Note: The 2011 projections used throughout this piece come from The Marcel Forecasting System. Details about Marcel and its forecasts are available here.
It seems very difficult to lose more than 11 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) between two players (Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre) and improve your team, but that’s what the 2011 Boston Red Sox are hoping to do. Theo Epstein’s acquisitions of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford dominated the offseason and have talking heads heralding the Boston Red Sox as MLB royalty. Are we experiencing the New England media bias (read: Bristol, CT) or are the Red Sox really this good?
Most people identify Boston’s starting rotation as the biggest question mark within the team. In my opinion, the characterization of this group as a weakness is fair only in comparison to the rest of the roster (hitters and bullpen).
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Jon Lester is an elite pitcher with as good a chance as anyone else to win the 2011 Cy Young. Clay Buchholz emerged last year as Boston’s second best pitcher and many people feel as if he has an opportunity to take another step forward this year. I would be very cautious in this regard. Buchholz outperformed his peripherals last year with a 2.33 ERA and 3.61 FIP. Specifically, Buchholz needs to limit his high 3.49 BB/9 rates or increase his low 6.22 K/9 rates to prevent a step backward. For the same reasons I would not be overly concerned about John Lackey’s “down” 2010 season. Last year all Lackey did was put up a 4.0 WAR (31st in the majors) and improve his K/9 and BB/9 rates throughout the season. His FIP from June on (by month) was 3.36, 3.60, 3.74, 2.78. There’s reason to expect better things from him in 2011. Josh Beckett is another issue. While Beckett’s 2010 FIP of 4.54 should have led to a better ERA than his horrendous 5.78 mark, he is still an aging and injury prone pitcher with an increasing BB/9 rate and decreasing K/9 rate. Also, Beckett’s 2010 contract extension will make any of his poor performances in 2011 even more frustrating. This leaves only the much maligned Daisuke Matsuzaka. Matsuzaka’s 2010 4.69 ERA and 4.33 BB/9 rate is not what the Red Sox anticipated when they paid $51 million for the rights to negotiate his MLB contract in 2006. As a result, its become very posh in Boston to loudly mock him. Still, he is an average to above average fifth starter (4.05 FIP and 7.79 K/9 rate in 2010) and rounds out a rotation that is above average in the American League.
Let’s move to the bullpen, one that seems built specifically to eliminate opponent right-handed hitting from the late innings.
|Name||Handedness||Proj. ERA||Proj. WHIP|
The world’s most attractive former closer, Bobby Jenks, and ex-Tampa Bay Ray, Dan Wheeler, join Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon as the elite Boston relief arms. The Red Sox will need another lefty besides Okajima and presumably will find one in spring training or once the season begins. Ultimately, this bullpen will create a very strange situation where Papelbon could lead the American League in saves as the third-best arm in his own bullpen (behind Bard and Wheeler). It will be interesting to see if the situation creates any kind of tension throughout the season. Tension (real or media-manufactured) aside, this should be one of the better bullpens in baseball.
|Name||Position||Proj. AVG||Proj. OBP||Proj. SLG|
While Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez (12.2 WAR in 2010) are better than the Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre (11.1 WAR in 2010), the difference is only 1.1 WAR. Instead, the biggest advantages the 2011 Red Sox may have over their 2010 squad are a healthy Kevin Youkilis and a healthy Dustin Pedroia. Both players are elite players at their position. If they are both capable of playing at least 150 games, the 2011 Red Sox will see a marked improvement over last year. In 2009 the two combined to post a 10.9 WAR in contrast to the 7.5 WAR they achieved cumulatively in 2010.
Its not all rosy though, there is uncertainty at the bottom of the order. Marco Scutaro‘s numbers were down from his 2009 levels, and his Marcel projection shows little reason to expect any improvement. However, Boston has a replacement for Scutaro in Jed Lowrie who at one point in the minors was a more highly touted prospect than Pedroia. More glaring is Boston’s current situation at catcher. If Jarrod Saltalamacchia is not a viable option then, based on the current roster, Jason Varitek will become the Red Sox everyday catcher. Marcel projects Varitek for a (.216/.299/.368) triple slash and that won’t be good for anybody. Still, Scutaro and Salty’s projections reflect those of league average players at SS and C and the above lineup is absolutely loaded two through six. Just as importantly, the defense includes elite players at CF, LF, 1B, and an above average defenders at 2B and 3B.
Overall, the 2011 Red Sox deserve their spot as favorites. Anything can happen in the playoffs where the small sample sizes hurt the chances of the most talented teams winning, but the Boston Red Sox would be my pick as the 2011 MLB World Series Champion.