Boston Red Sox Season Preview: Will They Repeat?
Well, I think everyone can say they didn’t expect the Red Sox to win it all last year. They became the eleventh team to go from worst to first in the last 24 years, something that was once thought to be an impossible feat. And now, the Sox are expected to make a run again in an even more high-powered American League East.
After tweaking their roster a bit, this Red Sox team doesn’t look a whole lot different from last year's squad. Why would it? There’s no reason to fix anything that isn’t broken.
Take a look at what to expect from this year's Boston Red Sox.
Pedroia the Destroyah
The captain played the entire 2013 season with an injured left thumb after hurting it sliding head first into first base during the first game of the season. As a result, his power numbers took a hit.
Since his MVP season in 2008, Dustin Pedroia had averaged 16 home runs a year, never hitting below double digits within the category. His slugging was also at .470, with an OPS of .840. In 2013, he had nine home runs and a .415/.787 line, both at least 55 points below his previous average. There is no doubt that he will be able to improve those numbers this year.
Even though his power was down for the most part, Pedroia was still able to smack 42 doubles, the most he's had since 2009. The Muddy Chicken is a good hitter no matter what the circumstance is. He hit .301 with 193 hits, just missing his second 200 hit season. The Gold Glove second basemen was able to knock in 84 runs, too.
Look for him to add more swipes from his 17 last season. With Jacoby Ellsbury changing his stripes, Pedroia may be called on more now to take the extra base. But he'll still need help from the supporting cast.
Boston Have the Powah
Clearly the Red Sox have shown that they can supply power in clutch situations. With David Ortiz coming up big in Game 2 of the ALCS, Mike Napoli knocking in the only home run during the next game and then Jonny Gomes smacking a three-run dinger in the pivotal game four of the World Series, we know the Sox have some power.
Now the team and fans are expecting these three playoff legends to bring their clubs back to bail out the team whenever necessary.
No one can forget the marvelous performance put on by Big Papi in the World Series. His .688/.760/1.188 slash is among one of the top lines of all time in a single World Series, trailing only Billy Hatcher in average and OBP. Because of his stellar performance, many might forget that Ortiz had a great regular season, too.
The Red Sox cleanup hitter hit .309 in the regular season and had a .395 OBP. As strong as this showing was, his final numbers are not the best representation of how he did throughout the season. He only hit above .300 in two months of the season - April and July. Even though he still hit well throughout the season, his .500 clip in nine games in April might have skewed his numbers slightly. Excluding April, he still hit an impressive line at .295/.387/.537, but the month clearly distorted his numbers a little bit.
The number it affected the most was slugging, where his season total was at .564 - he was actually at .537 after April. Ortiz is still a very impressive hitter by and large, but he's definitely a guy to keep your eyes on, especially on a month-to-month basis. The Sox still like what they see, as they just signed him to a one-year extension into 2015.
The man who follows him in the lineup is the last beard standing from 2013. Napoli looks like he’s hitting a beach ball with a tennis racket on some of the high pitches he swats over the Green Monster. He is living proof of the statement that “Chicks dig the long ball.”
Napoli’s 23 regular season home runs seemed to overshadow his 187 strikeouts by the end of the regular season. Boston was ready to ship him out around midseason when he hit .241 in July and struck out 37 times in 22 games, which was his third highest K total on the season. He went down by way of the K once every 2.24 at-bats, his worst average of the year.
But he improved on his strikeouts a lot by August, though he still struggled with that quite a bit. Sorry Boston fans, but get ready for the K-train again this year, because Napoli has a track record of striking out frequently.
Even though strikeouts are going to continue to be a problem, Nap has shown that he still does a good job of getting on base. He's had an OBP that was at least 90 points higher than his average in six of his eight major league seasons, so if he can have a slight improvement with his .259 batting average, then expect his OBP to improve just as much. Nap should continue to be the ideal five-slot hitter for the Red Sox, adding 90-plus RBI, 25-plus doubles and 20-plus home runs.
Now can the same be said for his formerly bearded buddy, The Ironsides?
Gomes was one of the best pinch hitters in the MLB last season, with his league-leading four home runs, tied with only Evan Gattis. Among qualifying pinch hitters, the left fielder had the best OBP and was tied for the fifth best batting average. Gomes also scored eight runs in his 30 plate appearances.
The man with the soldier helmet has to be one of the most trustworthy pinch hitters late in a game. However, he isn't the only ace in the whole the Red Sox possess.
Mike Carp provided a nice answer from the left side in pinch-hitting scenarios, as well. The man with “The Freshwater” beard hit two home runs on 19 pinch hit tries, and got on base at a .417 rate. What stuck out most though was his nine runs batted in, the fourth-most in the league as a pinch hitter. Among those who tied him or did better in this category than Carp, only Gattis had fewer opportunities. The other three had at least 10 more tries than Carp.
The last man down Boston’s power alley is Will Middlebrooks. After coming off of an impressive 2012, Middlebrooks was very disappointing early, and ended up getting sent down in late May through Early June because he hit .201 with 54 Ks in 46 games. His power numbers were good, though. He had 12 doubles and 8 home runs in that same span, which would be, at a 162-game pace, 43 doubles and 29 bombs. But those numbers weren’t cutting it with an average that hovered around the Mendoza Line.
He somewhat turned the ship around when he returned. Middlebrooks hit .253 over his final 48 games of the season, and only struck out 44 times. Not great improvements, but good starts. His doubles production went down, but he did end up hitting nine more home runs.
Middlebrooks is still a project for the Sox, but he has a lot of upside and will continue to provide power no matter what his average is.
With all of the surprise last season, Daniel Nava must have been one of the most shocking. Nava played in two Major League seasons before 2013. In 2012, he played 88 games and in 2010, he played 60, logging no games in 2011 with a big league ball club. The former Independent leaguer enjoyed his first full year out of the minors and flourished. His .303 batting average was in the top 20 in the entire MLB, and was the eighth best in the AL. Nava never even sniffed .260, let alone .300, in his other two MLB stints. While Gomes may have the late game heroics, Nava’s consistency earns him the nod as the everyday starter.
He also had a respectable OBP of .385, while finding himself just outside the MLB’s top 50 in slugging percentage. Nava was one of the Red Sox' eight hitters to have double-digit home runs, and one of eight to have 25-plus doubles.Along with his consistent glove, Nava provides a solid hitter in the sixth slot in the lineup - or anywhere else - as he had an at-bat in every spot in the order last year.While Nava will probably see his numbers will dip slightly (last year he was exceptional), he should still provide a good output.
Over on the opposite side of the outfield from Nava, roaming near Pesky’s Pole, is the Flyin’ Hawaiian, Shane Victorino. Most probably thought that Victorino was washed up coming into last year, as he hit .255 for the Phillies and Dodgers in 2012, and had his lowest steal total since 2006. The former All-Star had fallen hard, and was a man without a team. The Red Sox decided to take a flier on the 2008 World Series Champion, and, boy, did it pay off.
He tied his career best batting average (.294), improved his OBP by 30 points and increased his slugging by 68 points. Victorino was also able to add 21 swipes on 24 attempts with his 15 bombs and 26 doubles. The Gold Glover also led AL outfielders in defensive runs saved with 24, with Alex Gordon the next closest at 16.
The most interesting part surrounding Victorino in 2013 was when he started hitting on the right side against righty pitchers. The former switch-hitter suffered several left-hamstring injuries last year, which caused him to feel pain when he hit left-handed. So he decided, instead of sitting out, that he would continue to hit righty, even with his pain.
He went on to hit .300 in righty versus righty opportunities, and had six home runs. He had 115 plate appearances in those situations, but had three more home runs than he did in lefty versus lefty situations, where he had 114 more plate appearances. He also was hit 11 times by righties when he hit from the same side - Victorino went on to lead the AL in the hit by pitch category (with Nava finishing second with 15). There’s a lot of good that came from Victorino hitting from the right side against right-handed pitchers, and he should definitely stick with that approach.
At the helm of the Beantown starting rotation is none other than Jon Lester. The lefty has been the ace of the staff for the past few seasons, and will continue to do so, especially after his bounce-back year in 2013.
After having nearly a 5.00 ERA in 2012, Lester was able to bring it back down to 3.75 in 2013. He had a bit of a slow start to the first half of the season, attaining a 4.58 ERA. June was the month that really threw his numbers off - he had a 7.62 ERA and a 1.91 WHIP. He was able to bounce back in the second half, posting a 3.13, 2.97 and 2.57 EAR in July, August and September respectively.
Lester continues to be a solid strikeout pitcher with a 177 Ks in 213.1 innings, averaging a 7.5 K/9. He's had a steady decline since his 10.0 K/9 in 2009 though, but he still continues to post decent strikeout totals.
Following him is the righty with a bulldog approach, John Lackey. It looks like Lackey’s surgery paid off for him last year, as he dropped his ERA by 2.89 from 2011 (he sat out 2012 because of his surgery). Like Lester, Lackey also struggled in June with a 9.33 ERA. He didn’t do so hot in April and July either, but he wasn’t terrible in those months. He performed much better over the rest of the season, so he clearly showed that he wasn’t a streaky pitcher during the year.
What I liked most about Lackey’s 2013 was that he had a 7.7 K/9, back to the numbers he averaged in his prime. That was actually his third-best average of his career, which is very promising and further reinforces that his surgery made a huge difference.
Lackey’s numbers show that wins are not reflective of how the pitcher performs. He had a 10-13 record even though he was consistent for the Red Sox. Boston was actually 14-15 when he took the mound, as they went 4-2 in the games where Lackey didn’t get a win.
Third in rotation to start the season is Felix Doubront. Doubront spent his second straight season in the starting rotation full time, and was a sufficient fifth man. He had to make way for Ryan Dempster and Jake Peavy when Peavy came in from Chicago on a three-man deal, and had two games out of the pen.
As a starter, Doubront had a 3.87 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP. His 7.7 K/9 was rock solid as well, striking out 133 over 155.2 innings.
Doubront did best in the middle of the season. He had a 2.75 ERA in June and a 2.56 ERA in July, but he struggled a lot beforehand. His May 6.23 ERA, along with a 1.89 WHIP, led to two losses and a rough month. He also did poorly in September, only going 3.2 innings in his first two starts, where he let up 10 runs between the two starts.
Doubront rose to the test out of the bullpen in the postseason, allowing only one run over seven innings. He made two appearances in the ALCS, and then two more in the World Series. Doubront, who is really a five in the three slot for only beginning of the season, should post similar numbers to last year's, which are plenty good enough out of a starter.
Peavy is slotted fourth, perfect for the type of pitcher he is these days. Even though, in 2012, he displayed a glimpse of the 200-plus inning pitcher he used to be, those days are behind him. Peavy will log 170 innings if he gets 25-27 starts, although I would bank on him sporting 150.
He faired pretty similarly in Boston as he did for the lesser Sox in the windy City. He won four of his 10 starts, but only lost one, posting an .800 winning percentage instead of the .667 one he had with his 8-4 record for Chicago. He had a 4.04 ERA for the Red Sox and had a 4.28 in his previous home, but he had 1.16 WHIP while in Beantown versus a 1.14 WHIP (both negligible differences).
While Peavy has had flashes of the old version of himself, that’s all anyone is going to see. That’s not terrible though, considering he is still a quality pitcher, and a very good four at that.
Rounding everything out to start the season is Clay Buchholz. While he could be put at the top of the rotation, the Red Sox decided to put him towards the end in order to give him a little extra rest when the season kicks off.
Health is really Clay’s only issue, as he was lights out when he threw in the regular season. The two-time All-Star had 12 wins in 16 starts, and the club went 2-1 when he didn’t get the decision. Buchholz is an ace on almost any staff when he is healthy.
What’s most impressive about Buchholz is his array of pitches. His four-seamer was down a bit last year, coming in at 91.9 mph, but oddly enough, his two-seamer improved to 92.8. He used the two-seam fastball sparingly, but relied heavily on the cutter, throwing it 10.1% of the time. Buchholz preferred the change-up over the curve mostly, pulling the string 16.8% of the time and the hook 13.8%. He also has a splitter that he unleashes once in a while.
If Buchholz can continue to mix all of his pitches well, there is no reason he wont make his second consecutive all-star appearance and help the Sox in the race for the division title. All it will come down to is the Red Sox managing his health.
The Red Sox bullpen was the finishing touch on their miraculous run last year. At first they suffered bumps and bruises with Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey, but that ended up working out for the best. Koji Uehara emerged as the best reliever in baseball last year, and had a solid supporting cast with Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa.
Uehara was the first relief pitcher to win the MVP honors of an American Championship Series since Mariano Rivera in 2003. While he had a historic run in the playoffs, his regular season was what really amazed everyone in baseball. He had a 1.09 ERA, 0.57 WHIP and a 12.2 K/9. In 74.1 innings, he allowed nine free passes and 33 hits. He averaged 11.22 strikeouts for every walk. The guy was just outrageous last year.
Let's not forget that he went 33.2 innings over 31 straight games without allowing an earned run. During that span. he walked two and gave up eight hits. He did it all last year, and it was hard to use him as a closer because, even though he’s a sure thing at the end of games, you want to have him out there for three innings in a game. Thankfully he had two steady pitchers to bridge between Uehara and the starters.
Breslow got his chance again with Boston after relocating from Arizona in 2012. While Breslow had a couple of good years previous to 2013, he broke out last season, serving as the lefty seventh or eighth inning man. He logged a 1.81 ERA of the year.
Breslow is not a stat sheet stuffer like Uehara, but he gets the job done. His 5.0 K/9 was nothing to sniff at, while his 1.12 WHIP looked darn good.
The righty set-up man for the Bo-Sox is Uehara’s countryman, Tazawa. While Taz had a more impressive K/9 (9.5) than Breslow, he didn't fair as well in other categories. His 1.20 WHIP was slightly worse, but his ERA (3.16) was over a run higher. Even though his ERA was noticeably higher than the other two at the back end, Tazawa still had a very good season.
Tazawa logged 25 Holds, 12 more than Breslow, however he blew eight saves to Breslow’s one. So he established that he is not a closer but can definitely be trusted in the seventh or eighth, which works perfectly for Boston.
The Red Sox have found the perfect blend with the Ivy Leaguer and two Japanese pitchers to hold a stable bullpen for 2014.
Replacing the Departed
The Red Sox lost a few key players to free agency last year. Stephen Drew decided to not take the qualifying offer, and is still a man without a country. Jacoby Ellsbury betrayed Red Sox nation and traded his Sox for pinstripes and a fat contract. Lastly, Boston decided to not bring back Jarrod Saltalamacchia, hurting the beard crew, but it might have been the right move for the team’s output. The Red Sox made the appropriate moves to fill the gaps though.
Replacing Drew was an easy fix for the Red Sox, especially with a top-notch prospect like Xander Bogaerts in waiting. Bogaerts got his first Major League shot in the majors last August. It took him a few games to get his first hit, and he ended up with a .250 average and a .320 OBP, nothing all that special.
However, John Farrell saw that he was ready to take on the responsibility of the playoff pressure. The manager made the right call. Bogaerts hit .296 in the playoffs, hitting better in the ALCS than the World Series, with a .500 batting average and three doubles. (Note: He only had two plate appearances in the ALDS and walked both times.) In the World Series, Bogaerts also contributed a triple, two RBI and two runs scored.
The young shortstop is rearing to go, and although he is not as good defensively as Drew, he should be able to provide an even greater offensive output.
Replacing Ellsbury has proven to be a slightly more complicated process, but in a good way.
Management decided to take a shot at the former All-Star Grady Sizemore, who hadn’t seen an MLB pitch since 2011, and it seems to have been a good decision. The Gold Glover has hit .310 in the spring, with a .333 OBP.
While Spring Training numbers can only be taken with a grain of salt, Sizemore has proven in the past that he can be among the best outfielders in the MLB. In his prime (2005-2008), the former Cleveland Indian had a .281/.372/.496 line with 115 swipes in 146 attempts. He also had 34-plus doubles in each of those seasons, including 53 in 2006. He should be able to do well for the Sox but he has another man competing for the centerfield position.
Jackie Bradley, Jr. got his chance last year at the start of the summer campaign because of his spring success. However, he was sent back down after his slow start. As the everyday starter in the first 14 games of the season, Bradley, Jr. had an average of .097, an OBP of .263 and his OPS was .392. The former South Carolina Gamecock showed that he wasn’t completely ready to be in the bigs yet, and his .188 batting average this spring is kind of showing the same thing.
The Red Sox need to send him back down to help him get his confidence back because this kid can be an All-Star. But if he's unable to show signs of improvements anytime soon, then they need to consider using him as trade bait.
A.J. Pierzynski will be doing the everyday catching now for Boston. The front office has to be excited about the change, because although Salty had good power numbers over the past two years, you were either getting the Salty who hit .222 or the one who hit .273.
Pierzynski brings more consistency to the table. His career batting average of .283 has to be easy on the eyes, and the fact that he has hit .281 over the past five years is even more reassuring. He has been a stable hitter throughout most of his career, averaging about 13 home runs a season since becoming a starter, along with 27 doubles and 60 RBIs. He has also averaged right around 130 games played every year, and the only time he was considerably below that mark since he began starting was in his first year in that role in 2001, when he played 114 games.
Also, among catchers who caught at least 115 games, Pierzynski ranked fifth in 2013 with a 32.9 caught stealing percentage, which is a nice improvement on Salty’s 21.2% (ninth place). As much as the fan base may have taken a hit with losing a crowd favorite, they will soon like Pierzynski’s production and it will help repair they broken hearts.
There was one more new addition to the team, maybe with hopes to allow the Sox to utilize Uehara in multiple situations besides the ninth. Whatever the reason may be, the Red Sox brought in former Cardinals closer Edward Mujica.
Mujica had a good season last year, converting 37 saves in 41 opportunities. However, at the end of the season, he was no longer the Cardinals closer. He blew two saves in September and gave up two runs in three outings where he pitched a total of 1.2 innings. This was obviously cause for concern considering he was pitching for a playoff team, so he was taken out of that role by seasons end.
Mujica provides another stable arm Farrell can throw late in games, which will help the longevity of his other three reliable relievers.
How Will They Do?
Boston has a good a chance as anyone to make a run in the AL East. Personally, I think they have the best chance because most of their guys have been through the grind together and they honestly don’t have any alarming flaws. As of today, our metrics give them a 65.3% chance of making the playoffs, and an 8.0% chance to win the World Series. The latter number is the fourth-best in the bigs.