I’m watching opening day. Wonderful.
I’ve been meaning to write a “here comes 2011” post for weeks now; I guess late is better than never. Most of what I have to say has been said in one place or another.
I’m optimistic about 2011 for the Red Sox, but I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t worried about the pitching staff. I read a provocative question regarding the Sox staff somewhere this Spring: “Is the Red Sox staff good, or merely deep?” It strikes me as a legitimate question.
#1: Sure, Lester is an ace. No questions there.
#2: Buchholz is the poster child for sabermetric regression. Virtually every advanced metric last year (especially BABIP, xFIP, K/BB. K/9and strand rate) suggests that Buchholz was exceptionally lucky, and that his 2.33 ERA was something of a mirage. He won’t suddenly sink, but don’t be surprised to see an ERA closer to 4.00 than 3.00 this year. That’s good, not great.
#3: Beckett. Sigh. Entering the first year of a 4 year, 60 million dollar extension, one really has to wonder how much Beckett has left in the tank. This spring was not reassuring. When healthy, Beckett has a wicked curve and a nasty fastball. When not, his back injury flattens out both pitches and wrecks his control. Fingers crossed that we get more Dr. Beckett, and less Mr. Hyde.
#4: Lackey. I wasn’t a big fan of this signing last season, and I wasn’t surprised to see Lackey put up mediocre numbers last season. The guy is a horse, and he’g likely going to pitch his 200 innings. But they won’t be great innings–expect another 4.50 ERA.
#5: Dice-k? Wake? Doubrount? Player to be named later? Its hard to guess who will finish the year as the #5. Certainly, Dice “I can’t throw a ******* strike” K will be in line for the job, given his $10 million salary.
The bullpen should be outstanding. Any potential struggles by Papelbon should be absorbed by Bard (who will certainly be the closer after Papelbon departs for the Yankees this offseason). Jenks and Wheeler give nice 7th and 8th inning depth. I am a bit surprised that perennial prospect Michael Bowden didn’t make the team.
Obviously, this offense is ungodly. The Sox boast a potential all-time 1-6 with Ellsbury, Pedroia, Crawford, Youkilis, Gonzalez, and Ortiz. I mean, JD Drew isn’t an all-star anymore, but its pretty scary when he’s your #7. The Sox will score runs. And, assuming Youkilis holds up at third (and I think he’ll be ok in terms of zone rating), they can field the ball, too.
The big question for me centers around Josh Beckett. I think that will determine whether the Red Sox win 95 games (and perhaps the division) or 90 games (and perhaps miss the playoffs).
The Yankees figure to be very good. There offense might come down a bit (Jeter, A-Rod, and Posada are all getting older), but I think their gamble on veteran, back-end starters is likely to pay off. I figure the Yanks can win 95 games.
I think the Rays are in trouble. Yes, they have the best starting pitching in the loaded AL East. And, yes, traditionally starting pitching wins in the regular season. But the AL East is a different beast–and all the other teams have very strong lineups (even Baltimore). I’m not sure starting pitching is enough, especially since the Rays bullpen got raped in the off-season. You can’t seriously start Dan Johnson at first base and hope to compete in the AL East. I figure, given their pitching, the Rays will win 90 games.
The AL Central has a few top contenders, and a few real stinkers–so I wouldn’t be surprised if that division put up two 94 game winners. And, since I think all five AL East teams are strong, I would be surprised to see three teams equal the win totals of the top AL East teams last season. In other words, I’m not convinced that the wild card will come out of the East–it certainly could, and probably will, but I don’t think it is the given that it has been lately.
So, here’s to hoping that I’m wrong about the pitching staff. That Buchholz is an ace. That Beckett is still a potential 20 game winner. That the Lackey who lived in LA will finally arrive in Boston. That somebody translates “contract year” into Japanese. Because, otherwise, this great lineup might sit home and watch the playoffs. Again.
Lunch break on a Friday, so I’ll throw up a few responses to the early Sox season. Its too soon for any real reflection, so these come more in the form of questions.
Are You Nervous About Big Papi?
I am, and not necessarily because of his low starting numbers. I am more concerned about his lashing out at the media following questions on his low starting numbers. That lash out speaks to me–it tells me that the normally easy-going, gregarious, and confident Papi is sensitive. Last year, of course, Papi was one of the best hitters in the league after June first. He was also one of the worst before then. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait until June 1st this year.
Is That Josh Reddick I See?
So Cameron looks to be out for at least a week, if not three, and Ellsbury is still a bit dinged up. Bill Hall showed yesterday that center field is really not an option. It looks like the Sox will have to make a roster move with a call-up. Right now, Reddick, who was real hot in Spring Training, is struggling early–hitting only .137 (4 for 29). In my 2010 Sox Season Storylines, I mentioned that Reddick is likely to compete for Drew’s job after 2011, and I’m hoping, despite his slow AAA start, that he gets a chance to swing with the big club for a week or two.
Can Victor Martinez Catch?
I keep reminding myself that its very early. But I also questioned whether Martinez would be able to replace Varitek as the catcher for this staff. The early response seems to be “no”–but, of course, its way too early. Its early. Just keep telling myself that its early. Its early. Don’t compare their CERA from 2009 (which, by the way, is 5.22 vs 3.87)….
One more thing on Martinez–has anyone else noticed that, unlike Tek, he just can’t seem to keep his glove still? I want to start watching other big league catchers more closely to see if, like Martinez, they have difficulty offering an immobile target for pitchers.
It will be very interesting to see what happens with the rotation next week. Dice-K’s rehab starts in Pawtucket went very well (in 11 innings he hasn’t given up a run, walked only one, and struck out 5). I’d love to see the pitch count numbers on those games, given Dice-K’s efficiency problems. While I am a bit concerned to see he’s only struck out 5 in 11 innings against AAA competition, you have to wonder if he won’t get a shot in the rotation and send either Wakefield or Buchholz to the pen.
Well, so much for the lunch break. Enjoy the weekend.
I’m not necessarily a big fan of arm chair prognostication. I’m a much bigger fan of narration–and think that the most compelling sports analysis involves narrative arc. So, rather than offer a prediction, I’ll call attention to what I think are the most intriguing Red Sox story lines heading into the season.
1. John Lackey’s health
Of course, every team needs players to stay healthy. But the Red Sox are counting on their version of Maddux / Glavine / Smoltz this season–a three-headed pitching hydra poised to eat up innings and rack up wins. Lackey has missed 23% of his starts over the past two seasons. Put simply: missing 7 starts would be bad in a division that will likely come down to two or three games.
2. Can Defense Really Win?
This is a question posed by about every major media commentator [wsj.com]: the Red Sox’s turn toward defensive minded players. To separate myself a bit, I will point to the increased interest in defense in many of baseball’s “think tanks.” Seattle focused on defense as well this off-season–if the Sox and the Mariners do win their divisions, be prepared to become familiar with obscure terms such as RF and DE. I’ve been interested in these new defensive stats for quite awhile simply because they are so hard to quantify (and so few people will believe in the impact of something that cannot be measured). Rest assured, if the Sox win 100 games, you’ll see some theoretical-mathematical approaches to defense popping up on ESPN.
3. Does This Team Really Have a 4th Starter?
Those first three pitchers are incredible, and the team should benefit from increased defense. But can either Wakefield, Dice-K, or Buchholz maintain the Sox’s pitching advantage by consistently giving a 6 inning, 3 ER effort? The easy answer is “yes”–but last year’s struggles suggest that the Red Sox might actually have three number one pitchers and three number fives. I’m hoping Buchholz looks more like the pitcher of last September–a pitcher with top-of-the-rotation potential, than what he looked like at the beginning of last season or for most of this Spring.
4. Can This Team Score Runs?
This is an obvious question that has been covered elsewhere. Very simply:
- Which David Ortiz shows up? One who can hit .250 with 30 home runs or one who can hit .200 with 15 home runs? Or one that hits like Pat Burrell (ewww….)?
- Is Scutaro a one year wonder?
- Will Cameron have more hits or strikeouts? (Hint: the last time he had more hits than k’s was 2000).
- Can Drew repeat his stellar 2009?
- Will Ellsbury continue to grow or has he plateau-ed?
Ok, so I’m not optimistic about the answer to most of these questions…which leads to my next two storylines:
5. Will Josh Reddick Break Through this Season?
Only the die-hard Sox fans likely know who Reddick is. Last year, in Spring Training, Reddick hit .423 / .433 / .577. This season he followed it up with an even more amazing .404 / .426 / .702. That’s a 1.128 OPS from a 23 year old who can play all three positions. He had a rough trip up to the majors last September, going only 10 for 59 with 2 walks and 17 strikeouts. But, on the bright side, 6 of his 10 hits were for extra-bases. His major league service clock has been activated, so there’s really no reason to keep him in the minors any longer. He’s got a career .512 slugging in the minor leagues, and though he tends to swing (think Nomar), he could be the next big Red Sox wonder-kid. Here’s one prediction–if Ortiz struggles, then I think Lowell and Drew will platoon at DH while Reddick will come up from the Paw Sox to get a shot at RF everyday. We all know Drew is leaving after this season–Reddick is the best candidate to get his job. And getting Drew’s 15 million dollars off the book will give the Sox the option of…
6. Adrian Gonzalez (?)
Perhaps the Mauer contract will fool the Padres into thinking they can resign their local star. I doubt it. If anything, Mauer’s price tag probably emphasizes how little chance they have. The Red Sox gave Beltre a one-year deal in the likelihood that Gonzalez will be a free agent next year. Gonzalez at first, Youkilis at third… that would be quite nice. I have no idea if this will happen–but rest assured, if the offense problems in question 4 do materialize, then the Gonzalez to Boston rumors will continue to intensify.
7. Will Josh Bard Develop Into the Next Papelbon (Literally) ?
Ok here’s one from left field, so to speak. But Sox fans have to see the writing on the wall. All of the Sox home-grown wonder kids have extensions–Ellsbury, Pedroia, Lester, and Youkilis. Papelbon does not. And, if what I read is true, then its quite likely that he won’t. Papelbon wants to be the highest paid closer in baseball history, and the Yankees need a closer soon. Perfect match. The Red Sox will feel a lot more comfortable with the prospect of letting Papelbon go to free agency (Yankees, Yankees, Yankees) if and only if Bard realizes his 100 mph potential.
So there’s my 7 story lines for the season. I’ll add two minor league threads to pay attention to as well: the development of Lars Anderson (who, if he plays well, would be a nice chip in a possible Gonzalez trade) and shortstop Jose Iglesias.
Let the baseball begin.
As I left my last post: the Red Sox have a gluttony of quality pitching right now, and it will be interesting to me to see how they handle the staff down the stretch. After thinking about it long enough to write this post, I think the biggest question concerns Dice-K. It is an understatement to say he has not been pitching well. Given his poor performance and injury concerns, I don’t see any kind of trade. I find it highly unlikely that he would get a minor league assignment.
Here is the Sox pitching rotation as of today:
And their talented bullpen:
At this point I would like to see Penny get traded–not because I don’t think he can handle the 5 spot in the rotation, but because I think Buccholz has learned as much as he can in AAA. His performance the other night–particularly his first strike % and overall control, shows he is ready for the major leagues. Additionally, the Red Sox top pitching prospect not named Buchholz and Bard is having a great season for Pawtucket. Michael Bowden [16 starts, 81 innings, 3.32 ERA, 1.242 WHIP, 54 K for the Paw Sox] could likely come up and start if necessary.
But even if you do move Penny, that still leaves the question of what to do with Dice-K once he gets back from “injury.” A minor league rehab assignment should bide some time. I just can’t see sending Masterson down to AAA (and, yes, I’m assuming that the only way Dice-K pitches for this team again this season is in long relief). Masterson’s 4.84 ERA might not seem impressive, but one has to factor in two absolutely terrible performances as a starter (12 earned runs in 12.1 IP) and two out of the pen (5 ER in 2 IP, 5 ER in .1 IP). Take away those four performances, and the rest of his season is stellar: 24 games, 52.2 IP, 14 ER, for a 2.39 ERA. Yes, he has two bad games out of 26 appearances out of the pen, but remember he is the long reliever. Often his job is simply to chew innings when a starter has an off night. With Masterson in the game, more often than not, the Sox have a chance to stage a comeback in those games.
So, any Sox fans out there, any thoughts on Dice-K (I’m hoping for a reaaally long rehab assignment… you know, until 2011 long).