Last Updated: 2017-03-29
It’s going to be very hard for any American League East team to top the Boston Red Sox. We’re going to go ahead and put that out there right away. The American League looks like a three-horse race between the likely division winners of Boston, Cleveland, and Houston. Just take a look at the win totals and see how close these races could be.
Yeah, I know, that’s why they play the games. But, it’s hard not to be completely enamored with what the Boston Red Sox have on the roster this season. And also the help that resides down below at the Triple-A level. Boston was the class of the American League East last season with 93 wins and actually underachieved based on Pythagorean Win-Loss and BaseRuns. Pyth W-L had the Red Sox more like a 98-64 team, which was the best in the AL by 6.5 games over the Indians. BaseRuns actually had Boston more like a 102-60 squad that would have outscored the opposition by 1.28 runs per game over the course of the season.
Expectations are high. They always are in Boston. Ownership hands whoever’s in charge a blank checkbook and it just so happens to be Dave Dombrowski’s responsibility to fill out those checks. Dombrowski has fallen into some really great situations in his career and this is certainly one of them. Money increases the margin for error. It allows teams to be more aggressive with the trading of prospects. That’s a common theme here for this season, as the Red Sox used money and organizational strength to improve in two very big areas.
A first-round exit in rapid fashion to the Cleveland Indians certainly has Boston chomping at the bit to get back to the postseason. Incredibly, it was just the second time since 2009 that the Red Sox have made the postseason. For a team with this much talent and this much cash flow, that’s a remarkable statistic. Will this be the start of a playoff appearance streak?
Season Win Total Odds:
BetDSI: 92.5 (-125/105)
BetOnline: 92.5 (-130/100)
5Dimes: 92.5 (-130/100)
Additions: Chris Sale, Tyler Thornburg, Josh Rutledge, Kyle Kendrick
Losses: David Ortiz, Ryan Hanigan, Bryan Holaday, Clay Buchholz, Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, Brad Ziegler, Travis Shaw, Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech
The Red Sox have been pretty busy this offseason. They’ve scoured the free agent wire to pick up some minor league depth and made two pretty significant trades. The first was to acquire Tyler Thornburg from the Milwaukee Brewers. The Red Sox gave up Travis Shaw and a couple of prospects to get a much needed arm for the bullpen. Thornburg will be discussed later, but he’s a very underrated arm.
The big splash of the winter was the acquisition of Chris Sale. Technically, it was the fall, since the deal was consummated on December 6, but the White Sox were willing to move the Florida Gulf Coast product and Boston was willing to pay up the cost that it took. The Red Sox gave up international free agent signing Yoan Moncada and other prospects to get the starting staff’s second ace. Oh, and the other guy is just the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner.
Clearly the loss of David Ortiz is significant in the middle of the order. The future Hall of Famer (yes, he’ll get in) retired at the end of last season as promised. Clay Buchholz was shipped off to Philadelphia for minor league infielder Josh Tobias. Koji Uehara, Junichi Tawaza, and Brad Ziegler all found new homes, so the bullpen is one area to watch at the start of the season.
Why bet the over?
Man, where do we start? I guess we’ll start with Mookie Betts, who is now a top-three player in Major League Baseball. I don’t think you’ll find too many people upset to hear that Betts is behind Kris Bryant and Clayton Kershaw in the pecking order. Betts took the next step forward in his second Major League season. He slashed .318/.363/.534 (BA/OBP/SLG) and played exceptional defense in right field. In two full seasons, Betts has been worth 12.6 wins above replacement player per Fangraphs’s calculations. He makes a ton of contact, he had 31 homers with 26 steals, and he won’t turn 25 until after the regular season. He’s a special player and the scary thing is that he may only keep getting better. I first heard of Mookie Betts on the Fringe Average (RIP) podcast with Mike Ferrin and Jason Parks, who is now a special assistant to the GM in the Cubs organization. He hasn’t disappointed.
Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts are part of the incredible young corps of position players for the Red Sox. Bradley has his problems against same-side pitching, but he mauled right-handed pitching with a .277/.363/.538 slash. He’s also one of the top defensive center fielders in the game with a plus arm and plus range. With the quirky dimensions of Fenway Park and some ballparks with some carry in the AL East, Bradley’s defensive acumen is a massive asset.
Bogaerts hit a bit of a wall in the latter part of his third full season as his BABIP regressed and his numbers sagged. He added more power to his game, though, and hit 21 home runs and stole 13 bases with a .294/.356/.446 slash line. He’s also a plus defender at a premier defensive position. The 24-year-old shortstop increased his walk rate by so much that he actually had a higher on-base percentage last season with a .294 average and a .335 BABIP than he did the previous season with a .320 batting average and a .372 BABIP. He’s another player with five-win upside. We haven’t even talked about the veterans yet and we’re already talking about 16 or 17 wins above replacement player from the new version of the Killer B’s with Betts, Bradley, and Bogaerts.
We’re probably going to see some decline soon from Dustin Pedroia, but the scrappy second sacker had a really nice bounce back season in 2016. After being hobbled by injuries in 2015 that limited him to 93 games, Pedroia played 154 last season with a .318/.376/.449 slash, a .358 wOBA (weighted on-base average), and well above average defense. His 5.2 fWAR was the most he’s had in a season since 2013. Pedroia will turn 34 in August and aging curves show that second basemen have the quickest decline, but even with decline, we’re talking about a 3.5 to 4-win player.
The ace in the hole for the Red Sox this season is that they will get a full year of top prospect Anthony Benintendi. Benintendi rode the fast track to the big leagues as an accelerated college bat out of Arkansas. In 118 plate appearances, Benintendi batted .295/.359/.476 in his first big league cup of coffee and is so highly thought of on this ballclub that John Farrell spoke about Benintendi hitting second for his team. He hit at every level of the minors and raked against college pitching. He was serviceable while trying to master the Green Monster in left field, so he’s not going to hurt the team defensively.
We’ll see what we get from Pablo Sandoval, Mitch Moreland, and Hanley Ramirez, but all three guys have a Major League track record. Sandoval is the wild card after missing basically all of last season. Hanley can still hit with a .286/.361/.505 slash and now he can be the designated hitter with Big Papi watching from the comforts of home. Mitch Moreland is useful enough at first base and can use that short right field corner to hit a few dingers. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better offense than this in all of baseball, even with regression from starting catcher Sandy Leon. The bench is also really strong with a good platoon bat in Chris Young and the versatile skill set of Brock Holt. If Leon can’t keep up the pace he needs, Blake Swihart can take the reins.
In each of the last five seasons, Chris Sale has finished in the top six in Cy Young Award voting. The putrid Chicago White Sox have hurt Sale both offensively and defensively and he’s been unable to get over that hump and take home some hardware, despite being among the best pitchers year in and year out. Well, Sale now brings 1,244 strikeouts in 1,110 innings to Beantown, where he’ll also be aided by arguably the best defensive team in the American League. There have always been questions about the efficiency of Sale’s mechanics and about whether or not he can stay healthy, but he’s worked three 200+ inning seasons in the last four years and worked 192 prior to that. He’s a significant boost to the Red Sox and we’re likely talking about a 6-7 win upgrade in the rotation.
David Price is exactly the reason why I like to evaluate players using the advanced metrics. Price finished last season with a 3.99 ERA, even though he posted a 3.60 FIP and a 3.52 xFIP. He posted a 13.5 percent HR/FB% in his first season with Boston, which was the highest of his career. Tropicana Field and Comerica Park do suppress home runs better than Fenway, but a spike like that for a guy with Price’s control and command appears to be an outlier. The pressure is off of Price to carry the staff this season and to live up to his contract. Price wasn’t the first guy to struggle after signing a huge contract and he won’t be the last.
The story of Rick Porcello’s 2016 was one of redemption. Porcello was one of the game’s unluckiest pitchers in 2015. He posted a 4.92 ERA with a 4.13 FIP and a 3.72 xFIP. He simply gave up too many home runs and a lot of them seemed to come with runners on. Porcello’s K rate went down and his walk rate improved, but a lot of things were pretty similar to the previous season. The biggest difference was sequencing. Porcello stranded nearly seven percent more base runners and fewer balls found holes. Even with some mild regression, which is likely coming, Porcello still has the upside of a four-win pitcher. That would be probably 15 wins above replacement player from the top of this rotation, assuming Sale keeps his pace.
What makes Boston so good is its depth. The lineup is terrific 1 through 9 and beyond. The rotation has three top-end starters and then a collection of guys that can all get a lot of outs and look good doing it. It’s anybody’s guess as to how the Red Sox put together the back of the rotation. Drew Pomeranz could be in there. Steven Wright could be in there as a much different look as a knuckleballer. Left-handed prospects Eduardo Rodriguez and Henry Owens both have a ton of promise. Even guys like Roenis Elias and Kyle Kendrick can make cameo appearances. In a general sense, teams want at least eight MLB-caliber starters and will likely use up to 10 or 11 in a season. The Red Sox have exceptional depth here.
If there is one area of mild concern, it is the bullpen. Craig Kimbrel had some massive control problems last season and couldn’t get guys to hit the ball on the ground. And, yet, he still struck out 37.7 percent of batters faced coming out of an AL bullpen for the first time. He held opposing hitters to a .151 average. His velocity was fine throughout the season. There’s a learning curve to switching leagues and there’s also a statistical adjustment going from the NL to the AL of generally about 10 percent. Kimbrel will turn 29 in May, so he should be fine for a few more years.
There are some really good arms in this pen that won’t get respect from the average fan. The first is Tyler Thornburg. Thornburg punched out 90 in 67 innings as a reliever last season and was stunningly effective against lefties. A lot of relievers tend to show platoon weaknesses, but lefties batted .130/.223/.190 against Thornburg with a .192 wOBA. It’s impossible to overstate how much it means to a manager to have a reliever that can clean an inning rather than have to play the matchup game. Joe Kelly may have found a niche as a middle reliever. He’s always thrown hard with a very heavy sinker that hitters bury into the ground. In 14 relief appearances last season, Kelly allowed a .203/.261/.297 slash. Robbie Ross is a lefty, but he’s not a one-trick pony. He held lefties to a .262 wOBA and righties to a .297 wOBA. He’s a bit erratic, but there’s upside left here. Fernando Abad was Agood signing as a matchup lefty. Carson Smith should return from Tommy John in June or July to add another weapon to the bullpen.
Why bet the under?
Well, we’ve seen really good Red Sox teams fall flat in the past. That’s not really a predictive element, but the games must still be played, no matter how great a team looks on paper. The concerning thing with an under here is that the Red Sox can withstand major injuries. A few of them would be more crippling. If Mookie Betts is lost, it will be awful and terrible for the game, but the Red Sox have a lot of depth to make up for that loss as best as they can. The same can be said about the loss of Chris Sale. But, that possibility is always there that injuries become such a significant problem that a team cannot reach its ceiling or even its expectations.
There are some things that could happen. Dustin Pedroia, as mentioned, is probably teetering near the top of the aging curve for players at his position. He plays such an integral role for this team as a leadoff hitter and a leader. His loss or drop-off would be pretty significant, because it would force John Farrell’s hand into shuffling the lineup around a bit. There’s always the chance that Hanley Ramirez, who is 33 and has had some injury-plagued seasons, runs into a swarm of injury bugs.
The corners could be really low spots for the Red Sox. There’s a good insurance policy at third base in Brock Holt, but that would eliminate his versatility at other positions. It would benefit the Red Sox if Pablo Sandoval is useful, but he hasn’t been useful since 2014. He looks like a sunken cost at this point, no matter how healthy he appears in pictures before the season starts. Mitch Moreland isn’t a very exciting player. The 31-year-old posted an 87 wRC+ last season and didn’t have a lot of good contact quality. He’s a patchwork solution at the position. The idea seems to be a platoon with Hanley, wherein Hanley DHs against right-handed pitching and plays first base against lefties. We’ll see how long that arrangement lasts. As great as the outfield is, a down year from Pedroia could make the infield pretty average. That includes the catcher position, where Sandy Leon effectively came out of nowhere to post a 2.5-win season in 78 games.
Perhaps there’s something more to the command problems of David Price. Price has been working on fastball command ever since he started throwing in January according to reports, so that will be something to watch. We know that some regression is coming from Rick Porcello, who had never had a three-win season per Fangraphs’s WAR formula before winning the Cy Young Award last season. Projection systems are shaving about 1.6 wins off of Porcello. We can also make a case that Chris Sale will struggle in a better division. The AL Central didn’t feature the level of offensive competency that he will see in the AL East. He’ll also be pitching in some more hitter-friendly environments.
Drew Pomeranz was acquired by Boston and then posted a 4.59 ERA with a 4.78 FIP and a 3.85 xFIP in 13 starts and one relief appearance. Steven Wright is graded on a whole ‘nother level as a knuckleballer, but he’s dealing with some shoulder discomfort early in camp and posted a 5.06 ERA and a .261/.324/.396 slash against in the second half over 42.2 innings of work last season. Eduardo Rodriguez hung a 4.71 ERA with a 4.43 FIP and a 4.72 xFIP in his 107 innings of work and he’s pitching for Team Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, which is always a concern.
Season Win Total Pick: Under 92.5 (+105; BetDSI)
This is a bold stance to take, but hear me out. I hate the Red Sox, as an Indians fan, but I love the Red Sox as an impartial party writing season win totals. However, as phenomenal as the outfield looks and as high as the expectations are, I wonder if the Red Sox fully live up to them. Rick Porcello’s flash in the pan Cy Young season stands out as a massive outlier. David Price is very good, but leaving Comerica and Tropicana didn’t seem to work out for him last season. Chris Sale is great, but he’ll have an adjustment period changing teams, coaches, catchers, etc.
As mentioned, I think both corners are a concern for the Red Sox. I think the wide range of Xander Bogaerts outcomes with his BABIP-driven offensive profile could yield a lesser performance than people might be expecting. I think it’s easy to buy in to all of the talent and automatically give this team 95 wins. I certainly could make a case for that. Truthfully, this isn’t a very strong pick. It’s not to be contrarian or pull punches. It’s simply because I think that there are some areas in which this team is a little bit less than advertised. I think, unlike the AL Central, for example, the division is a bit stronger here.
This is a great team. It’s a team that will be a factor in October. I just don’t know if it will win 93 games.
-END OF 2017 PREVIEW-
All in all, it has actually been a pretty quiet offseason for the Boston Red Sox. They acknowledged two targets very early on, successfully got them, and then continued the process of evaluating in-house talent. Last season was rather tumultuous for the Red Sox. Manager John Farrell underwent treatment for cancer. General manager Ben Cherington was replaced by Dave Dombrowski. As incredible as this stat is, the Red Sox finished dead last in the American League East for the third time in four seasons. The only time they didn’t finish last, they won the World Series.
Boston wrapped up a 78-84 campaign last season with four losses and finished 35-41 against the AL East. It is worth pointing out that the Red Sox, who struggled mightily in high-leverage offensive situations early in the season, were 32-22 in August and September with a +76 run differential before mailing in those final four games of the season.
An exciting young crop of position players and a top free agent starter have created quite a buzz in Beantown about this team. It’s easy to see why people are excited about the Red Sox. Youngsters Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts combined for 9.1 wins above replacement player per Fangraphs and the emergence of Jackie Bradley Jr.’s bat will complement his fielding very nicely. Clay Buchholz racked up 3.2 fWAR in only 18 starts and high-upside arms like Eduardo Rodriguez and Henry Owens got significant big league experience. Add a dependable five-win pitcher in Price and a dominant two-win reliever in Craig Kimbrel and the ceiling is high.
On the other hand, the floor isn’t as high as you might think. At some point, age will catch up with David Ortiz, who mashed 37 dingers and posted a .273/.360/.553 slash last season. Dustin Pedroia’s offense bounced back, but he was limited to just 93 games and has now been hampered by injuries for two straight seasons. The starting pitching depth is a bit iffy and Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval could continue to be albatross contracts.
With a new direction under Dombrowski, the return of Farrell, and a bona fide ace at the front of the rotation, lofty expectations have returned for the Red Sox. Can they live up to them?
Season win total odds:
BetOnline: 87.5 (-115/-115)
5Dimes: 86.5 (-120/-110)
Bovada: 86.5 (-115/-115)
Key additions: David Price, Craig Kimbrel, Roenis Elias, Carson Smith, Chris Young
Key losses: Rich Hill, Craig Breslow, Wade Miley
There were more gains than losses this winter for the Red Sox. David Price cost a pretty penny at $217 million, but the Red Sox had a very clear need and they found a way to fill it with arguably the best free agent pitcher on the market. It is a signing that completely changes the dynamic, as I will write about later in this piece.
Adding Craig Kimbrel in what projects to be a bounce back season is a savvy move and it came at the expense of four prospects and Boston has money and a relatively young core, so they traded from a position of strength. Kimbrel’s ERA and FIP were the highest marks of his career, but there’s more than meets the eye to those marks. Carson Smith is a tricky little upside grab from Seattle in the Wade Miley trade. Smith has a wipeout slider and a live 26-year-old arm.
Chris Young is the type of signing that doesn’t move the needle, but really improves things at the margins. Young murders left-handed pitching and can be a very good platoon bat to help Bradley Jr. out on the side of the split that he struggles against.
Roenis Elias has Miley-like upside and Rich Hill was a dime-store find that worked out well in a small sample size. Breslow is replaceable as a LOOGY, so Boston gained some significant surplus value this winter through some shrewd transactions and a deep bank account.
Why bet the over?
Did we see the best of Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts? The answer is quite simple. No. With more experience comes better strike zone knowledge and with better strike zone knowledge comes more solid contact and more opportunities to get on base. Betts regularly posted double-digit BB% rates in the minors and the 23-year-old is just 867 plate appearances into what should be an excellent big league career. Betts has the upside of a 20/20 guy with an above average walk rate and above average defense. That’s a five-win player all day and the ceiling is there for more. The nice thing about Betts is that the floor is pretty high as well, since he puts to bat to ball, can field, and can run.
The volatility of Bogaerts is a little bit higher, but he’s got a line drive swing to all fields and can regularly be a high BABIP guy. Remember that BABIP, batting average on balls in play, generally sits in the .290 to .310 range, but Bogaerts has above average speed and a line drive swing that will allow him to sit above that range. A .372 BABIP like last year seems very unlikely, but some power gains seem very likely. Defensive metrics are a little bit uncertain, and the floor is lower compared to Betts, but the ceiling is still pretty high and, again, he’s 23 years old.
Among players with at least 400 plate appearances, Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez were two of the three worst players in baseball. The other was Victor Martinez of the Detroit Tigers. Sandoval posted a 75 wRC+, which means that he was 25 percent below league average offensively. Power saved Hanley Ramirez from being totally useless on offense, posting a .426 SLG and an 89 wRC+, but he was quite possibly the worst defensive player in baseball.
The return to some shred of normalcy for these two players will dictate just how high the ceiling is for Boston. Ramirez moves over to first base, where the Red Sox will attempt to hide years of injury and defensive horror. Ramirez was -19 defensive runs saved in left field. As a reminder, Fenway Park has a big green wall about 300 feet away from home plate that negates an outfielder’s need for range. Sandoval’s wOBA (weighted on-base average) dropped 35 points in a vastly superior hitting environment and his contact quality bottomed out. Is the hefty 29-year-old experiencing a very early decline or was this season simply one of those anomalies? He kept chasing and swinging a ton and pitchers actually challenged him more in the AL and he failed miserably. It’s fair to assume that his offensive gong show followed him to the hot corner, where he was -11 defensive runs saved. At a minimum, you would expect these two to return to league average. Considering Sandoval and Ramirez were -3.8 fWAR last season, that’s a really big gain for Boston.
Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz are “lite” versions of Ramirez and Sandoval, in that there could be a lot of range in their levels of performance. Pedroia will reportedly have his workload managed by John Farrell, which could prolong his production this season. He’ll still be an above average Major League player, but the ceiling isn’t what it once was. Ortiz is 40 and he’s still toying with pitchers as if he’s 30. Papi got #500 out of the way last season and has a vesting option for 2017, so there won’t be a David Ortiz Retirement Tour. He has been stunningly consistent throughout his career and there are no major signs of decline in any of his metrics. His zone-contact rate went down, which could suggest some declining bat speed, but 37 home runs and a line drive spike suggest otherwise. If the age monster stays away another year, Ortiz will flirt with 2.5 fWAR as an offense-only player.
There are a lot of “x-factor” types of players for the Red Sox. Jackie Bradley Jr. is an elite defensive outfielder with some offensive question marks. Brock Holt is a really versatile player that is basically a lighter version of Ben Zobrist minus the power. Travis Shaw showed good pop with 13 dongs in just 65 games. Blake Swihart is a terrific defensive catcher with a limited offensive profile. Rusney Castillo was a big investment that had trouble adjusting to life in the Majors, but played an excellent right field. Chris Young is an excellent platoon bat against southpaws. There aren’t many weaknesses in this Boston lineup.
And that’s exactly why ponying up for David Price was the right play. The Red Sox got a reliable five-win workhorse that has worked over 200 innings in five of the last six seasons. Price has actually been a six-win player in each of the last two seasons, so that five-win label might be a little bit pessimistic. The later years of his seven-year pact could be a bit of a disappointment, but he should have gained plenty of surplus value by then. Price misses a lot of bats, doesn’t walk many hitters, and has shown no ill effects of being asked to pitch in the AL East for most of his career. He’s elite. In the new age of baseball benchmarks, Price may have a plaque in Cooperstown awaiting him one day.
Clay Buchholz’s health isn’t much to bet on, but the upside remains. Even if Buchholz can only make 20 starts, he’ll net value at his $13 million price tag. Buchholz has one of the game’s top changeups and made some nice adjustments from 2014 to 2015 to post a 3.26/2.68/3.30 (ERA/FIP/xFIP) pitcher slash last season. That probably won’t be repeated, but Buchholz is a great middle of the rotation arm with #2 upside when his body allows him to work every fifth day.
This applies to fantasy baseball as well, so if you’re looking for bounce back candidates, Rick Porcello is on your list. Porcello made some nice strides in the strikeout department, but he made some awful strides in the command department. Porcello’s 4.92 ERA was accompanied by a 3.72 xFIP, which, in and of itself, suggests positive regression. A .332 BABIP, inflated by bad command and some mediocre defense, will come down, as will the 14.5 percent HR/FB%, and the 67.5 percent strand rate should rise. Porcello has the potential to improve by a full win.
Eduardo Rodriguez and Roenis Elias have potential to be all kinds of fun. Rodriguez endured some growing pains in his first 21 starts at just 22 years of age, but the potential was also on display. He flashed some swing-and-miss stuff with plus command and average control. He didn’t have a lot of faith in his secondary pitches, but he spent the offseason working on slider refinement and a cutter. He’ll never be a dominant ace, but as a really reliable #3 with a frame to grow into, he’ll be plenty valuable. Elias could be the third lefty in this rotation, though he does have minor league options. Elias has varying release points that lead to command and control issues, but he could benefit from a change of scenery, where he isn’t dueling with guys like Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, or Danny Hultzen for attention.
Don’t trail late in a game with Boston. Craig Kimbrel’s track record speaks for itself. Koji Uehara, now 40, has one of the game’s best splitters and it actually turns an 87 mph fastball into a weapon. It’s fair to be somewhat skeptical of Carson Smith, who went from a career high of 49 appearances to 70 last season, but the hard-throwing right-hander with a wicked slidah should excite Red Sox fans in a big way. Smith was among prestigious company in terms of reliever fWAR. Better rotation depth pushes ex-starters Joe Kelly and Robbie Ross into relief roles. Kelly can run his heavy sinker into the upper 90s and Ross can hide his lack of a third pitch as a LOOGY (Lefty One Out GuY).
Why bet the under?
As promising as everything looks on paper, it has looked similarly promising in the past and has not worked out. As mentioned, Boston has finished last in three of the last four seasons, two of those with Jon Lester, so the lack of an ace last season is not the only culprit. I have to wonder how good of a manager John Farrell actually is. Can he maximize the talent of this team? Will he allocate playing time properly? There are a lot of ways that this thing can go wrong, especially because contracts necessitate playing time for Hanley and Panda.
Speaking of those two, what if this wasn’t a one-year slump? Hanley is on the downside of his career and hiding him at first base could backfire in a big way. At other positions, he’s only in on balls hit in his direction. The majority of ground balls now come his way, whether by air or by bounce. Sandoval’s husky frame has always been a concern and it was allowed to be one last season after being swept under the rug during his productive seasons. They will be better. It’s hard to be worse. But, will their respective gains be enough to push Boston over a lofty season win total?
Dustin Pedroia is damaged goods right now and the power may not fully return. He hit some home runs last season, but he set a new career high in HR/FB% and hit fewer line drives than at any other point in his career. He also hit more pop ups than ever before, so he seems to be actively trying to lift and separate. That’s not his game. A .291 batting average and a .356 on-base percentage don’t look like replicable numbers.
David Ortiz is old. Regression should come at some point. As mentioned, there aren’t any regression flags that really stand out, but the human body has a breaking point.
From a starting standpoint, Price should be fine, but the others may not be. Porcello wants to return to a pitch mix that induces early-count contact, which will take away his strikeout rate increase and put additional pressure on the defense. Also, inducing early-count contact means throwing quality strikes. That was not his strong suit last season, as evidenced by the highest HR/9 and HR/FB% of his career. He’ll be better, but “#2 starter” better is a stretch.
Of course, Clay Buchholz should be the #2 starter, but Derrick Rose might have a healthier track record. When Buchholz made 28+ starts in a season, he posted xFIPs of 4.07, 4.43, and 4.04. There may be an element of fool’s gold here from a fantasy and a betting standpoint since his 2015 gains were so significant. Maybe they’re sustainable. Maybe they’re not and Buchholz is a one-win pitcher that spends most of the season in the trainer’s room. There isn’t a lot of starting pitching depth here, so his health is essential.
Getting out of the Baltimore organization was great for Eduardo Rodriguez, considering their history of developing arm problems and not pitchers. Rodriguez worked a career-high 170 innings last season. Some of them were high-stress at the big league level. He’s right around league average in strikeout and walk rates, so there’s something to buy into, but there’s also a reasonable projection of mediocrity. Buying into 23-year-old pitchers without excellent minor league track records is scary.
Kimbrel and Smith are fine, but Farrell may need to find some other options in the pen. Uehara will turn 41 the day before Opening Day and has lost a full mile per hour in average fastball velocity in each of the last three seasons. For the second straight season, Junichi Tazawa’s strikeout rate fell and he allowed a .349 BABIP. Perhaps that improves, but perhaps we’re also looking at a command issue.
Pick: Boston Red Sox Under 87.5 (-110 – 5Dimes)
This is a lofty win total for a team that has some significant question marks. Behind David Price, there aren’t many certainties in the rotation. The lineup is very talented, especially with guys like Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts ready to take the next step forward, but there are some bad-bodied guys in David Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez, and Pablo Sandoval that really need to perform for this offense to click on all cylinders. High season win total lines like this leave very little margin for error.
This is not a strong play by any means, since the upside for this Boston team is very high. But, with an older roster outside of Betts and Bogaerts, expecting this Red Sox team to win 88+ games in an American League full of parity is a tough thing to do.
-END OF 2016 PREVIEW-
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