouts this year as he reached 30 years old.  He struk out over 25% of his at bats and totaled 125 strikeouts.  He’s not going to get younger and eventually that will get higher, but at only 31 this year it’s better to expect he’ll regress closer to a career rate of 21%.

5. Power from J.D. Drew – Drew had his first 20 home run season in Boston last year and saw his ISO reach .243, which was his highest since 2004 with the Braves.  Power often increases with age so perhaps we should expect this output again in 2010, but that power can come at the cost of contact.  His strikeout rate was up at 24% making this change look a bit like aging for Drew.

4. Josh Beckett’s health – Health is a skill and with Beckett reaching the highest number of innings in his career last year it’s tough to say he’ll make it back there in 2010.  With so many common ailments from elbow to back to blisters I can’t see him reaching that level again.  I would hope though that if he does get small injuries he takes the right precautions and doesn’t make it worse in an attempt to prove his health as he enters free agency.

3. Marco Scutaro’s walk rate – In 2009 Scutaro had his career year at 33 years of age and much of that value was on a career high OBP of .379. That had a lot to do with his BB% of 13.2%, which is much higher than his career rate of 9.6%. There is some evidence he was just swinging less and might face better pitches in 2010, but he has had these high walk rates before. In 2003 and 2006 he posted BB% over 11%.  When you account for his varying playing time it’s tough to say what numbers to trust, but expect at least a small amount of regression.

2. Clay Buchholz’s love for worm killing – This shouldn’t be a huge surprise based on his minor league numbers, but Buchholz suddenly flashed a 53.8% groundball rate.  That was more than 10% higher than his 2008 numbers.  With so many changes and some amount of minor league track record it’s otugh to say how much he will regress, but it’s tough to expect that level in his first full season.

1. Jon Lester’s step forward in dominance – His 2008 may look more impressive, but in 2009 Lester suddenly put things together gaining his first K/9 over nine at 9.96 and a very solid K/BB of 3.52.  His K/9 before 2009 was never higher than 7.14 in the majors.  The tough part is accounting for his health while recovering from cancer.  His fastball and cutter were at career high’s in velocity and showed his strength was fully back.  A regression in his strikeouts could cause a step back this year and one of the biggest questions for the 2010 Red Sox.