Spring Training is well underway in Florida and Arizona, and The Victory Formation has turned its attention towards the upcoming 2011 Major League Baseball Season. As we approach Opening Day, we will be previewing 2 teams a day, 1 AL and 1 NL. Now batting: The Boston Red Sox
Theo Epstein made it clear that 2010 was going to be a rebuilding year of sorts for the Sawx, but he also hinted at being aggressive in the future. At the time some might have thought he was just trying to appease the voracious Boston sports media. I think Theo made his point this winter. The Red Sox are arguably the winners of the offseason (if you believe in such titles).
The biggest offseason acquisitions are the additions of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to an already potent offense. Last year the Red Sox scored 5.1 runs per game, good enough for second in the league. Crawford essentially replaces the combination of Daniel Nava and a slew of utility players who put up a .312 wOBA and a negative WAR. Crawford adds a wOBA of .378 (6th in MLB for LF) and a WAR of 6.9 (2nd for LF behind only AL MVP Josh Hamilton). Some of Crawford’s defensive value is lost with the Monster out in left, but his impact on the offense will be huge. Needless to say, this is a major upgrade for the Red Sox.
The addition of Gonzalez, while a big deal in the headlines, will not have quite as large an impact on the Red Sox offensive production. Gonzalez replaces Adrian Beltre who put up some MVP type numbers last year. Beltre had a wOBA of .390 and a WAR of 7.1. Both are huge numbers. Gonzales brings to Boston a .378 wOBA and 5.3 WAR. Before I go any further, this is an apples to oranges comparison. But let me try any way. The defensive numbers can’t be compared as they play different positions. Gonzales played in a different league and who knows exactly how his numbers will be affected by getting out of that cavernous Petco Field. His ISO was .262 on the road (compared to .159 at home). A lot of this can be associated to Gonzalez’s propensity for opposite field HRs. He has 48 opposite field HRs since 2008, the most in baseball. Petco’s left-center gap is one of the most spacious in baseball. Expect his power numbers to jump in the bandbox that is Fenway Park. Additionally, Beltre hasn’t put up numbers like this previous season since the big contract push of 2004. Who knows if he would’ve duplicated the success he had in his only year in Boston. It’s not difficult to argue that Gonzalez will have a larger impact on the Sox offense, albeit based on projections.
These additions combined with healthy seasons by Pedroia (one of the few athletes who might be shorter than Trey) and Ellsbury give this offense all types of potential, despite the loss of Victor Martinez. He was an impactful bat as a catcher; his 4.0 WAR cannot be replaced in the batter’s box. His signing with Detroit does make it possible for the Red Sox to field a better defense though. Last year they had a UZR of -15.1, which was in the bottom third of the league. Replacing Martinez with just about anybody will improve the defensive rankings.
On the bump the Red Sox should have one of the top rotations in baseball. Lester, Becket, Bucholz, Lackey, Dice-K, and Wakefield look great on paper. Lester had an xFIP of 3.29, good for third best in the AL. He’s one of the legitimate aces in all of baseball. The Sox need a big bounce back from Beckett. Between 2003 and 2009, Beckett only had one season where his xFIP was higher than 3.63 (2006, he put up an ugly 4.39). Last year in just 21 starts his xFIP was 4.01. Beckett needs to stay healthy and produce like he has throughout his career. If he can do this, the Sox should be the favorite in the American League.
Bucholz had a really low ERA, but ignore that number. He wasn’t nearly as good as those numbers might suggest. His xFIP was 4.16, but that number should improve this year. Please don’t listen to any writers that are concerned about his jump in innings (and someone tell Verducci he was hardly the first person to find the “effect” of an increased workload on pitcher’s production the following year). Bucholz threw 173 innings in the bigs last year. The previous year he only threw 92, but he also had 99 innings in the minors. So his IP totals actually decreased last year. That brings us to John Lackey, who had the worst season of his career (xFIP of 4.32) in 2010. A lot of this can be attributed to the jump in BABIP to .319. His career norms are right around .300. Expect something closer to that this season. And Sox fans shouldn’t worry too much about him regardless; he’s the number four starter.
The bullpen should be solid with Papelboner and Bard in the late innings. The pickup of Bobby Jenks, his massive waistline, and his horrible facial hair could make for some interesting moves this season. It’s common knowledge the Red Sox are not going to sign Papelboner to a long-term deal. If Jenks can rebound from last season, the Sawx could potentially trade Papelboner for help if needed. Bard would take over as the closer and Jenks could fill in as the set-up man.
Prospect to Watch: The Red Sox are one of the few teams that will not be counting on major production from any rookies. One who could help in the bullpen is Felix Doubront, a 23 year old lefty out of Venezuela. He threw 25 innings out of the pen last season, and he might take some important lefty-lefty matchups away from Okajima. He also could be the first in line to take a place in the rotation if any injuries were to occur. Josh Reddick is another prospect who could potentially see some playing time this year. Although he looks more like he could be trade bait if needed.
The Red Sox are ready for a huge bounce back year. On paper they’re loaded. They should win the division by a few games, and many will consider them the favorite to reach the World Series. Count me as one in that camp.