I wonder how I would view the Red Sox had they not won the World Series in 2004 and 2007. I think I would have slightly more poetic feelings toward them. This season would represent a beacon of hope in the never ending quest to vanquish the Curse of the Bambino. I think I would, gasp, even root for them to win the East. That, thought, represents an alternate reality. The Red Sox we know today are an efficiently run franchise. They combine the best feature of statistical analysis and financial clout. Where their rivals failed in catching big fish this summer, the Red Sox reeled in a Ray (Carl Crawford) via free agency and a (former) Marlin (farmhand) in Adrian Gonzalez.
The lineup will be composed as follows:
C – Jarrod Saltalamacchia
1B – Adrian Gonzalez
2B – Dustin Pedroia
SS – Marco Scutaro
3B – Kevin Youkilis
LF – Carl Crawford
CF – Jacoby Ellsbury
RF – J.D. Drew
DH – David Ortiz
The Red Sox grand experiment in trying to gain value by maximizing defense was a bit of a mixed bag. They did win 89 games, but it didn’t warrant a playoff spot. Pulling the curtain aside, the defense was good, but didn’t quite live up to the hype. By defensive WAR, the team was 9th in the majors, which is pretty darn good. They weren’t, however, the defensive juggernaut that was to be expected. They were, however, an offensive juggernaut as they were second in runs scored (fun fact, the top 3 scoring teams were all from the AL East).
With the addition of Gonazalez and Crawford the offense looks absolutely stacked. I’m going to venture out on a sturdy, broad branch and say the Red Sox will lead the league in runs scored by a large margin. Gonzalez will abuse the short porch in left field. I don’t expect absurd power numbers from him as his shoulder surgery will neutralize the change in ballpark a little bit, but he will definitely be a force in the heart of the Sox lineup.
Crawford represents a HUGE upgrade in left field over, well, a rotating cast of characters. Daniel Nava (60 games) saw the most time at the position who was a bit below average in production. He is a prospect to keep an eye on, as he’s raked in the minors at every level. Back to Crawford; he had his best season at the plate last season, posting a 134 OPS+, which means his offensive output (using OPS as a quick and dirty analysis of offense) was 34% better than league average. I expect that number to come down a little bit. He’s in his 30′s so I don’t think he’ll match his high water mark, but it would surprise me zero percent if he posted a higher OPS+ this year. One thing to note is that his defensive value (which was very large) will be extremely muted as he plays for the Sox. Part of his defensive value was tied directly to the sheer amount of ground he could cover. With the Green Monster shrinking left field into Manny’s playbox, there simply isn’t much room for Crawford to roam.
The starters for the Red Sox are:
It’s a strong staff that has the ability to be special. I’m pegging Jon Lester as my Cy Young award winner for the year; clearly, I’m expecting big things. Buchholz posted a sparkling 2.33 ERA in 173 innings. It’s quite possible he could win the Cy as well. Buchholz is a bit of an injury concern as he saw a 76 inning rise last year. Since he is 26 and past the “nexus of injury” I wouldn’t lose much sleep over it, but it is something to monitor.
The top of the rotation I think will be terrific. Let’s say an ERA of 3.00 between the two of them. The back three will make or break the Red Sox. Beckett had his worst season in the bigs last year. He posted a 75 ERA+ while battling some injuries. He has the capability to bounce back, but it’s anyone’s guess if he will. There’s been lots of wear on that arm so we’ll have to wait and see. Lackey parlayed one huge year followed by 2 pretty good years into a massive contract. To predict anything much greater than league average would be foolish. If he gives the Red Sox league average production, the front office will be doing cartwheels. Any production from Daisuke would not surprise me. He could blow out his arm on his first pitch and I wouldn’t be surprised. He could recapture his past glory and mow hitters down, and I wouldn’t be surprised. He represents the Red Sox’ 5th starter, so whatever good he brings to the table is a bonus.
The bullpen, I think, is what cost the Red Sox last season. Their margin for error was extremely small with the Rays and Yanks performing the way they did and the ‘pen was the weak link that cost them a shot in the playoffs. The Red Sox retooled here and look much better off with Wheeler and Jenks jumping into the fray. If Papelbon falters again, expect to see the Sox replace him with someone else as closer. Strategically speaking, it’s better to have your best reliever in the set-up role as they will often face higher leverage situations rather than the closer who typically comes into a fresh 9th, so don’t expect to see Bard closing if things with Papelbon go awry. Jenks has closed in the past so he’ll probably have first crack at the closer’s spot after Pap.
The Red Sox are my pick for the AL East.