Best Red Sox (Regular) Season Ever?

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After a prolonged absence, this all that I likely need to say: this has been the most enjoyable Red Sox regular season of my lifetime. The regular season conditional is necessary, of course, because of those four days in October and what came after. But as has been covered to death, coming off the last month of 2011 and every month of 2012, from The Collapse to the Valentine Nightmare, expectations entering 2013 were at an all time low. As the end of the sell out streak, and the continuing lack of bodies in seats, indicates.

But while the Red Sox may feel compelled to give seats away for $1 in their questionable Get Beard promotions, the reality is that every Red Sox fan I know feels the same way I do. Fans have loved this season, and this team. Freed of the burden of expectations – whether they’re budget, performance or otherwise driven – it’s been enough to simply enjoy the games. Even the losses, at times. Observers of the Yankees noted for years that the regular season had become in many ways a joyless pursuit. By signing virtually every big ticket free agent, the club not only implied to its fans that the postseason was its manifest destiny, but that it was the World Series or bust. Which is an impossible expectation for any team, given that if the postseason has taught us anything, it’s that it’s a crapshoot. Any given team on any given day and so on.

By 2011, the Red Sox season was as joyless as the Yankees’, thanks to what Theo Epstein has referred to as “The Monster.”

As it turns out, however, winning when you do not expect to win is sweet indeed. And virtually no on expected the Red Sox to win. Better than three dozen ESPN analysts projected the final season standings. None picked the Red Sox to win the AL East. For my part, as the record shows, my absolute best case scenario for the Red Sox this year was a wild card berth – a chance to play a single winner take all game at the end of the 162 game regular season. Worst case, that we would lose less than 93 games. And while I will probably never be happier to be wrong, I wasn’t the only one to undersell this year’s team. The front office, in fact, had it pegged for an 86 win season – borderline wild card contender, in other words. According to their projections, the probability that the Red Sox would win 90 plus games was roughly 30%. So of course the standings show 94 wins and counting.

How did we get here? Considerable luck, not unlike the Baltimore Orioles of last year – that part, at least, I got right. It’s not every season, after all, that you come from behind 30 times and win 20 games in your last at bat. If we don’t win half of those 20 games, after all, we’d be having a very different conversation today. But the games were won, and thus was the division won.

It wasn’t all luck, however. When Ben Cherington wasn’t trading for more relievers to blow up in his face, he was actually doing pretty well – Amherst grad or no. Rejecting the comically bad ideas from local media to replicate the Carl Crawford debacle after just having escaped from it by signing Josh Hamilton, the second year Red Sox GM instead pursued a strategy similar, again, to those moneyballing A’s. Rather than concentrating your assets – and your risk – in a few star players, Cherington used the money that some would have had us deploy towards Hamilton to instead acquire Dempster, Gomes, Napoli, Victorino and, later, Peavy. Unless you’re a fan of $123M players with four years left on the contract who put up a .245/.301/.431 line, you’re probably going to argue that Cherington did the right thing. And given the standings, the other AL East teams are likely to back you up.

What does all of the above mean as we head into the postseason? Absolutely nothing, of course. In the second season, everybody’s win count is reset to zero and, more importantly, anything can happen. Just as they over-react to failure, many in the media are over-rotating on our divisional success. Which is a mistake, because it’s far from clear that the Red Sox are, in fact, built for postseason success. For all that their depth served them well for the long regular season, it’s equally possible that their lack of star power on offense could be exposed when facing high end pitching in the playoffs. For example: the Red Sox have tied or losing records versus seven teams this year: five are potential playoff opponents (BAL, DET, KCR, OAK, TEX). And even against the teams they beat more often than not, the numbers point to challenges. Of the 19 games against Tampa this year, we won 12 of them. That’s good. The fact that we hit .208/.280/.333 in doing so, on the other hand, is less good.

But there’s time to worry about all of that later, and besides, the playoffs are a crapshoot. Right now, all that we have to do is enjoy the last days of the best regular we’ve seen these many years past. Because it’ll be over before you know it.

Slicing up Simmons' Puerile Analysis

a stubborn guy

The thing to remember is that Simmons goes through this periodically. He gets disenchanted with baseball, drifts away, gets hooked up to his “juvenation machine,” and hops right back on the bandwagon. If there’s room for him.

That, I can live with. What I have a much tougher time with is his willful ignorance. His celebration of the uneducated. Case in point his piece “Finally Joining the Revolution.” While it’s to his credit that he eventually got over his irrational fear of numbers, the most important piece of data you’ll get from that piece is the date: April 2, 2010. It took Simmons – someone who writes about sports, professionally – decades to acknowledge that statistics not only have a place in baseball, but can actually increase your enjoyment of the game. In some ways, however, the Sports Guy is no less backward than he was last year. Slicing up the Red Sox’s boring pie shows you why.

The ostensible justification is the ratings drop for both NESN and WEEI. The Sports Guy’s got his take on why less people are watching and listening, and it’s offensive.

His tally goes like this:

INJURIES: 10 PERCENT
FRONT-OFFICE PARALYSIS/INADEQUACIES: 5 PERCENT
THE HANGOVER: 15 PERCENT
THE BANDWAGON EFFECT: 5 PERCENT
THE STEROID ERA HANGOVER: 5 PERCENT
THE DECLINE OF BASEBALL IN GENERAL: 5 PERCENT
THE TIME OF THE GAMES: 55 PERCENT

There’s a lot to quibble with. The injuries are massively under-represented, in my view. For all of the charm of the stories of Daniel Nava and Darnell McDonald, nobody wants to see an outfield made up of those two and Eric Patterson any more than we wanted to watch Jason Johnson start a game against the Yankees in 2006. Nor do I believe that fans really care that much about the steroid era; with virtually every other professional sport infected by PEDs, baseball’s gone from black sheep to honor student overnight. And his contention that the time of game issues indicate that the DH should be retired are the product of a simplistic analysis of the problem. Might not the NL’s advantage in that context, for example, have something to do with the fact that the teams in that league just aren’t as good? No, it’s the DH? Oh, ok.

And so on.

The genuinely frustrating bits for me come in his section on the front office, however. Lord knows they’ve had their share of mistakes – hello, Julio Lugo – but Simmons is sadly beginning to read like a budding Shaughnessy. The kind of writer that can’t be bothered to understand the depth of thinking common to our front office and others because it’s a lot easier to cater to the common denominator. The common denominator whose sole purpose in life is bitching.

Consider the following section on our minor league system.

The bigger issue: For all their bluster about building a monster farm system, the Red Sox aren’t exactly teeming with can’t-miss prospects. Yeah, they suffered a horrible blow when Ryan Westmoreland, their best hitting prospect, underwent life-threatening brain surgery. But take it from a guy in an obsessive, ultradorky AL-only keeper league with a 25-pick minor league draft and a full farm system: Boston’s pool of minor leaguers, while deep with yeah-he-might-make-it guys (Ryan Kalish, Stolmy Pimentel, Anthony Rizzo and Julio Iglesias, to name four), has only one certified stud, pitcher Casey Kelly (although he’s not on the uber-stud level of Tampa’s Jeremy Hellickson or Texas’ Martin Perez). Only one Boston prospect made the 2010 Futures Game (Pimentel), and only Kelly cracked Baseball America’s midseason top 50. For a franchise that devoted so much money and energy these past few years toward invigorating its farm system — and struck oil with the Pedroia/Ellsbury/Papelbon/Bard/Lester class a few years ago — the 2010 results have been sobering so far.

(Note: ESPN’s Keith Law had Boston ranked as his No. 2 farm system in February. When I e-mailed him for a July update, he wrote back that many of its top guys were underperforming and added, “They’re not No. 2 anymore. Definitely still top-10.” I’m not pumping my fist.)

Really, I’m not even sure where to start with this. The last sentence seems to anticipate criticism from the direction of our farm system’s rankings this winter. As well he should have, given our number two spot on the board. How did we get that high? Because the Red Sox had seven players on Law’s Top 100. How about vaunted systems like Tampa’s or Texas’? Six and four respectively. Maybe it’s me, but that doesn’t seem that bad.

With respect to our horrifying descent from #2 to “definitely still top-10,” what’s gone wrong? Well, Ryan Westmoreland, a legitimate stud prospect was felled with a cavernous malformation on his brain stem. Call me crazy, but I have a tough time blaming Theo for that. Iglesias, for his part, was putting up a .306/.340/.408 line in Double A, then suffered an “occult fracture of his right index finger.” I don’t even know what that is, but I have a hard time seeing how it’s the fault of the front office. Tazawa, meanwhile, had Tommy John Surgery. With three kids out for all or part of the season due to injuries then, yes, we’re underperforming a bit.

What about the rest?

Kelly’s not exactly lighting it up at Portland, but he’s holding his own as a 20 year old, striking out 80 in 88.1 IP on the way to an unimpressive 5+ ERA. He’ll be fine. Rizzo, also young for AA at 20, isn’t embarrassing himself with a .256/.314/.444 line, while Anderson is doing more or less what he did last year, taking time to adjust at the new level (.247/.338/.411). Kalish, meanwhile, is following up two impressive minor league stops with your basic major league 1.149 OPS. Oh, and the kid’s got an absolute rifle.

Any of them world beaters? Probably not; Simmons is right about that, at least. But they’re hardly chopped liver, and more than one of them has the potential to be an All Star. My guess, frankly, would be that the overwhelming majority of clubs – with obvious exceptions like Tampa – would trade their systems for ours in a heartbeat. Because they acknowledge – even if Simmons is reluctant to – that one of the major reasons that our system is less than impressive is the folks that aren’t in it. You know, folks like Bard, Buchholz, Ellsbury, Lester, Papelbon, Pedroia, or Youk. You might have heard of them. Think any of those would be worth keeping in an ultradorky AL keeper league?

As an aside, I can’t tell if this bit – “the Pedroia/Ellsbury/Papelbon/Bard/Lester class” – is intended to mean that those players were drafted together, or that they all came up together. Not that it matters: neither is correct. Bard was drafted in 2006, Ellsbury in 2005, Lester in 2002, Pedroia in 2004, and Papelbon in 2003. Nor did they come up together. Pap was the first to arrive in 2005, while Bard’s the Johnny-come-lately, arriving on the scene in 2009. And you know I’m going to point out the Buchholz omission.

In any event, if I were Simmons, then, hammering the farm system probably isn’t where I would start. Particularly since Law liked our draft more than a bit. The farm system has already produced two top five starting pitchers, a top five closer, first and second basemen, a 70 steal outfielder and one of the most dominant setup men in the league. With more on the way. That sound like a problem to you?

But it’s not just the farm that he’s concerned about. Equally problematic is the WEEI-like lack of stars.

I can’t blame Epstein for watching the July carnage with the same blank look that deadbeat dads have on the “Maury” show as Maury Povich opens the manila envelope. At the same time, you can blame Epstein (and Boston’s owners) for ignoring a simple law of entertainment these past two seasons: Just like you can’t open a blockbuster movie without a star, you can’t expect a nine-figure baseball team to capture the daily imagination of a big market without a player who passes the Remote Control Test (when you don’t flip channels because you know Player X is coming up) or the We Can’t Go Get Food Yet Test (when you don’t make a food/drink run at a game because Player X is coming up) or even the Every Five Nights, I Know What I’m Doing Test (when you have a transcendent pitcher who keeps you in front of the television every five days).

What correlates with attendance: winning, or stars? It’s an impossible question, of course, because the two conditions are not mutually exclusive. Far from it. My suspicion, however, is that Simmons is unduly influenced here by his first love, basketball. The NBA is indisputably a league of stars, but baseball is different. The Yankees were living proof of that for many years, and even last year’s edition which featured big ticket items of the free agent shelves like Burnett, Sabathia, and Teixeira was simultaneously populated by kids from the system. Kids you’d never heard of.

Most of the research I’ve read on the subject indicates that winning has a strong correlation with attendance. Here’s one study by Michael C. Davis from the Department of Economics at the University of Missouri-Rolla:

The three-variable VAR presented here suggests that winning has a substantial and long-lasting effect on attendance, as all ten teams showed a significant increase in attendance. However, there is little support for the idea that shocks to attendance lead to future success on the field for the team, as only one team (Cleveland Indians) showed a significant increase in winning following a shock to attendance. There is also some indication that attendees at sporting events exhibit habit formation in their behavior, as shocks in attendance last for years after the shock.

The above results are useful for researchers examining sports attendance. They suggest that the direction of causation runs from winning percentage to attendance and researchers can proceed under that assumption.

It’s great – and almost certainly helpful to attendance – to have Pedro Martinez starting for you every five days. But to suggest that attendance is more strongly correlated to throwing him or having Manny Ramirez in the lineup than whether or not the good guys win seems a questionable assertion at best. That smacks, frankly, of the kind PR-driven roster management that has doomed big market clubs like ours for years. You know that the 2009 Red Sox hit more 46 home runs than the 2007 World Series winning edition, right? Maybe we didn’t have enough stars that year, but I’ll take the World Series.

Would I like to have a few more big names on board? Sure, who wouldn’t? But as long as the club is putting runs on the board – and in spite of the fact that our starting outfield has played together for less than ten games, we’re second in the AL in runs per game at 5.20 – I’ll watch. And so will most people.

Neither baseball nor the Red Sox is perfect. That much goes without saying. If you’re going to speculate on the causes for a decline in attendance, however, you can certainly do better than Simmons’ piece. Which I suspect he knows.

It’s nothing more or less than the rantings of an admittedly talented writer (the A-Rod joke in particular was excellent) whose writing shows that he still spends most of his time on basketball. Which is his prerogative, of course. Read it for the jokes, if you want, but if you’re looking for real substance I highly recommend you pass on by.

It's Not That Early Anymore

twilight at fenway

Cast your mind back to 2008. The Rays were really good, ending up in the World Series. We played pretty well ourselves, winning 95 games and taking the kids from Florida to seven games in spite of starting an obviously damaged Beckett in the postseason. The Yankees, meanwhile stumbled out of the gate and could never quite recover. They won 89 games in a transitional year, missing the playoffs. The Yankee’s record after 25 games? 12-13. Games back? 4.

Where are we on this not so fine Monday, heading into a stretch where 20 of 23 games will be played against the Angels, Yankees, Rays, Twins, Tigers and Phillies? 11-14, 7 games back. It’s far, far too early to throw in the towel on 2010, as some are already doing. We’ve got 85% of the schedule left to play. But if we don’t turn things around in a major way, pretty much immediately, the history is not on our side.

Give me a reason to hope, guys. Please. I don’t want articles like this one to be the highlight of my day.

Have Faith…in Regression to the Mean

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The Red Seat, originally uploaded by Starving Photographer.

If I’d told you before the season that 21 games into the season that Buchholz would be our best starter – easily, that Darnell McDonald would have played more games that Ellsbury and be second in OPS to Varitek…on the team, what would you have said? What if I also told you that we would have scored 95 runs, but given up 113? That our vaunted defense would be -14 in defensive runs saved, tied for worst in the league with the Brewers? That our last six wins were one run affairs, against Baltimore, Texas and Toronto? That they’d leave us still one game under .500?

You’d figure we’d be further than 3 back from the Yankees, right? And that the Yankees would be in first place, not the Rays, correct?

But that’s why they play the games. This game is weird. I mean, how else do you explain Beckett’s identically terrible numbers this April to last?

In the wake of Buchholz’ gem tonight, you’d think I’d be leading the cheerleading squad. Not so much. We’ve stacked the deck against us, what with all this playing like shit. FanGraphs says we’ll finish in third, and frankly there are nights when it’s been tough to argue the point.

Still, the most important thing to remember is – as we talked about last week – is that the mean catches up with everyone in the end. For better, and for worse. So just like these folks with The Greater Good (and incidentally, if you haven’t seen that movie, you need to), I ask you to repeat after me: Regression to the Mean. Looking for evidence of that, I took a quick look at our BABIP figures for the season. And found it.

You know how hot JV’s been? Well, it just so happens that his batting average on balls in play is .400. Meaning that when he makes contact, he’s hitting about .110 better than is normal. Or in layman’s terms, he’s been pretty lucky, and is likely to get worse. Which is bad for us.

Good for us, however, are the BABIP’s posted by two of our coldest hitters: Drew and Ortiz. As it happens, they are 2 and 3 for lowest figures on the team Drew at .227 and .233 respectively. Meaning that they are likely to get better. Which is good for us.

As you might suspect, with the pitching, defense and offense all pretty awful in the early going, a regression to the mean would be just what the doctor ordered for us.

Will it be enough to make the playoffs? Who knows. It’s way too early to be writing off our chances on account of a six game deficit, but there’s no getting around the fact that the Rays and Yankees are good. Really good.

But have faith, my friends. We’ve had the second worst starting ERA in the league, two thirds of our starting outfield hasn’t seen the field in two weeks, and Beltre’s got close to one third of last year’s errors one eigth into the season. These too shall pass. It’s a long summer, and all we need is for our guys to start being our guys. Which we’re seeing signs of already.

In the meantime, buckle up and try and enjoy the ride.

Listening to the Sox in New England: Red Sox Affiliates, Mapped

New England Red Sox Affiliates
New England Red Sox Affiliates

Like a lot of people, I catch a large number of the Sox games from the car each summer. Whether it’s visiting family, a long weekend away, or traveling for work, few things pass the time more effectively than a ballgame. At least for me. But nothing is more frustrating than getting to a critical part of the ballgame and losing the signal and then the game because you can’t find the local affiliate.

The last time we had this problem, the fiancée found and bookmarked the Wikipedia list of Red Sox affiliates here. This weekend found us traversing the green and white mountains, however, where neither of us knew from the list what cities or towns were actually close enough to pick up. In spite of being wicked clevah, I’d never considered that this was a problem with a solution. Fortunately, my fiancée is quite a bit brighter than yours truly and suggested that I map the affiliates.

So I did. I’ll see if I can tweak this a bit going forward to improve the usability, but in the meantime, if you find yourself in New England short of a Red Sox radio affiliate, we hope the above is of use to you.

WTF?

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opening day, originally uploaded by sogrady.

You’re thinking it, I’m thinking it, and you can be damn sure Tito’s thinking it. If I’d known that the only home game we would have won to date would be the one I attended – that’d be Opening Day, for those who haven’t been keeping up with current events – I probably would have made an effort to get to more games.

But seriously, who would – could – have called this? 4-9, 6 games back of the division leading Rays. I sure didn’t. To try to ground the discussion, let’s look at where we are, and where we might expect grounds for improvement.

What’s Gone Wrong?

In a word, everything. And no, that’s not hyperbole. There is quite literally nothing we’re doing right at the moment.

The offense? Being 17th in the league in average is bad enough, being 20th in OBP is worse. Far worse. When the bright spot in your offense is a 9th place finish in slugging percentage, you’ve got problems. Frankly I was surprised we were only 15th in the league in strikeout percentage; Drew and Ortiz are between them striking out in 42.5% of their at bats. As an aside, I do find it interesting that everyone’s written off Ortiz while it’s just a slump for Drew, just as I find it curious that Lester’s just not good early while Buchholz is again being popularly consigned to the bullpen or someone else’s roster. The psychology of player evaluation is a really fascinating phenomenon. But we’ve got bigger problems to look at at the moment.

So the offense is not good. How about the vaunted defense? If anything, it’s worse. We’re 27th in Defensive Runs Saved, 18th in Fielding Percentage and we’re in such desperate shape at throwing out runners that there’s already talk of bringing up Mark Wagner, whose CHONE projected line is .232/.298/.341.

But at least the pitching is good, right? I wish. Our ERA could be worse, I guess, at 18th in the league, and actually our 25th ranking in FIP suggests that we’re actually lucky it isn’t worse. Not surprisingly, given those numbers, we’re bad at striking people out (27th in K/9) but much better at walking them: 10th best team in the majors at issuing the free pass. In case it’s not clear, being good at walking people is not a desirable skill.

Nor was there, as I had hoped before looking, any indications that the above numbers, both offensively and pitching-wise, are flukes. Our hitters’ BABIP is .287, and our pitchers’ is .279. Meaning that we have neither been exceptionally lucky or unlucky.

We are what we are, in other words. Except that we’re not.

What’s Likely to Go Right?

All of the above. The most plate appearances anyone on the club has is Pedroia at 57. That’s not as small a sample as the two games that had the writers penning Papi’s obit, but it’s statistically not significant.

It’s early. I know that’s hard to believe when we’re a few weeks into the season, already back by six games and with our offseason plan looking as intelligent as real estate investing circa 2010.

But before you take a leap from the Zakim, consider the following:

  1. Our hitters and pitchers alike will regress to the mean. For better and for worse. Pedroia’s sadly not going to put up a 1.159 OPS for the year, but neither is Drew going to put up an OBP of .233, V-Mart a SLG of .367, or Youk an average of .238. These things will fix themselves over time.
  2. No one likes to make excuses because of injuries, but remember that that two thirds of our starting outfielders this weekend were bench players. So when you see Hermida butchering balls in left, remember that he is not the starting left fielder, Ells is. And thankfully, he’ll be back because Beltre didn’t kill him. As will Cameron, after his current senior ailment – kidney stones – remedy themselves. Will that fix Scutaro’s jitters or V-Mart’s tendency to sail throws “just a bit outside?” Nope. But again: they’ll regress to the mean. Although in V-Mart’s case that’s not good news.
  3. A couple of folks have bitched that this is all the front office’s doing; if only we signed Jason Bay, we’d be right there with the Rays and Yankees. Setting aside the question of how a single player could fix all that has gone wrong thus far, there is the problem with the numbers. Namely, Bay’s. Thus far in a Mets uniform, he’s putting up a .217/.321/.283 line, while leading both leagues in strikeouts with 18 (narrowly edging our own Drew). Our left-fielders, meanwhile, have put up an unimpressive and still superior .240/.255/.400. So not only is Jason Bay not walking through that door, it probably wouldn’t help much if he did. Like everyone else, he’ll regress to the mean – which in his case means he’ll get a lot better – but in the early going, it doesn’t appear as if he’d be a difference maker.

What’s Not Likely to Improve?

I am worried with a capital W about the pen. The starters, I think, will ultimately be fine. Beckett’s been better, Lester’s history says he’ll be better, Lackey just had a bad start today, and between Wake, Buch and Matsuzaka – throwing well in Pawtucket, from reports – I feel pretty good. One through five (or six), we’ll have a chance to win most days, however much it doesn’t feel that way right now.

Likewise, our offense will hit. It’s looked brutal in the early going, but it is always does when 70% or 80% of your lineup isn’t hitting. Moreover, I think the front office will be aggressive if it looks like that’s a problem, and adding offense in season is always easier than adding pitching.

But we may be forced to give something away to get some help in relief, because there’s no real help available on the farm. Tazawa’s out with Tommy John. Richardson isn’t exactly lighting it up with a 1.80 WHIP at Pawtucket, and Kelly – for all of his poise – was born in 1989 (though I find his innings limits intriguing). I’ve been worried about our pen since the offseason, not least because our PECOTA projections were terrifying. And yes, I’m aware that PECOTA’s had its issues this offseason.

ESPN’s Jeremy Lundblad has the best breakdown of the issues out of our pen that I’ve seen. You really should read it, but the short version for the link averse? Delcarmen’s lost about three miles an hour off his fastball since 2008, and his usage reflects that. Ramirez Uno’s K rate is in sharp decline, and his walk rate is up. Also not good.

Oki’s still great versus lefties, but he’s become mortal versus righties. Which probably explains why he’s given up the 8th inning to Bard. And speaking of, while Lundblad’s not particularly worried about the young fireballer, I am. His K rate is down sharply in the early going, never a good sign, although that could just be a blip. His HR rate is higher as well. Like Keith Law, I’ve struggled to understand how people who watch him pitch right now think he’s ready to take Papelbon’s place. He just doesn’t command well enough yet.

Which brings us to Pap. You might recall that last season I, along with a great many other people, worried about the fact that Pap had basically reverted to a one pitch pitcher. Well, the good news is that he is indeed throwing the split more: 17.9% thus far, well up from last season’s 9.3%. The bad news is that his pitch selection may be impacting his performance – negatively. As Lundblad put it,

Papelbon has issued four walks in four appearances so far this season. In 2008, he didn’t issue his fourth walk until June 22, his 33rd appearance. Factor in just one strikeout, and this is the first time in Papelbon’s career that he has more walks than strikeouts.

Add it up, and I think the pen will be this team’s weakness.

Big Picture?

We’re going to play better, and things will turn around. I’m not going to guarantee 95 wins like a lot of people – the BP guys’ latest simulations are currently predicting an 80 win season and 24% chance of the playoffs, but we’re clearly better than that. Just as we’re better than this.

Will it be enough to make up six games in the toughest division in baseball? Who knows. But we can’t worry about that right now. Our only concern should be getting these guys playing better.

Meaning don’t boo them, it’s not going to help anything.

Pondering the PECOTA Projections

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baseball for baby bob, originally uploaded by Shutter Daddy.

You may not have realized, but today is Christmas. For baseball fans, anyway. Baseball Prospectus just published its PECOTA projections, as well as the anticipated team records. I’ll have a lot more on this later, but some highlights for you in the meantime.

BP has the Red Sox finishing 2nd. Not to the Yankees, the Rays. They have the empire finishing third. Projected records for the clubs: Tampa 96-66, Boston 95-67, and New York 93-69. Not that I relish the idea of finishing 2nd, but given that they don’t have another AL club cracking 90 wins, that would mean a playoff berth.

And before you scoff at these rankings, remember that BP predicted the Rays success in 2008. Yeah. Before they were good.

How’d We Get There?

As expected, BP has the Red Sox staff and defense much improved, giving up the second fewest runs in the league (737 runs to the Rays 729). But the offense is no slouch either. BP expects a cumulative .275/.356/.448 line, good enough for 882 runs. The only clubs in the AL projected to best that number are the Yankees (917), the Rays (885), and the Rangers (883).

Add it up and you have what the front office is clearly shooting for: a club that keeps the score down, but can put enough runs on the board to win consistently. Here’s hoping they’re right.

Player Highlights

Notable aspects of the projections for our roster.

THE LINEUP:

  1. Ellsbury: BP sees more power in ’10; from .415 last season to .431.
  2. Pedroia: .866 projected OPS for the little guy; the 18 HRs would be a career high.
  3. Youkilis: 24 HR, .500 SLG, but a .387 OBP that would be his lowest since ’06.
  4. Ortiz: Mild rebound anticipated: .238/.332/.462 to .265/.369/.486
  5. Drew: Declines in OBP and SLG, from an ’09 OPS of .914 to .813
  6. Beltre: They see 19 HR and a .773 OPS from the 3B – Lowell was 17/.811
  7. Cameron: 18 HR in 515 AB, only 8 SB
  8. Martinez: it’s really nice to forecast a .798 OPS from the catching spot
  9. Scutaro: his anticipated .753 OPS is almost a hundred point improvement over ’09’s .655, and then there’s the defense

Comments: the offense is deeper than you’d think, particularly when you consider Hall (.244/.310/.413) and Hermida (.269/.352/.455) off the bench. For the Lowrie fans, PECOTA is not optimistic: .253/.333/.397. If that holds, we’ll be glad Scutaro’s on board.

THE ROTATION (note the IP):

  1. Beckett: 195 IP, 170K, 49B, 3.52 ERA
  2. Lester: 178 IP, 140K, 62BB, 3.66 ERA
  3. Lackey: 199 IP, 144K, 52BB, 3.55 ERA
  4. Matsuzaka: 107 IP, 92K, 52BB, 4.35 ERA
  5. Buchholz: 164 IP, 141K, 62BB, 3.71 ERA
  6. Wakefield: 97 IP, 55K, 38BB, 4.63 ERA

Comments: who wouldn’t like that rotation? I’m particularly pleased at the projections for Buch. If those hold up, we’ll be very glad that Cafardo, Mazz and co aren’t in charge, because he’d be throwing for another club. It would appear, also, that PECOTA is anticipating that we’ll make liberal use of spot starters in Wake and Bowden, who they project for 24 starts between them.

THE BULLPEN:

  1. Papelbon: slightly better WHIP, higher ERA – HR rate up as well
  2. Okajima: 3.41 ERA, 19BB/46K in 55 IP
  3. Delcarmen: 3.64 with an unpleasant 1.3 WHIP
  4. Ramirez: 3.55, with peripherals similar to MDC’s otherwise
  5. Bard: kinda scary, 4.23 ERA, 1.48 WHIP and a poor 49/36 K/BB ratio

Comments: If there’s one area we might prioritize for help – barring a trade for Cabrera or Gonzalez, of course – it’d be here. Maybe one of Bonser, Atchison, Castro, Bowden et al pan out, but PECOTA doesn’t think so.