I’ve been wanting to write this one for over a week now, but haven’t found the time. Here’s a quick take.
Crawford is Over-paid
First, I was waiting all fall to see who would overpay for Crawford. I did not think it would be the Red Sox. Crawford is an athletic talent–but there is no way a player with an OPS under .900 should cross the 15 million a year mark. Especially not a 29 year old player built on speed with questionable career plate discipline.
Go look at what an exceptional speedster like Tim Raines did after his 29th birthday compared to before: from 1982 to 1988 Raines hit .306 / .392 / .447 with 75 SB, 90 BB’s, and 285 TB per 162 games. From 1989 to 1995, Raines dropped to .284 / .378 / .406 with 42 SB, 92 BB’s, and 246 TB per 162 games. Cutting off his shortened first year, from 2003 to 2010 Crawford compiled a .299 / .340 / .448 line with 56 SB, 40 BB’s, and 293 TB per 162 games.
My point in showing these numbers is two-fold–first, obviously, I expect that Crawford’s production, predicated on speed, will diminish as he crosses 30. Second, to show that Tim Raines‘ production was amplified by something that Crawford has never displayed–plate discipline. Even in his last two “big money” seasons, Crawford has only totaled 97 walks, while striking out 203 times. During the second half of his career, Raines never walked fewer than 61 times (and the 61 was in a strike-shortened 101 game 1994 campaign). Furthermore, during the second half of his career Raines never struck out more than 68 times and averaged only 62 k’s per 162 games (thus far, Crawford averages 102 k’s/162).
And, oh, by the way, does anyone think that Tim Raines was ever worth 20 million a season? Because that’s what we just paid Crawford. I’m not sure if I think Tim Raines is a better player than Crawford–but one can legitimately raise the question. And the very fact that you can entertain the question suggests the Red Sox made a big mistake (it also, I believe, suggests that Jacoby Ellsbury‘s long-term tenure with the Sox is in question, since the two are such similar players–but that’s left for another day, another post).
I’m a pretty big fan of Baseball Evalution’s Stat Geek Baseball–and they valued Crawford similar to Shane Victorino, projecting a contract of 5 years and 60 million. Everyone knew that he would get more than statistical value, but the Sox nearly doubled their projection. Boo.
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.