2013 Season Forecast – Boston Red Sox

Already out the gate with the best record in baseball for the month of April, let’s see if the start can hold water for an entire season.

Last Five Years:
2012:  69 – 93 (5th, AL East)
2011:  90 – 72 (3rd, Crashed AL East)
2010:  89 – 73 (3rd, AL East)
2009:  95 – 67 (2nd, AL East)
2008:  95 – 67 (2nd, AL East)

In general, the trend is working in the wrong direction, but if Bob McGrath were singing “Which One of These Things is Not Like the Other…”, we’d single out the Bobby Valentine era as the odd ball.  The Sox have averaged about 88 wins a season.  Without checking any of the rest of it, to guess that the Sox could bounce back to 75 – 80 wins wouldn’t have been an improbable prediction.

Runs Scored:  734 (5th in the AL)
Runs Allowed:  806 (13th in the AL – ouch)

Runs in Fenway Park: 842, tops in the AL
Runs on the road: 698, 9th in the AL

So, for 2012, Fenway – always a good hitter’s park, was even more so last season.

Season Recap:

Mixed previews….  Some people thought the Sox would remain competitive, having spent a lot of money to bring in veteran talent.  Many thought the hiring of Bobby Valentine might be an odd way to mix things up following the firing of Terry Francona.  I’ll say…

The team got off to a bland start, but a nice streak of six wins got the team back to .500 as the month of April ended.  Losing nine of ten, the Sox fell out of the race as Bobby Valentine was losing his clubhouse as fast as you can say “Kevin Youkilis wasn’t mentally ready to play.”  To the Sox credit, they battled back to 21 – 21 and a second hot streak got the Sox to 42 – 37 right as July began.

At that point, the Sox fell out of contention. They sputtered through August, first slowly, and then – starting on about 8/19 – they fell off the map.  The Sox would give up ten or more runs in a game every week or more – seven times in the last 38 games.  As August ended, the Sox traded away a bunch of people who were seen as under-producing (Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford) and turned it over to the next wave of Sox players.  The Astros played better in September.  The Sox won just 27 of their last 83 games; and went 10 – 31 in the last 41 games.

Transactions:

Some minor moves before the season – resigning Cody Ross and David Ortiz, and trading Marco Scutaro to Colorado for Clayton Mortensen.  I can’t prove it, but maybe the season went south when they signed pitcher Billy Buckner on 2/29.

Actually, the were proving an interest in Chicago.  The traded Michael Bowden to the Cubs for Marlon Byrd.  Ouch – he was released in June.  The signed Mark Prior to a minor league deal.  The picked up former ChiSox outfielder Scott Podsednik when outfielders were hard to find in May.  Kevin Youkilis was moved to the White Sox in June for Brent Lillibridge and Zach Stewart.  I don’t see that working out…  They even sold Justin Germano (to the Cubs) and released Bobby Jenks (former Sox closer) – and in a related moved, signed Andy LaRoche, whose dad was a pitcher for the Cubs…  Look – the Cubs stink, and while the White Sox were pretty good, cast offs aren’t going to help…

Here’s a move I don’t understand.  They traded away Podsednik to Arizona, then signed him when Arizona released Podsednik.

I mentioned the big sell off – the Sox traded Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Nick Punto, and CASH to the Dodgers for James Loney, Ivan DeJesus, Allen Webster, and two guys who arrived in October – Rubby De La Rosa and Jerry Sands.

Starting Pitching:

Jon Lester had an off season, falling from ace to league average pitcher.  Clay Buchholz fell from surprise ace to league average.  Josh Beckett fell from famous pitcher who sometimes looks dominating to a shade below league average (and with a 5 – 11 record, looks worse than he really was).  Daisuke Matsuzaka went 1 – 7 with an ERA north of 8.00, Daniel Bard proved he was a reliever in 10 starts, Aaron Cook was given 18 starts to prove he was done (5.65 ERA).  Felix Doubront looked tolerable in 29 starts – I think he can build on that.

Going forward, the Red Sox could make immediate gains if Lester and Buchholz just got back half of what they lost in 2012 – that’s 30 saved runs.  Getting a fourth starter that could be CLOSE to league average to replace Dice-K and Cook could save 30 runs.  Replacing Josh Beckett with Ryan Dempster looks to be a wash – Dempster was awesome in Chicago, but rocked in Texas.  Boston just feels more like his kind of place – I think he can be at least league average in 30 starts, which is still better than 21 Josh Beckett starts and 10 bad Daniel Bard starts…  If Doubront doesn’t fall back and if John Lackey ever gets healthy, who knows.  I like the rotation to be 50 – 60 runs better than last year.

Bullpen:

Losing Andrew Bailey, who was brutal, and having to use Alfredo Aceves as a closer was bad.  I know Aceves got 25 saves, but the two combined to cost the Sox six unnecessary runs.  The rest of the pen was a nice patch work of guys like Junichi Tazawa, Andrew Miller, Rich Hill, Clayton Mortensen, Vincente Padilla, and Matt Albers.  Sure, they had a few sore thumbs (I’m looking at you, Mark Melancon and Zach Stewart), but every bullpen has one or two.

This year, the Sox signed Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan, have Andrew Bailey back, and added Koji Uehara to Tunizawa, Miller, and Mortensen.  This could be a bullpen that is ten runs better than last year.

Catching:

I’m thinking that the Sox missed their captain, the retired Jason Varitek.  Boston gave the job to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, with Kelly Shoppach (now gone) and Ryan Lavarnway as backups.  People could run on both Salty and Lavarnway (108 stolen, 21 caught), and as a unit, the team was below average in winning percentage, team ERA, and tended to be error prone.  The only category in which Boston catchers were above average was mobility (assists not tied to caught stealing), and that’s not saying a whole lot.

Shoppach was their best defensive catcher, had the best batting rates (5 runs per 27 outs, the only above average offensive player) – so he’s gone.  I know – Saltalamacchia hit 25 homers, but he batted .222 with a sub .300 OBP.  He hit like Jason Varitek did at the end, but with no defensive positives.  Salty is back, but the Sox did bring in David Ross from Atlanta, who is a fine catcher and should get at least 500 innings of work.

Infield:

Adrian Gonzalez was underperforming, maybe, but he was still hitting .300 with 37 doubles and 86 RBI with a month to go.  And, he was saving them 35 runs with his glove in five months – gold glove play.  James Loney can’t hope to replace that – so the Sox let him leave and signed Mike Napoli to play there.  Napoli is an underrated catcher – I’d let him do that from time to time and try to find a better hitter (Daniel Nava?) to play first.  Dustin Pedroia was productive but his range is falling quickly.  Never GREAT before, he cost the team more than 15 runs because he makes nearly nine fewer plays per 870 balls in play than the average second sacker.  Mike Aviles was a below average hitter – first time in a full season he did that – but ordinary at short.   The Sox will try Stephen Drew there in 2013 – and I think he’s going to be a weak fielder and I fear he may not be that great a hitter anymore.  He has the tools to be, but it’s been a while.  If he hits his 150 game norms, he’s not going to be appreciably better than Mike Aviles overall.  A few more runs on the board for both teams…  The one place Boston may improve is at third, where Will Middlebrooks will get full time duty.  Youkilis struggled last season, so if Middlebrooks can match his half season stats across a full season, that will help.  He is NOT in Youkilis’s league as a fielder, but Youk was fading there last year.

As a whole, this group will likely be 50 runs worse defensively, but break even offensively.

Outfield:

A team that had so many injuries, nine guys played in left, eleven guys played in center, and eleven more played in right.  With Crawford gone, the Sox may try Jackie Bradley (he already got sent back) in left, or Daniel Nava.  They need a full (and productive) season from centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury – who is, at best, a league average fielder but CAN be a crazy good hitter.  Cody Ross is gone; Shane Victorino, who is as productive a hitter and a slightly better fielder will play right.  If Nava can step forward and get on base, or at least be a solid platoon with Jonny Gomes, and Ellsbury can get healthy, there is a chance for 40 – 50 extra runs on the board with little change in defensive value.

DH/Bench:

David Ortiz should be around for 25 more games than the 90 games he played last year, but at his age, he might decline some.  Nava can play all over, Victorino can spell Ellsbury if needed, and Pedro Ciriaco will be the utility infielder.  Not a bad bunch.

On the Farm!

At Pawtucket, the only prospect from 2012 may have been catcher Ryan Lavernway, who hit .295 and played with the big club.  He’s at least a good backup.  The best pitcher was probably Justin Germano, but he is 29 and now a Cub.  He’s no prospect.

2010 first round pick Bryce Brentz hit .296 at Portland (AA), showing power, and might make the big club this year.  Jackie Bradley didn’t look overmatched in his 61 games there – he was a 2011 first rounder.  Stolmy Pimentel didn’t look as strong as he had previously.  The reliever with promise may be Aaron Kurcz, who fanned 72 in 50 innings, but is wild.  2008 first round pick Joshua Fields is getting there – better control and 59 Ks in his 44 innings.  Unfortunately, he’s an Astro right now…

Look out for 3B Michael Almanzar, who hit .300 with power at A+ Salem.  He and SS Xander Bogaerts, who is just 20, will follow in the shoes of Jackie Bradley one day.  1B Travis Shaw had Adrian Gonzalez numbers there – but I don’t think that’s what he will be when he gets to the majors…  Keith Couch is looking close to being a prospect after going 11 – 9 with good control in 145.2 innings.  The better prospect might be Matt Barnes, the 2011 top pick, who strikes people out and is building a solid minor league resume very quickly.

Forecast:

Well, when I add up the offensive gains and the defensive gains (pitching) and losses (infield gloves), I see the Sox making strides toward .500.  I see them scoring about 65 more runs, and maybe saving five to ten runs over last year.  That puts them around 800 runs scored and allowed – or 81 wins.  I’m not convinced the hot start is going to stay for the year, but it will be a better season for Sox fans than 2012.

Top NL First Basemen in 2009

Albert Pujols (STL):  Far and away the best player in baseball, as he has been since he arrived nearly a decade ago.  Nobody approached his offensive production and he remains the best fielding first baseman in the game.  As such, his overall production exceeded 225 runs – a staggering total.  I show Pujols as about 50 runs better than the next most productive player in the game.  The question going forward will not be whether Pujols belongs in the Hall of Fame, but whether Pujols is the greatest player God invented.  (178.7 Runs Created, 46.8 Runs Saved = 225.52 Total Run Production)

Adrian Gonzalez (SD):  In most years, this kind of production would lead his league – much less his position.  Instead, he’s just the second most productive player in baseball.  No wonder the Red Sox (and everybody else) wants him.  Dependable and rangy at first base, hits for power and has a solid OBP.  And, he’s doing this in San Diego – the hardest place to put up decent offensive numbers.  It took a while for Gonzalez to reach his fullest potential, but you have to like the total package.  (143.3 Runs Created, 31.05 Runs Saved = 174.38 Total Run Production)

Ryan Howard (PHI):  Had a normal season for him (45 – 151 – .279), but seems to be getting more comfortable defensively.  Howard hit .207 with just 6 homers in 222 at bats – I have no idea why any team would let him face a righty (39 – 108 – .320 in 394 at bats).  By the way, his splits against lefties were WORSE than his career rate (.226 with 53 homers in 935 at bats).  So that’s not a good thing.  (127.6 Runs Created, 11.66 Runs Saved = 139.25 Total Run Production)

Prince Fielder (MIL):  The second most productive hitter in baseball, but his range at first base is now problematic.  In 2006, I showed Fielder as being slightly above average (where Ryan Howard is now).  In 2007 and 2008, he was about ten runs worse than average.  Last year, he was atrocious.  Some of this could have been his pitching staff (Corey Hart had lousy numbers in right field), but giving him 20 runs back still makes him about 10 runs worse than average.  Of course, when you create 150 runs of offense, you can live with the glove.  (157.9 Runs Created, -31.0 Runs Saved = 126.88 Total Run Production)

Pablo Sandoval (SF):  A third baseman, but probably should play first base instead.   If he played first base regularly, he’d rate here…

Jorge Cantu (FLA):  Had a surprisingly good season defensively – frankly, I’m stunned, but if you look at how few assists the rest of the infielders had and then see how many putouts he had, you realize that Cantu takes charge of the infield and makes the most of his time out there.  Additionally, he’s a reasonably productive hitter – an old school definition RBI guy, gets lots of chances and seems to drive in runs whenever called upon.  He’s NOT that productive a hitter – he’s good, but not that good.  However, if he fields like Derrek Lee used to, it’s a valuable package.  (84.9 Runs Created, 25.3 Runs Saved = 110.24 Total Run Production)

James Loney (LAD):  Looking at his stats, I can’t see a difference between Loney and Cantu.  Medium range power, RBIs when opportunities arise, solid defense.  (90.4 Runs Created, 17.58 Runs Saved = 108.03 Total Run Production)

Adam LaRoche (PIT/BOS/ATL):  Had a reasonably good year with the glove – better than any in recent years (since 2006, for sure).  Coupled with decent power and a fair eye, LaRoche was reasonably productive in 2009.  That he’s suddenly moving around more than a regional sales director makes me think his career will start moving downhill, but for now he’s still worth keeping around.  And, compared to what the Diamondbacks had last year, LaRoche is a significant step forward.  It would help him measurably if he could hit in April.  The Pittsburgh job now lands on Jeff Clement, a former Mariner prospect who hasn’t shown major league hitting ability yet.  (99.8 Runs Created, 7.7 Runs Saved = 107.5 Total Run Production)

Joey Votto (CIN):  Missed time this summer dealing with ailments both mental and physical, otherwise he would have rated higher.  Votto is a surpremely talented hitter and a tolerable fielder.  Mashed lefties and righties with equal aplomb in 2009 but gets more walks and power against righties.  I’d love to have him on my team – and he’s my pick to have a crazy breakout season.  (112.6 Runs Created, -5.2 Runs Saved = 107.33 Total Run Production)

Todd Helton (COL):  Still hits well – power stats like Loney but gets on base more often.  His fielding draws raves, but with a stiff back and older wheels, he’s really just a dependable ball catcher who doesn’t have much range anymore.  I wrote about how much Helton has been helped by playing in Colorado, but even at that, he’s been a good player for a lot of years.  When he comes up for the Hall of Fame ballot, it’ll be interesting to see how he fares.  (99.9 Runs Created, 0.8 Runs Saved = 100.69 Total Run Production)

Derrek Lee (CHC):  His back and neck must have really been bothering him as his defensive contribution – usually in the top three or four at first base – was actually among the worst fielders at the position in 2009.  His bat returned to form, however, and he’s been a good hitter (occasionally great hitter) for a long time now.  If I were a betting man, however, I’d be picking Lee as one player who might slip in 2010.  At the end of the season, Lee turns 35 – so time and various injuries are going to start working against him.  As a Derrek Lee fan, I don’t want to see this happen – but the Cubs will have to plan for replacing Lee in the next couple of years.  (114.7 Runs Created, -16.7 Runs Saved = 97.98 Total Run Production.)

Lance Berkman (HOU):  Already appears to have lost a step as a fielder and hitter and that decline contributed to Cecil Cooper’s firing.  Even having slipped, Berkman puts runs on the board.  Now 34, Berkman is in a race against father time…  Hey, Astros fans – who has been a greater player over his career:  Lance Berkman, Craig Biggio or Jeff Bagwell?  (98.9 Runs Created, -4.9 Runs Saved = 94.07 Total Run Production)

Adam Dunn (WAS):  Not much of a fielder here or in left field – but I think I’d rather him be at first base.  Offensively, he’s still a force – but he’s a poor man’s Prince Fielder.  (115.0 Runs Created, -33.54 Runs Saved – 81.45 Total Run Production)

Daniel Murphy (NYM):  Took over when Carlos Delgado could no longer play; he’s mobile and a fair hitter.  Considering what the rest of the league has above him, Murphy is going to have to step up considerably to help the Mets long term.  I think he can get up to where Cantu or Loney are, but he’ll never be GREAT.  At this point, the Mets would settle for solid.  (71.5 Runs Created, 10 Runs Saved = 81.45 Total Run Production)

Travis Ishikawa (SF):  A smooth fielder with middling power, at this position it’s not going to cut it – which is why the Giants acquired Aubrey Huff.  I think Ryan Garko would have been a better option for 2010, but they didn’t ask me…  Ishikawa might hang around for years as a pinch hitter, low cost option for the position.  (41.1 Runs Created, 23.26 Runs Saved = 64.34 Total Run Production)

Casey Kotchman (ATL/BOS):  A glove man who hits like Ishikawa, too.  Has moved around a lot because he doesn’t put many runs on the board.  Now in Seattle, I bet the Mariners fans will miss Russell Branyan by mid July.  (53.0 Runs Created, 5.1 Runs Saved = 58.1 Total Run Production)

Nick Johnson (WAS/FLA):  A coveted free agent, but I’m not sure why.  He gets on base, but doesn’t create a TON of runs because he has marginal power.  As a fielder, he’s abysmal.  Here’s an odd stat for you.  Nick Johnson’s defense at first base was so poor that he cost the Marlins more runs with this glove than he actually produced with his bat.

You think I’m kidding?  Let’s look at putouts per inning data.  When Jorge Cantu played first, he had 829 putouts in 850 innings.  When Johnson played first, he had 192 putouts in 260.2 innings.  In the same number of innings, that works out to 626 putouts – or 200 (!) fewer than Cantu had.  Does Johnson catch any pop ups, foul balls or line drives?  Apparently not.  Maybe he’s a ground ball repellent – when in the field, the pitchers only got fly balls to the outfield for outs.  I digress.

He’s a DH/#2 hitter – which I imagine might be his job with the Yankees in 2010.  (78.0 Runs Created, -23.3 Runs Saved = 54.7 Total Run Production)

Chad Tracy (ARI):  Got the most action there, but really only played half a season for the Diamondbacks.  He’s gone – thankfully – and Adam LaRoche will improve the output at this position immediately.  (28.4 Runs Created, -5.1 Runs Saved = 23.33 Total Run Production)