Boston Red Sox
As outlined in my MLB Betting Guide and my Red Sox preview, I picked against this team every step of the way in the playoffs last season. The outstanding offense was backed by a top-heavy starting staff and a pretty average bullpen aside from Craig Kimbrel. The Red Sox won the World Series in dominant fashion, going 11-3 in the postseason. I was dead wrong. I’ve spent the winter bowing down to Alex Cora.
Heading into 2019, the Red Sox again have that elite offense. They didn’t do much of anything to address the pitching staff. Chris Sale only threw 158 innings, his fewest since his last year as a reliever in 2011. Kimbrel is gone and hasn’t been replaced. There are some guys I have my eye on in the starting rotation as fade candidates.
And, yet, this Red Sox team is going to win a ton of games and score a ton of runs. It is worth pointing out that the Red Sox were second to the Indians in number of wins over teams with losing records. The Indians play in the AL Central. Boston was exceptional outside the division last year. The Red Sox were also 87-38 against right-handed starters. No other team won more than 72 games (Milwaukee). Aside from the BaseRuns record, are there more regression areas for the Red Sox?
Money Line Spots
In general, I think Boston will be overvalued this season. That’s not to say we’re going to get rich fading the World Series champs, but the Red Sox were 25-14 in one-run games, had an historically good record against RHP, absolutely trucked bad teams, and overachieved in BaseRuns by nine games.
Teams that can slug with the Red Sox can beat the Red Sox, unless, of course, Chris Sale is on the mound. The rest of the rotation is solid, but not spectacular and the bullpen has some holes. Boston led the league in wOBA. The next five AL teams were the Yankees, Indians, A’s, Astros, and Rays. Boston was 29-29 against those teams.
Those five teams also had good pitching staffs. The Blue Jays were seventh in the AL in wOBA and the Red Sox were 15-4 against them because Toronto had an awful pitching staff.
Road unders could end up being profitable in Boston games. Even with the best offense in baseball in a lot of ways, the Red Sox were just 77-76-9 to the over. Oddsmakers priced them well. Boston scored 60 fewer runs on the road than at home and allowed three more runs in those games.
Boston also scored 423 of its 876 runs in 76 of 162 games against division foes. Outside of the AL East, the Red Sox had 5.27 runs scored per game. Still impressive, but not the 5.57 runs per game within the division. Totals may be inflated for Boston on the road.
Individual Players to Watch
Rick Porcello – You’ve already seen me say this in the Betting Guide and heard me say it on BangTheBook Radio and YouTube. Porcello increased his K% from 20.5 percent to 23.5 percent, which is awesome for a guy with marginal command like him. But, the K% increase came with a decrease from 9.4 percent to 8.7 percent in swinging strike rate (SwStr%). His Zone-Contact% (Z-Contact%) went from 86.2 percent to 88.8 percent. Usually you want a guy with some margin for error in the zone. Porcello in 2017 with a lower rate of contact in the zone and a higher swinging strike rate AND a lower walk rate posted a 4.65 ERA with a 4.60 FIP and a 4.43 xFIP. Last season, he posted a 4.28 ERA with a 4.01 FIP and a 3.87 xFIP. He’s a regression candidate for me to be sure.
Whether I play overs or fade him will depend on the matchup, but I’ll be actively looking to go against him in some capacity.
Eduardo Rodriguez – The breakout is right there for Eduardo Rodriguez. He just has to stay healthy. Fortunately, most of his issues have been in his knees and not in his arm, but that’s still not a great thing going forward either. In any event, E-Rod went from a 4.19/3.97/4.26 pitcher slash in 2017 to a 3.82/3.65/3.90 pitcher slash in 2018. His K% jumped to 26.4 percent and he had some walk rate gains with a drop from 8.6 percent to 8.1 percent. His SwStr% and Z-Contact% went in the wrong direction, but he got ahead more often and got hitters to expand the zone more.
He traded regular fastballs for cutters and increased the use of his very wet changeup. If this is the breakout season for his cutter, this is the breakout season for Rodriguez. Overshadowed by names like Sale, Price, and Porcello in this rotation, I think he’ll be undervalued.
Ryan Brasier – For throwing ultra hard, Brasier, who was the closer in Pawtucket before getting called up, doesn’t get a lot of strikeouts. What he does get, though, is a ton of weak contact on his fastball that allowed him to post a .198 BABIP. You have to expect some level of regression from that, especially with a .277 in his 40.1 Triple-A innings. He’s probably in line for save opportunities at the outset and he should be fine in that role, but this bullpen lacks depth. With Joe Kelly and Kimbrel gone, the Red Sox have 136 appearances, mostly in high leverage, and 128 innings to replace.