The 2012 season is finally almost ready to start and the Boston Red Sox can finally put all the stories from last season out of the news with a solid start. The team is largely intact much the same as last year and while the media has spent many pages hand wringing about this that’s not really a bad thing.
The new manager sure knows how to draw attention and maybe that will keep some of the attention away from a locker room that honestly doesn’t seem to want it. As long as he doesn’t start batting Mike Aviles in the leadoff…you know what, nevermind.
Catcher – Jarrod Saltalamacchia (2011 stats – .235/.288/.450)
For all the questions about right field and short stop my opinion is catcher is still the biggest question mark. His stat line last season was less than impressive and his catching skills are passable at best. He’s less than average, but better than replacement. In all likely hood his playing time is diminished by Ryan Lavarnway before the season is over.
First Base – Adrian Gonzalez (2011 stats – .338/.410/.548)
Did I think there would be better power numbers from the new first baseman? Yes, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t as good as expected. His SLG was right at his career best as he topped 200 hits for the first time in his career and reached three triples for the second time in his career. There should be no questions at first base for a long time and for those still saying the Red Sox should have signed Mark Teixeira they will look sillier with each passing season.
Second Base – Dustin Pedroia (2011 stats – .307/.387/.474)
The laser show made sure to let us know his health was not a concern in 2011 by tearing the cover off the ball and having his best season offensively and defensively. Obviously with that in mind he’ll regress slightly in 2012, but he’s still one of the driving forces of the team. I’d still like to see him and Jacoby Ellsbury switch places in the lineup, but otherwise there is nothing to complain about. Red Sox and Yankees fans will continue to battle over Pedroia and Robinson Cano as the better second baseman, but both are the top of the class.
Short Stop – Mike Aviles (2011 stats – .317/.340/.436 in 38 games in Boston)
There is a lot of reasons to doubt Aviles as the everyday short stop, but there are some reasons to say things might work out. I was not a fan of moving him to the outfield, which they tried during winter ball and his career UZR/150 at short stop is 12.4 making me question why he’s been moved away from there. Then again that was the Royals who placed Yunisky Betancourt there and graded him above average defensively. Red Sox fans could be surprised defensively by Aviles and Nick Punto as a backup would also be a plus defensively.
Third Base – Kevin Youkilis (2011 stats – .258/.373/.459)
With 2013 being a team option year for Youkilis and Will Middlebrooks playing well in the minors the Red Sox need to see a solid and healthy year from Youkilis. He’s in his decline age now, but that hasn’t been the problem yet as much as staying on the field. The big question last year was could his defense still be passable after so long at first base, but he seemed to manage the transition well. When he’s on the field I expect he’ll still provide his usual level of skill, but the Red Sox would surely love to see him reach 140 games this season to assure their success.
Left Field – Carl Crawford (2011 stats – .255/.289/.405)
It would be nice if Crawford was healthy so he could start opening day and attempt to get off to a fast start and leave 2011 far out of our minds. That’s not going to happen, but it’s pretty much accepted there is no way he can be as bad as last season. I’m a bit more concerned about his troubles defensively as his value was partially for how well he could play in the outfield. Perhaps the short left field wall removes some of that potential value and limits him. There isn’t much the Red Sox can do about that though and since his contract is untradable for a long time the Red Sox will need to hope his bat returns and quickly.
Center Field – Jacoby Ellsbury (2011 stats – .321/.376/.552)
Did the September collapse cost Ellsbury the 2011 AL MVP vote? Probably. It’s tough to imagine how a single digit home run hitter suddenly hits 30, but we all saw it last season. I have no doubt Ellsbury will regress this season and perhaps Crawford’s increase will balance this out. The big question is how far will he regress? His home runs were not cheap and makes me think he can still top 20, but it’s going to take some time this season to see what he really can do. If the power is still there it would be a waste to bat him leadoff and the new Ellsbury would make a better 2 or 3 hole hitter.
The potential for a lefty/righty platoon is perfect here, but Bobby Valentine has said he doesn’t like to setup a platoon like that, so your guess is as good as mine as to how the playing time works out here. There will be at bats to go around while Crawford is out, but after that all bets are off. My fear is Bobby V starts riding the “hot” bat and we don’t get everything we could from these two.
Starting Rotation –
Jon Lester (2011 stats – 15W-9L 3.47 ERA)
He took a small step backward last year when many thought he would be part of the Cy Young talk. His walk rate was up and his control was questionable at times, but he’s still right on that cusp of greatness if he could ever just take control and limit his walk rate. Either way he should be the ace of the staff and help the team every fifth day.
Josh Beckett (2011 stats – 13W-7L 2.89 ERA)
You would think any pitcher with an ERA under 3 and with the best offense (according to runs scored) behind him would total more than 13 wins, but that’s the way wins are sometimes. For all the talk of “breaking down” in September it looks like Beckett had one of his best final months in awhile. His strikeouts were up and his walks were down, but he had some tough luck and we all know how that turned out. His xFIP was 3.58 so don’t expect another ERA under 3, but Beckett is still a pitcher the Red Sox can count on.
Clay Buchholz (2011 stats – 6W-3L 3.48)
The team is counting on Buchholz big time this season. His health has to be a concern, but being that he could have pitched in September leads me to believe he’s healthy. We’ll see what happens under the stress of a full season, but Buchholz will be counted on to put up a full season. His xFIP of 4.28 last season may raise some questions, but in his data so far he looks like the type of pitcher to control his BABIP (especially in front of a solid Red Sox defense).
Daniel Bard (2011 stats – 2W-9L 3.33 ERA)
OK so I let me bias show and I’m picking Bard for the number four spot. The team may pick him and call him number five or send him to the bullpen, but right now in my opinion you name him the number four and let him go. You give him at least two months of starts and then make a more solid decision with plenty of data to at least start to make opinions. Right now we really have nothing to go on and a few spring starts just isn’t enough.
Alfredo Aceves (2011 stats – 10W-2L 2.61ERA)
This is my no mans land and will include the pitchers fighting for a rotation spot. Aceves has done well in limited starting role spots, but I’m unsure if he can do it for a full season. Much like Buchholz he counts on a low BABIP to maintain his level of production. It’s fair to say though that he should get a fair shake as his current “starting” data is a very small sample. His flexibility is a great bonus though as I wouldn’t move Bard back and forth for fear of injury, but Aceves seems built for this.
Felix Doubront (2011 stats – 0W-0L 6.10 ERA)
There’s nothing like being out of options to fight your way on to the team. Doubront is all but assured a roster spot, but could be in the pen or rotation depending on how things go. His minor league numbers point to him as a reliever, but he’s had some good showings this spring. If he gets the number five spot his leash will be much shorter than Bard’s and could be back to the pen if things start slow for him.
Andrew Bailey (2011 stats – 0W-4L-24SV 3.24 ERA)
I’m expecting some growing pains and fans will surely be reminded just how good Jonathan Papelbon was when watching Bailey in the ninth, but there should be no reason to doubt he’ll be good enough. As we have discussed before having your best reliever pitch the same inning no matter how important the situation actually is can be pointless, but having a solid guy there is important. He won’t be one of the two best closers in baseball, but he also won’t be a distraction.
Mark Melancon (2011 stats 8W-4L-20SV 2.78 ERA)
It doesn’t hurt that the Sox have two players who can finish games and while neither is flashy they should be a solid one-two at the end of close games. It would have been nice to see a healthy and sober Bobby Jenks fight for this spot, but perhaps Doubront or another option could pull forward.
Matt Albers (2011 stats 4W-4L 4.73 ERA)
To be honest I thought the Sox might pass on Albers and non-tender him. He has wild control and just can’t be trusted right now in a big spot. I would hate to see the team count on him for 60 or more innings in 2012.
Scott Atchinson (2011 stats 1W-0L 3.06 ERA)
Here I had just the opposite reaction to the way the Red Sox handled Atchinson. He’s not a strikeout pitcher, but his control is very good. I’d like to see the Red Sox lean on him more and see if he can do this over a larger sample.
The Rest –
The Red Sox will look to either Franklin Morales or Andrew Miller to fill the lefty role. I honestly can’t see how Miller still has a major league job so I’m obviously pulling for Morales in this battle. The team also informed Vicente Padilla he would be likely to have a reliever role. He has pitched well so far this spring making that choice a solid one. The bullpen has plenty of question marks and the subtraction of so many familiar faces leaves many fans doubting them, but once the dust settles the team should have a better overall bullpen than the top heavy one of the past few seasons.
This is a team to do what the Red Sox do best. Win 90-95 games and challenge for a playoff spot. They will be around to challenge for the division although without some luck they will fall short, but should be enough to hold off the Rays and play in the first AL Wild Card single game playoff.