Mar
29

AL East Preview: Boston Red Sox

By

Over the next four days we will preview the teams the Yankees will play most frequently in 2010. Kicking things off is the team they will face on Sunday night, the Boston Red Sox.

Lineup

The Red Sox have quite a different look than they did in the mid- and late-00s. Gone are the days of the best 3-4 combination in baseball, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. Now Victor Martinez and Kevin Youkilis will assume those roles. They might not be as intimidating as their predecessors, but they’re both excellent hitters who will provide the bulk of the power in the Sox lineup.

Photo credit: Steve Senne/AP

Among all major league catchers last year, Victor Martinez ranked third in wOBA, behind Joe Mauer and Jorge Posada. That can be an outstanding advantage, but it’s not always the case for Martinez. Of his 672 plate appearances in 2009, just 366 game as a catcher, or 54.5 percent. Even after his move to the Sox he started just 31 of 53 games at catcher. He otherwise played first base, but that becomes more of a problem this season. Not only is Youkilis entrenched as the starter, but the Sox also have Adrian Beltre at third and Mike Lowell as the first guy to back up both positions. The Red Sox will apparently find out if Martinez can handle an entire season behind the plate.

Youkilis ranked fourth in wOBA among major league first basemen, finishing ahead of Mark Teixeira. Youkilis accomplishes this mostly with his plate discipline. His 13.1 walk rate led to a .413 OBP, besting Teixeira’s mark by .030. For Youkilis it was yet another improvement in his wOBA. Since becoming a full-time player in 2006 he’s seen improvement every year, going from .357 to .373 to .402 to .413. Combine that with quality defense — his 9.1UZR/150 over the past three seasons ranks best in baseball — and he becomes an all-around threat. He might not be Manny, but Youkilis is a perfectly capable cleanup hitter and first baseman for the Red Sox.

Jacoby Ellsbury will again hit in the leadoff spot, after posting a .355 OBP in 2009. Though he doesn’t have a lot of power, just a .114 ISO over the past two seasons, he gains an extra base out of many walks and singles. Last year he led the AL with 70 steals while getting caught only 12 times, a stellar 85.4 percent success rate. That means having a runner in scoring position more frequently for not only Pedroia, but also the middle of the order. Ellsbury has come close to 100 runs in each of the past two seasons, and could finally eclipse that mark in 2010.

Photo credit: Steve Senne/AP

Dustin Pedroia didn’t reproduce his 2008 MVP campaign in 2009, but he still turned in a quality season. His BABIP fell to .297, from around .330 in the previous two years. That put his average 30 points below his 2008 level, though he compensated by raising his walk rate by 3.5 percent. If he keeps up that walk rate and sees a rebound in his BABIP, he could be in for another killer season. In fact, if Ellsbury continues improving and Pedroia rebounds to near his 2008 levels, the middle of the Sox order will have plenty of opportunities to drive home runs. We’ve heard concerns about the Sox offense this off-season, but I just don’t see it. As I’ve laid out here, their top four hitters are all offensive weapons.

David Ortiz moved out of the No. 3 spot in the lineup last year, and it appears the move was permanent. He’ll bat fifth to start 2010, though that could change depending on how he hits. If he starts off as slow as he did last season he could drop even further, perhaps all the way to seventh. His value comes mostly from his power, the main aspect that recovered later in the year. From June 11 through the end of the season he hit .264/.356/.549, so his SLG more than doubled his BA. At 34 years old and after struggles in the past two seasons, it’s unlikely that Ortiz ever finds a .400 OBP again, but he can still help the team with his power.

The lineup becomes a question at this point. While Terry Francona knows the players who will fill the spots, he doesn’t know exactly how they’ll be arranged. J.D. Drew is probably the next best hitter in the lineup, but Francona wants to avoid batting lefties back to back. He’ll likely do that, though, since Drew is clearly a better hitter than Adrian Beltre or Mike Cameron. In fact, if Ortiz struggles Drew could find himself hitting fifth. After that Cameron and Beltre will hit in front of Marco Scutaro, the coveted wrap-around leadoff hitter. It’s unlikely that Scutaro reproduces his excellent 2009 campaign, but he’ll certainly present an upgrade over the smorgasbord of shortstops the Sox have trotted out over the past few years.

A fully recovered Mike Lowell could provide pop off the bench, hitting for Scutaro when the team needs a base hit. He could also pinch hit for Cameron in a situation where the team needs a base hit. Cameron gets on base at a decent clip and hits for power, but his batting average always sits around .250. With, say, the tying run on second Francona might be more comfortable with Lowell at the plate. There’s also the possibility that he pinch hits for Beltre, but that would signal that the latter isn’t getting the job done at the plate. In that case, Lowell might be making a bid to reclaim his place at third. I wouldn’t bank on it, though; the Sox signed Beltre primarily for defense, and by most accounts Lowell just isn’t up to speed in the field.

Pitching

Photo credit: Charles Krupa/AP

Like the Yankees, the Red Sox are trying to discard the notion of a fifth starter, instead employing a slew of ones, twos, and threes. In fact, their rotation looks a lot like the Yankees: three ones and twos on top (CC, A.J., and Javy vs. Beckett, Lester, and Lackey), a young but promising starter (Hughes vs. Buchholz) and an older but solid option at the back of the rotation (Wakefield vs. Pettitte). But just because they break down similarly does not mean that the talent and depth is equal.

Last season at this time, commentators lauded the Red Sox pitching depth. Not only did they have a solid starting five, but they also had Clay Buchholz in the minors and John Smoltz on his way to a June debut. Injuries and ineffectiveness derailed that plan, though, and the Sox scrambled for pitching most of the season. This year they’re in a slightly worse spot, though the top of their rotation is stronger wit the addition of John Lackey. He’ll join Josh Beckett and Jon Lester to form perhaps the best 1-2-3 in baseball.

Injuries are still where the Sox are vulnerable. It appears Josh Beckett’s yearly DL trips have been replaced by yearly bumps and bruises that keep him out of action for a little bit, but which have not necessitated DL trips. From 2002 through 2005 he missed a total of 222 days to the disabled list and another eight with a blister issue. He has spent just 50 days on the DL with the Red Sox, and missed just five days total in 2009. He’d help not only the team, but himself, with another injury free season. He’s a free agent come November, and will be among the most coveted pitchers on the market.

Photo credit: Richard Drew/AP

It appears that John Lackey won’t miss the beginning of his third straight season with arm troubles, but after missing 103 days over the past two seasons he still presents a risk. The Red Sox did insert language into his contract covering them in case he needs surgery on his elbow, but that concerns the future. There’s nothing the Sox can do if he gets injured now, and especially nothing they can do if he doesn’t need surgery. Still, he’s been strong in the past two years after recovering from his injuries. A repeat of last year would be an enormous gain for the Sox rotation.

Wakefield also presents injury concern. He missed 62 days last season, including 48 on the DL, with various back issues. He has spent time on the DL with back issues in each of the past three, and missed 57 days with a ribcage stress fracture in 2006. If he can get through April then Daisuke Matsuzaka might be ready to take his place in the rotation. But, again, Matsuzaka spent most of last year on the DL and has had issues in camp this year. He’ll be out for a month or so to start the 2010 season.

Photo credit: Charles Riedel/AP

The Sox need not worry themselves with Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. Since returning from cancer treatment Lester hasn’t spent a day on the DL, nor has he missed a start because of injury. He started off slow last year, but if he pitches like he did from May 21 on last season — 156.1 IP, 2.48 ERA — he’ll again head the Red Sox rotation. Beckett might head it in name, but Lester could be the better performer. He should be a lesson applied to all young pitchers. After struggling with a high walk rate in the minor and his first two partial MLB seasons he turned it around in 2008, bringing his mark to below 3 BB/9. The Red Sox exercised patience, and it paid off.

Boof Bonser, Michael Bowden, and Junichi Tazawa represent the next pitchers in line for a starting shot, and none is all that inspiring. Tazawa has the highest ceiling of the trio and performed well last season after a rocky start to his MLB career. If one has to make double digit starts it shouldn’t be a huge problem. But if the Sox have to employ more than one, at once, then they could find trouble with the rotation. Considering their injury potential, they can’t be too happy about that. But with an already deep rotation, it’s tough to find quality depth.

The bullpen is still strong, with Hideki Okajima and Dan Bard setting up Jon Papelbon. Apparently Papelbon understands the issue with him throwing fastball every time and will mix in his splitter more this season. Other than that the Sox have questions in the bullpen, from Manny Delcarmen’s inconsistency to Bonser’a sbility to hold down the long man role. Ramon Ramirez shouldn’t be as much of a question mark, though his numbers did dip after an indefatigable start to last season. If Bard continues to improve he, along with Papelbon and Okajima, could create one of the top endgames in the league.

Adding it all up

Because they were bounced in the ALDS, and because the Yankees went on to win the World Series, I feel like the Sox have been undersold this winter. They approached the off-season with a plan, and a plan I think will work out well for them. The best offensive players on the market came at a high long-term cost, so the Red Sox decided to put their money into defense and pitching, a strategy that might help neutralize the better offenses in the league.

All around the diamond they feature plus defenders. Again, Youkilis ranks first among first basemen in UZR/150 over the past three years. Pedroia ranks fifth among second basemen (and only 0.1 behind No. 4), Scutaro ranks eighth among shortstops (with at least 2,000 innings), and Beltre ranks fifth among third basemen. They added a plus defender in Cameron to go with Drew’s plus defense. And, although UZR didn’t rate Ellsbury as a quality center fielder last season he still could be an asset in left.

If the Sox have a weakness this season it’s their injury vulnerability. One of their Opening Day starters is already on the DL, and his replacement, Wakefield, features a rough recent injury history. Beckett and Lackey have also spent a good deal of time on the DL in their careers, causing a bit more concern. Their depth isn’t good enough to adequately cover more than one injury at a time, meaning health is a huge key for them, more so, perhaps, than for most other teams. Commentators rave about their medical staff, though, so perhaps that will factor positively into their season.

One thing is for certain: do not sleep on the Sox. They have assembled a very strong team that will battle to the end with the Yankees and Rays for the AL East crown. If they catch the breaks that the Yanks did last season, they could certainly have a long playoff run in them.

Categories : Other Teams

138 Comments»

  1. JobaWockeeZ says:

    Agreed. They’ll be tougher this year. Normally I’d argue thr starting pitching depth the Yankees have is greater than the Sox and thus would have the better performing rotation since key rotation pitchers have some concerns.

    But with Guadin gone, Aceves hurting and their unwillingness to let Joba start is also concerning.

  2. My hatred for them is deep and unparalleled in its venom. May they finish in last both now and every year until they are disbanded, and Fenway is burned to the ground.

  3. Bo says:

    Their lineup will be their downfall. They dont have enough off firepower to win it.

    • JobaWockeeZ says:

      Hmm..Bo’s being Bo on another team. Never thought I’d see the day.

    • Mike Pop says:

      But their pitching and defense more than makes up for that. Plus, as my man Pawlikowski mentioned, you can expect improvements.

    • rex manning day says:

      Boston scored 872 runs last year, and are projected to score around 840 this year. That’s a decline, but 840 is still a lot of runs–in fact, 840 runs-scored last year would have put Boston in 3rd place in the Majors, 20 ahead of the 4th place Phillies.

      Don’t be fooled by the fact that Boston improved their pitching and defense more than their offense this offseason; their offense is still a beast. They’re going to score more than enough runs to win a ton of games.

  4. pete says:

    People massively undersell just how good Kevin Youkilis and JD Drew are as overall players. Each ranks among the elite at his position over the past several years. I think you hit the nail on the head though – they can’t sustain an injury bug. Nonetheless, they’re an exceptional team that would win 5 of the divisions in baseball.

    I hope there’s a Rays preview coming up.

    • JobaWockeeZ says:

      Seriously. Drew is a .900 OPS player with positive defense. If Boston hates him I’d be glad to take him.

      • Mike Pop says:

        Drew can go with the best of them when healthy, that’s for sure. I never realized how good he was.

      • bexarama says:

        I have no idea why people hate JD Drew in Boston. It’s bizarre. They’re STILL going on about how he’s not clutch despite the fact that he had several big hits in their 2007 run as well as 2008.

        • pete says:

          Well, some NY fans still dislike swisher, though drew is significantly better than swisher, no offense to swish

        • Mike Pop says:

          Cause they have idiot fans just like the Yankees. A lot of them hate Manny. Ugh! at those people.

        • Rick in Boston says:

          It’s the injuries. They expect him to play day in and day out, even with a bum back.

          • bexarama says:

            I’ve seen a few people mention the injuries but wayyyy more people go on about “sure he gets on base, but eventually you’re gonna have to have a big hit!!!!” WTF what was that grand slam in the 2007 ALCS?

          • Presumably that’s why they call him “Nancy Drew”. Always makes me laugh.

            He’s been one of their best and most consistent players since he got there, even with his missed time, yet a significant portion of their fans hate him, vociferously and consistently. Truly bizarre. Just another example of the “narrative/emotion over reality/stats” crowd.

      • radnom says:

        Went to school in Boston the past 4 years.

        People lightened up a lot on Drew after his grandslam in the palyoffs (in 2007?). Up until that he had been injured/struggling to an extent.

        I wouldn’t say that the fans really hate him. Its just that he makes more money than any other Red Sox player, but is far from their best player (and gets dinged up often). He just isn’t the player they (unrealistically) thought they were getting when he signed.

        • bexarama says:

          I guess I can understand this POV, not that I agree with it but I get why people think that. It’s the same POV really dumb Yankee fans had about A-Rod for years.

        • This may be mostly true; but I have seen dozens of posts on mlb.com (consider the source, I know) from rabid Red Sox fans who absolutely detest J.D. Drew and would have a party if he were traded for Kei Igawa tomorrow.

          (OK, maybe I went a little too far with the hyperbole there, but you get my drift!)

          • bexarama says:

            whoah whoah whoah, mlb.com does not count. I could vomit all over my computer screen right now and it would make more sense than an average mlb.com comment.

            • Heh.

              To be fair, there are a few commenters there who actually breathe through their noses. I used to spend time over there attempting to stem the tide of intellectual suicide, with the aid of a lonely few who were not of the emotional/narrative-driven type.

              But…it just got too depressing, and I was in danger of becoming this guy, again: http://xkcd.com/386/

  5. I, too, slightly disagree with the alarmism about Boston’s offense. Their top five hitters–some combo of Pedroia, Youkilis, Drew, Ellsbury,and Martinez–is still real good and Beltre and Cameron could see improvements as RHH in a RHH-friendly park. If I’m Francona, here’s how I order them:

    1. Pedroia
    2. Drew
    3. Youkilis
    4. Martinez
    5. Cameron
    6. Beltre
    7. Ortiz
    8. Scutaro
    9. Ellsbury

    That lineup may not match New York’s, but at least “Yankees Lite” and with their improved defense and pitching, they should be more than fine. They and the Yankees should win 90+ without too much trouble.

    • JobaWockeeZ says:

      Though the chances of Terry using that are slim. Sentimentality being a big part of it I would think.

      But Drew and his .392 OBP not in front of Youk and V-Mart is fine by me.

    • Beltre and Cameron could see improvements as RHH in a RHH-friendly park.

      Seconded. They both have enough power to poke out opposite-field homers, but they’ll benefit mightily from scores of would-be warning-track flyouts being Green-Monster doubles. Fenway helps pretty much every hitter. I expect solid bouncebacks for both Beltre and Cameron. Good buys.

    • pete says:

      I think the ideal sox lineup would look like this:

      Drew
      Pedroia
      Martinez
      Youkilis
      Ortiz
      Ellsbury
      Cameron
      Beltre
      Scutaro

      But I have no problem with the sox not going with that lol

  6. Rob says:

    Let’s not forget that the Sox stack their lineup with right-handed pull hitters who use the Wall. It’s why their offense is consistently better at home and much better there for guys like Pedroia (+.150 OPS) and Ellsbury (+.100 OPS) and now Beltre, Cameron, and Scutaro. As such, the Sox have only had a winning season on the road once in the last four years (2007). It will really be that simple for this team. If they’re winning road games, they’re a force. If they’re not, they’re also rans.

    • As such, the Sox have only had a winning season on the road once in the last four years (2007).

      Nice stat callout.

    • As such, the Sox have only had a winning season on the road once in the last four years (2007).

      Boom. Roasted.

      • Rob says:

        Yup. FOr all of the YFs not down with Gardner, all they need to know is in Boston he’s clearly a starter. They just call him Jacoby.

        • rbizzler says:

          More like Gardy+ as Jacoby has a bit more pop than GGBG (and always has in the minors). Although, I do think that they are a lot more comparable than people think.

    • bexarama says:

      They won 95 games last year in the AL East. That’s not an “also ran” team. Though I do think they weren’t as good as that record would suggest.

      • Rob says:

        Because they load up on victories at home. That’s the Theo strategy. If they win 50+ games at home, they’re going to approach 95 wins even if they lose a bunch on the road. It’s a decent strategy, given their ballpark, but it makes them perpetually overrated. Then when it comes to the playoffs, they get spanked without homefield advantage (which they had in 2007).

        • bexarama says:

          You do have a pretty good point, and they had a crazy good offense in 2003 and 2004 as well as winning records on the road, though not overwhelmingly so.

          2008 Sox didn’t really get spanked, though if Madden isn’t an idiot, the Rays probably win in five, so maybe they did.

  7. Rogue Trader says:

    I wonder why ESPN is broadcasting the game on ESPN2? Like really, what are they going to give on ESPN that night?

  8. Rick in Boston says:

    I’ll say this, maybe it’s the weather, maybe they think the Celtics will do something come the playoffs. But for whatever reason, the Sox Nation isn’t being as vocal as normal heading into the regular season. The biggest Sox-related thing on the radio is whether or not they should re-sign Beckett. Very little about the season starting in six days.

  9. CountryClub says:

    The Sox will be good this yr; probably the 2nd best team in the AL. But for the 1st time in a few years, I think the Yanks are better then them in most phases. I like the Yanks starters more, I like their pen more and I like their O more. I guess the Sox have them on D, but it won’t make up for the rest.

    • JobaWockeeZ says:

      And the Yankees defense is nothing to laugh at. They are looking to improve that with the departure of Damon and having a healthier A-Rod.

      They also upgraded their pitching. Last year the Yanks lost their number 2 starter for the whole year in Wang. Now with Javy if they are all healthy they will have a better rotation.

      The offense is about the same but probably a bit younger.

      Only thing I’m mad about is the 5th starter and Joba’s future but meh it won’t affect the team drastically.

  10. With Big Sloppy on the decline and Mike Lowell not too far behind him, I wonder if Lars Anderson or Anthony Rizzo will be DH’ing with the big club by August.

  11. Jake H says:

    I think the Sox will be good. I do think injuries will be their downfall. Also they have money locked into Ortiz and I watched him hit the other day and couldn’t get around on a 89 mph fastball at his letters that was inside.

  12. Joe D. says:

    I agree, I feel like the Red Sox are being underestimated.

    They are, after all, a very good team…

    …for me to poop on!

  13. pat says:

    Tazawa going to visit Dr. Andrews. Uh oh.

    • Rick in Boston says:

      All sorts of this. They need Tazawa for depth, especially given the fact that:

      -Wakefield is older than Al Davis
      -Buchholz is still not a sure thing
      -Dice-BB is a big question mark in both performance and health

      Losing Tazawa means that they’ll be dipping into their version of Jason Hirsh territory.

      • CS Yankee says:

        Don’t bash on Hirsh, he’s a good dude and signed a baseball for my son at a Rox game a few years back.

        He was the upcomer in Houston but they had “rose color glasses” for Jason Jennings and traded him to the Rox. He has had health issues but is IPK-like in upside…he could be a most teams 6th starter today, 5th if your the Nat’s, Met’s, Pirates or Royals.

  14. RustyJohn says:

    It sucks that the Sox signed my favorite non-Yankee player. To have to watch Adrian Beltre in a Sox uniform…and doing this on a nightly basis…a sin.

    http://realbostonsportsfans.co.....ights.html

  15. mryankee says:

    Beltre and Cameron will hit better at Fenway. Those guys both suck and Ellsbury is way overrated. One thing Boston does better than anybody is over hype their prospects I will give them that. BTW Drew is the glass Joe of MLB.

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