So I am ready to jump right back into baseball. With Spring Training upon us, I’ve spent a few lunches looking at the Sox’s major off-season moves. The questions surrounding the Red Sox this season focus on whether this team has enough offensive firepower to win games. I decided to look at the changes one at a time to see how they break down.
Lowell Out, Beltre In
When I first heard about this move, I was less than pleased. Looking at the numbers, I’m still not happy. Beltre could be mediocre at best, and threatens to be an absolute disaster. Granted, his dismal 2009 numbers were impaired by serious injuries. But no one is sure he is completely recovered from those injuries. Even if he returns to “Seattle years” form, the Red Sox’s starting third baseman wouldn’t fit the patient, grinding line-up they have assembled. In the past ten seasons, Beltre walked 50 times only once; over the same span, Lowell has crossed 50 walks 5 times. Beltre’s career 162 game average BB:K ration is 46:104; he strikes out twice as often as he walks. Lowell’s? 56:83. Additionally, Lowell has near equal power (23 HR per 162 games vs. Beltre’s 24) and a much better career OBP (.343 vs .325).
Beltre was the quintessential one-year wonder, he has done nothing of significance since his “incredible” (“grumble, grumble”) 2006 campaign. His OPS+ since then? 93, 105, 112, 108, 88. Remember that an OPS+ of 100 represents an average, replacement level player.
I get that most feel Lowell has lost his defensive prowess since the hip injury and cannot be counted to play more than 120 games. But Red Sox fans should be weary that Adrian Beltre might turn into the next Edgar Renteria.
Bay Out, Cameron In
I admit that when I first heard Cameron was coming aboard, all I could hear was the whiff of his bat. But, looking closely at the numbers, replacing Bay with Cameron isn’t quite as devastating as I initially thought. Notice I said “quite as.”
Unlike Beltre, Cameron fits the Sox’s philosophy. He is a grinder whose 4.05 pitches/plate appearance tops Bay’s 3.95 (.10 might seem insignificant, but its not). Further, Cameron’s career 162 game average BB:K ratio is almost equal to Bay’s: 75 :156 to 86:157. I never realized how often Bay strikes out; adding Cameron to the line-up doesn’t really increase the number of K’s.
Unfortunately, Cameron’s career OBP% is .40 lower than Bay’s (a mediocre .340 versus Bay’s steadily productive .376) and he average 10 fewer home runs per 162 games (23 vs 33). As with Beltre, Cameron’s signing has been discussed in defensive terms, but he’ll need to make a whole pile of amazing plays (i.e., “there’s no way Jason Bay gets to that ball”) to begin to make up for the impending drop in outfield offensive production.
Scutaro In, Maybe?
Given the sorry shape of the shortstop position in Boston the past few seasons, there really isn’t anyone to whom Scutaro can compare. Though the young Jed Lowrie had an impressive rookie campaign (including 4.06 pitches/per plate appearance), I don’t think anyone considers him a candidate for a full-time position. But the reason I tag a “maybe” onto Scutaro is that he is coming off of the proverbial career season. I know this sounds ridiculously reductive and preposterous, but I think a Red Sox post-season berth can be directly tied to Scutaro walking at least 85 times next season. Yeah, I think its that simple–and that it could be a significant challenge.
Consider that last season was the first time in Scutaro’s 8 year career that he managed to walk more than 57 times, walking 90 times in 680 plate appearances. His career OBP coming into last season was .325. Last season? .379. Given that his batting average showed only a modest increase last season (up to .282 from a career average of .262), that means most of his offensive production came from patience at the plate. Scutaro never had an OPS+ over 100 in his career–he’s always been a below-average player. Now he’s being asked to repeat last season’s OPS+ of 111, 4.06 pitches/plate appearance performance.
Consider too that Scutaro hit 2nd all season for the Jay’s last year. A major part of his challenge will be to maintain the same plate discipline while hitting 7th, 8th or 9th in the order. He won’t be seeing as many good pitches lower in the order without the great bats surrounding him. I guess if Ellsbury struggles or if the top of the order suffers a key injury Scutaro could find his way higher in the order. But he better be ready to get his first at bat in the third inning some nights.
Of course, if the Sox do make the playoffs, it won’t be solely because of Scutaro’s patience at the plate. But I would be very surprised is Scutaro returned to pre-2009 form and the Red Sox still mustered enough offense to make the post-season.
And, unlike our other candidates, Scutaro is not an upgrade in the field. Throughout his career, his defensive numbers have been better at second base. So, on top of having to repeat incredible offensive spikes in production, he has the challenge of playing (slightly) out of position.
Victor Martinez In All Year
I think I have been a bit gloomy thus far, so I’ll end on a [slightly] positive note. The Red Sox will have Victor Martinez for an entire season. But Martinez is not a top of the line slugger, as much as he is a grinding, productive catcher (an OBP of .372 versus a SLUG of .465). Though his power number check in at just 21 HR per 162 games, he has grown more patient at the plate with every season, finishing last year with a 75:74 BB:K ratio and 4.05 pitches/per plate appearance (up from career averages of 67:79 and 3.80).
Over all, I think the Red Sox have taken a small step back offensively. How small a step will be in part up to David Ortiz, but I’ll leave that pondering for a future post. In concluding this one, I’ll say that the upcoming season is definitely going to be less about fireworks and more about sparks. Sparks grinding off the wheel.
Ah, blog. I haven’t been here in awhile. But, now that the season ended mercifully (i.e., without a loss to the Yankees), I thought I would throw up a quick post. I actually put this on my regular blog, and then decided to copy it here.
As a Boston/New England sports fan, the first decade of the new century went rather well. Perhaps too well. Our cultural ethos is constructed around losing and misfortune. Might it be that things are returning to normal?
This was an odd year for the Red Sox. While the offense struggled mightily, and while the pitching staff failed to live up to the lofty expectations, the Sox still made the playoffs. To lose in a sweep is a bit unexpected; to see Papelbon blow the save seems fitting for a season in which he, and other beloved veterans, struggled.
The Red Sox still have a very good collection of young players. The bloated contract of J.D. Drew will haunt them for at least one more year (two if Drew stays healthy). It will be interesting to see what happens with Jason Varitek and Jason Bay in the off-season. ESPN doesn’t have the CERA (catcher’s ERA) numbers for Martinez behind the plate, but I am going to guess its not as good as Varitek’s 3.87 (since the team ERA on the season is 4.35). It should not be overlooked that Martinez, and not Varitek, was catching yesterday as the Red Sox stellar, hard-throwing bullpen imploded. I was previously concerned about this.
Bay had a roller-coaster season. I imagine he is seeing dollar signs this off-season. The Yankees have a considerable amount of money rolling off the books this year. I still fully expect Carl Crawford to execute the one million dollar buyout on his contract to become a free agent. That will put Crawford, Bay, and Matt Holliday (ouch, that error hurt–I still think his numbers with St. Louis were an aberration–buyer beware with this guy) at the top of a talented group of free agent outfielders, that additionally includes Manny, a resurgent Abreu, Magglio Ordonez (injuries a factor here), and others. Most of the major markets–Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Dodgers (bye bye Manny?) will be potential buyers.
I have a feeling that the team will see a major shake-up this off-season: only time will tell if Varitek, Bay, Papelbon, or Mike Lowell returns next season. Papelbon in particular will be interesting to watch. The Red Sox still control him, but they have had difficulty coming to terms the past few seasons–and just barely avoided arbitration last year. I think part of the hesitation here is giving Papelbon, who has a chronic shoulder issue, a high-end long term deal. To avoid arbitration, and make the deal worthwhile for all sides, the contract would likely work out something like 32 million for 4 years (K-Rod got 37 million for 3 as an outright free agent). I had a feeling, when the Sox wouldn’t pull the trigger on the Halladay deal, that Bard was being groomed as a future closer. So, as much as I love the glare, I wonder how much longer Papelbon will be in Boston. Please note that my wondering has absolutely nothing to do with his performance yesterday. He lived dangerously at times this season, but is still a top closer. I just think, medically and economically, the Red Sox front office has showed hesitation to lock up Paps as they have locked up Pedroia, Youkilis, and Lester.
As to the Patriots, it is very hard for me to watch Tom Brady right now, if only because he set the bar so high. But his deep ball looks as accurate as JaMarcus Russell’s right now. I remember when Joe Montana returned from his elbow injury- though still great, he wasn’t Joe Montana. That’s how I feel watching Brady right now. Again, time will tell whether, like Donovan McNabb, he is able to recover from this injury or if, like Carson Palmer, Brady never quite returns to the level he was pre-injury.
Need talent? Don’t have anything to give up in trade? Talk to Pittsburgh!
The Red Sox stole another talented veteran from the Pirates today, acquiring the rights to defensively skilled first baseman Adam LaRoche for two minor league “prospects” (ahem). LaRoche has been in a terrible slump this month (he’s on my fantasy team–trust me, its been brutal) but is a notorious second half hitter; his second-half career OPS is over .125 higher than his first half OPS (.901 vs .773). LaRoche will face the added challenge of adjusting to American League pitching, which can be increasingly difficult for an at times contact challenged hitter such as LaRoche.
A few years ago the Pirates stole Freddie Sanchez from the Sox for a Jeff Suppan stretch run. But I think, between this year and last, we have evened the score.
This likely means I have to go and dump LaRoche from the fantasy team this afternoon, since he is essentially coming in as an insurance policy in case Lowell’s hip (or other unforeseen injury) causes a stint on the DL. A small loss for me, a nice gain for the Sox.