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.
Back in April, I wrote a list of Seven Red Sox Story Lines for 2010. Let’s see how they played out.
1. John Lackey‘s health
Lackey remained healthy all season, unfortunately those sub-par career numbers in Fenway Park weren’t just the result of a small sample size. Although, to be honest, his Home/Road split this year is nearly identical. You’ve got to wonder why Lackey put up the worst WHIP and K/9 of his career this year. Given that its the first year of a questionable contract, I am concerned. Let’s hope that uncharacteristically high BABIP is an aberration (especially on a team built for defense), and that he can knock a run of his 4.50 ERA next year. There is hope here, since his FIP is 3.88.
2. Can Defense Really Win?
OK, was that great defensive team ever on the field together? Ellsbury was out most of the year, as was Cameron. Fangraphs shows the Red Sox’s team defense numbers as mediocre–right in the middle of the league. Of course, the way this team hit for much of the season, they were able to win with offense. The loss of Youkilis (on top of Pedroia) is what really did this team in–they are 3 games over .500 without him.
3. Does This Team Really Have a 4th Starter?
Holy crap they do. Clay Buchholz has been the best starter on the team this year. I’m not sure who the #5 will be next year, but you have to feel good about a rotation of Lester, Buchholz, Beckett, Lackey, and any one else.
4. Can This Team Score Runs?
Here’s the questions I aksed in order:
- 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….)? Answer: The good Ortiz. Eventually. A big question for the Red Sox this off-season will be what to do with Papi. I’ll save that for another post.
- Is Scutaro a one year wonder?Answer: Yes. I wrote in another post that the Red Sox needed last year’s Scutaro–the one who walked 90 times to push his OBP to .379. They didn’t get that guy. Scutaro is back to his career averages this year, which means a .331 OBP.
- Will Cameron have more hits or strikeouts? (Hint: the last time he had more hits than k’s was 2000).Answer: 14 BB, 44 K’s, and only 48 games.
- Can Drew repeat his stellar 2009?
Answer: No. This is one of the worst seasons of Drew’s career–his OPS is below .800. Its too bad he’s slated to earn 15 million plus for one more year.
- Will Ellsbury continue to grow or has he plateau-ed?
Answer: Oh the injustice of it all.
5. Will Josh Reddick Break Through this Season?
I wrote this post after Reddick finished his second straight insane Spring Training. But that seems to be the only place that Reddick shines. Reddick struggled through a terrible season at Pawtucket and has a .630 OPS in 53 PA this season. We did have a few great call-ups this year: Darnell McDonald has a .779 OPS (that’s .011 less than Drew for about 14.5 million fewer dollars), and Daniel Nava and Ryan Kalish surprised in flashes. Any of those guys could be a 4th outfielder next season.
6. Adrian Gonzalez (?)
Who would have thought the Padres would be contending for a title this year? Gonzalez should be an MVP candidate, and the Red Sox will likely have to wait and see if the Padres give him the Mauer treatment this off-season.
7. Will Josh Bard Develop Into the Next Papelbon (Literally)?
I thought this was from left field, but I was right! Bard is every bit the stud he was advertised to be, and should be the closer opening day 2011. I don’t know if Paps will be traded or not, but Bard is clearly the future at the back of the Boston pen.