Looking back, to look forward...
What was it that Dave O'Brien called the 2013 season? "An unexpected gift of a season"? Truer words were never spoken. Following the meltdown of September 2011 and the complete disaster that was 2012, expectations were relatively low for the Boston Red Sox entering the 2013 season. And yet they spent just two days in third place and 16 more in second. The rest of the season, they had at least a share of first place in the AL East. Their biggest deficit in the division was three games in early May. They held at least a share of the lead on every day from July 31 on, and took sole possession for good on August 25. In September, they built their lead in the division up to nine and a hald games before winning the division by six games.
They tied with the St. Louis Cardinal for the best record in baseball at 97-65. They led all of baseball in runs scored (853) and run differential (197). That they did this appears not to have been a fluke - they won three rounds of playoff baseball without being forced to a potential elimination game. They actually underperformed their expected won-loss percentage. In one-run games, a category in which fluky or lucky teams tend to do extremely well (see the 2012 Baltimore Orioles), the Red Sox were 21-21.
There's a tendency to look at a team that performed the way Boston did and proclaim that "everything went right for them." But that's not the case.
- Their best starting pitcher, Clay Buchholz, hurt his neck/shoulder and missed three months, not appearing in a game between June 8 and September 10.
- They traded for a closer (Joel Hanrahan) and lost him for the season on May 6.
- They moved to their previous closer (Andrew Bailey) and lost him for the season on July 12.
- Their All-Star second baseman, who had averaged 16 HR and a .470 SLG percentage over the previous five seasons, tore a ligament in his thumb on opening day, and finished with 9 HR and a .416 SLG.
- Their rookie 3rd baseman, of whom they had high expectations, had a dismal .227/.271/.425/.696 season, and ended up spending a third of it in Pawtucket.
- Their best left-handed reliever, Andrew Miller, was lost for the season on July 7.
On the other hand, given what they got from Koji Uehara, you could argue that the loss of their closers ended up being a good thing, but that's certainly not what they had planned on. David Ortiz will age at some point, but 2013 was not that point. They got far more from Jose Iglesias than they had any right to expect when Drew and then Middlebrooks were hurt, and managed to trade him at peak value. They got 134 games of outstanding production from Jacoby Ellsbury, 122 from Shane Victorino and 137 from David Ortiz.
All things considered, the 2013 Boston Red Sox were a very good team with some good luck and some bad luck, which generally evened out to produce a very good season.
So, what should we expect from the 2014 Red Sox?
In 2013, the Boston Red Sox led all of Major League baseball with 853 runs scored. In the offseason, however, they lost three players who were among the best, offensively, at their positions, as Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Stephen Drew have all moved on.
The following players have all left:
Jacoby Ellsbury (.298/.355/.426/.781, 93.69 runs created, 5.52 RC/25 outs)
Stephen Drew (.253/.333/.443/.777, 66.07 runs created, 4.82 RC/25 outs)
Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.273/.338/.466/.804, 65.90 runs created, 5.16 RC/25 outs)
Jose Iglesias (.330/.376/.409/.785, 33.05 runs created, 5.47 RC/25 outs)
Pedro Ciriaco (.216/.293/.353/.646, 5.72 runs created, 3.41 RC/25 outs)
Quintin Berry (.625/.667/1.000/1.667, 4.52 runs created, 37.68 RC/25 outs)
John McDonald (.250/.333/.250/.583, .75 runs created, 3.14 RC/25 outs)
Jonathan Diaz (.000/.000/.000/.000, -.40 runs created, -2.50 RC/25 outs)
Gone (.283/.347/.437/.784, 269.00 runs created, 5.21 RC/25 outs)
In the aggregate, that's about 30% of Boston's 2013 offense production, which makes sense as they've lost, essentially, three of their nine starting offensive players. They've lost 66% of their triples, but only 22% of their home runs.
As to their replacements, it's hard to see what a realistic projection would be. The CF slot will be filled by some combination of Grady Sizemore and Jackie Bradley Jr. Sizemore, at his peak, is a better player than Ellsbury. But he's two years removed from played Major League baseball and four years removed from that peak. And we don't know, yet, whether Bradley's going to hit in the majors. At catcher, they're replacing Jarrod Saltalamacchia with AJ Pierzynski, which is probably a slight downgrade. And at SS, Drew, who was better last year than many people want to give him credit for, is being replaced by Xander Bogaerts, for whom the sky is apparently the limit. It may represent a significant upgrade, but as good as he was last fall, he's still got fewer than 100 Major League plate appearances, and we just don't know.
Best case - improvement at CF, big improvement at SS and about the same at C. Worst case - big drop-off in CF, drop-off at SS, big drop-off at catcher. Likeliest scenario - similar offensive production at those three spots, in the aggregate, to what they had last year, with a little more power, and many fewer stolen bases.
And the following players are all returning:
David Ortiz (.309/.395/.564/.959, 105.94 runs created, 6.90 RC/25 outs)
Dustin Pedroia (.301/.372/.415/.787, 97.15 runs created, 5.02 RC/25 outs)
Mike Napoli (.259/.360/.482/.842, 83.23 runs created, 5.39 RC/25 outs)
Daniel Nava (.303/.385/.445/.831, 78.99 runs created, 5.76 RC/25 outs)
Shane Victorino (.294/.351/.451/.801, 78.54 runs created, 5.50 RC/25 outs)
Jonny Gomes (.247/.344/.426/.771, 47.19 runs created, 4.80 RC/25 outs)
Mike Carp (.296/.362/.523/.885, 40.35 runs created, 6.38 RC/25 outs)
William Middlebrooks (.227/.271/.425/.696, 36.49 runs created, 3.18 RC/25 outs)
David Ross (.216/.298/.382/.681, 11.25 runs created, 3.31 RC/25 outs)
Ryan Lavarnway (.299/.329/.429/.758, 9.96 runs created, 4.29 RC/25 outs)
Jackie Bradley, Jr. (.189/.280/.337/.617, 9.41 runs created, 3.02 RC/25 outs)
Xander Bogaerts (.250/.320/.364/.684, 5.38 runs created, 3.84 RC/25 outs)
Brock Holt (.203/.275/.237/.513, 4.81 runs created, 2.27 RC/25 outs)
Brandon Snyder (.180/.212/.360/.572, 3.69 runs created, 2.25 RC/25 outs)
Still Here (.276/.352/.453/.805, 611.87 runs created, 5.11 RC/25 outs)
Everyone ages. Ortiz cannot continue forever, but he's not shown any sign of decline yet. Is this the year? The big question is, does he age relatively gradually, in which case he's a productive player for a couple more years, or does he hit a cliff, Jim Rice style. For now, the likeliest scenario seems to be slightly reduced performance. Nava, Napoli, Victorino and Gomes are, likewise, all past the point where we would expect improvement. But neither should we expect any precipitous declines from them.
Will Middlebrooks is either going to be much better than he has been, or they are going to find a new third baseman. The power is prodigious, but he has to demonstrate greater plate discipline and reach base more often to be valuable. Dustin Pedroia played with a hand injury all of last year, and is likely to hit for more power this season while maintaining the batting average.
Boston will get similar production, on the whole, from its offense as it got in 2013, scoring 850 runs.
In 2013, Boston pitching allowed 656 runs, 6th best in the AL. The pitching staff, unlike the offense, returns largely intact. The injured closers (Hanrahan and Bailey) are gone, but they had gone by the All Star break last year anyway. The only pitcher with significant innings last year who is gone is Dempster, who was replaced by Peavy.
The 2014 starting rotation started 115 of Boston's 162 games last year, throwing 731 1/3 innings (6.35 per game) with an ERA of 3.45. The remainder of the starts went to pitchers who threw 252 2/3 innings (5.38 per game) with an ERA of 4.98. The projected starters won't make all of the starts, of course, so next in line are Brandon Workman, Chris Capuano and Allen Webster.
The bullpen returns with all of the key contibutors from the end of the season and the post-season. It was strong then; it looks strong now. It's extremely unlikely that Uehara will pitch a perfect game in relief again, but it's also extremely unlikely that he wouldn't be a very effective pitcher if healthy.
On the whole, I see no reason not to expect the Red Sox pitching to be similar, or possibly even slightly better than last year's staff.
Boston pitching will allow 660 runs in 2014.
If they score 860 runs (seven more than 2013) and allow 640 (16 fewer), their pythagorean projection would be for a .633 winning percentage and a record of 103-59. If they score 810 (43 fewer) and allow 700 (44 more), their pythagorean projection would be for a .567 winning percentage and a 92-70 record. If they score 850 and allow 660, just about what they did last year, they would project to a 99-63 season.
It makes me a little uncomfortable, a little fanboyish to project a 100-win season coming off of the World Series. But this looks like a good team, and nothing about last year's performance looks like a fluke or unsustainable. So I'm going to predict good thing again, maybe a little bit on the conservative side to account for luck that might be a little bit worse.
My prediction - The 2014 Boston Red Sox will win 95 games and repeat as AL East champions.
Labels: MLB, predictions, Red Sox