Division Preview: Boston Red Sox

David_Ortiz
Will Big Papi be able to stay healthy this year?

Leading up to Opening Day, we’ve been previewing the divisional rivals the Yankees will be competing with in 2013. Today, the Boston Red Sox:

2012 was a miserable season for the Red Sox as they went 69-93 – good for last place in the division. They had what looked like a talented team heading into the season, but things ended up going sour quickly. David Ortiz, the Sox’s best hitter, was limited to just 90 games and the team’s outfield was also decimated due to injuries to Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford. Both of these outfielders also fell well short of expectations even when they were on the field. Kevin Youkilis also battled both injuries and poor performance before being shipped away. Literally all of the team’s starting pitchers struggled as well: Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett, Felix Doubront, and Daisuke Matsuzaka all posted ERA’s north of 4.50. They tried moving top-notch set-up man Daniel Bard into the rotation and watched him fail miserably even upon returning him to the bullpen. Most of their bullpen pieces flopped as well. Most notably, Andrew Bailey hit the DL early on and never got things straightened out. The team basically folded in August by unloading Youkilis to the White Sox, as well as Crawford, Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Nick Punto to the Dodgers. One of the few bright spots was the emergence of rookie third baseman Will Middlebrooks.

A lot of the blame was placed on Bobby Valentine who took over as manager heading into the season. It’s impossible to know how much of this was his fault, but it’s worth noting that some of the players were verbal about their dislike of him. So it’s entirely possible that a divided clubhouse is partly to blame. Valentine’s fault or not, he had become a distraction and the team needed a change. John Farrell will take over as manager in 2013.

Notable New Faces

  • Ryan Dempster: The Red Sox inked the veteran Dempster to a 2-year deal this past offseason. After dominating with the Cubs at the start of last season, he came back to earth upon being traded to the Rangers at the deadline. Nonetheless, his peripherals remained solid. He’ll be 36 this year, so age is a bit of a concern. Otherwise, there’s little reason believe he won’t be the reliable Dempster we’ve seen for the past 5 seasons.
  • Shane Victorino: Victorino comes onboard following a somewhat disappointing year that started in Philadelphia and ended in LA with the Dodgers. His .310 wOBA and 94 wRC+ were career worsts. He looked particularly bad against right-handed pitching as he posted a dreadful .279 wOBA. Despite the lack of offense, he’s still a plus defender and a weapon on the bases: 39/45 in stolen base attempts. While he still possesses a centerfielder’s speed, he’ll slot into right in deference to Jacoby Ellsbury. He provides insurance in center in case Ellsbury misses time due to injury.
  • Mike Napoli: Napoli’s signing pretty bizarre. He originally agreed to a 3/$39MM deal before being diagnosed with avascular necrosis. The deal was restructured to be worth $5MM over one year with playing-time incentives. Obviously, the Red Sox believe the hip issue could prevent him from staying on the field. But if he does manage to stay healthy, this signing could be a steal for the Sox. The injury probably means that Napoli’s catching days are over barring emergency situations. He was pretty terrible defensively though, and the Red Sox didn’t really plan on using him there anyway. He’ll slot in as the everyday first baseman for now. A healthy Mike Napoli can certainly hit, but his health will be something to watch going forward.
  • Stephen Drew: Drew broke his ankle in 2011 and has been struggling to get his groove back since. He was a 5 win player in 2010 and was doing well in 2011 before the injury, but was all sorts of terrible last year. His defensive metrics have been all over the place in his career and the ankle injury certainly didn’t help his range at all. So he may be a liability in the field at shortstop at this point. To make matters worse, he’s dealing with a concussion and is questionable for the start of the season. There’s some obvious upside with Drew, but he’s fallen on some rough times recently.  
  • Jonny Gomes: Gomes can rake against lefties but tends struggle against right handed pitching. He’s pretty bad defensively as well. He posted a babip-fueled 142 wRC+ last year, but will certainly come back to earth in 2013.
  • Joel Hanrahan: Hanrahan was acquired along with Brock Holt for Mark Melancon and some fringy players: Jerry Sands, Ivan De Jesus Jr., and Stolmy Pimentel. Hanrahan can be a very good pitcher, but he walks lots of guys. He walked 14.2% of batters faced last year. He’s probably not much better than Melancon whose ERA was ballooned last year by a 59% strand rate.
  • Koji Uehara: Uehara has been great in a setup role with the Orioles and Rangers the past few years. He will certainly bolster the bullpen and will provide a safety net should Hanrahan allow too many walks as the team’s closer.
  • David Ross: Ross has been one of the best backup catchers in the game for years now. He looks to split time with Jarrod Saltalamacchia behind the plate. 
  • Mike Carp: He has a decent bat, but he’s nothing more than a backup 1B/OF.

Key Losses

  • Cody Ross: Ross had a very good season in 2012. He posted 2.4 WAR with a 113 wRC+. However, the addition of Victorino should more than make up for his loss.
  • James Loney: Other than plus defense at first, Loney doesn’t bring much to the table. Mike Napoli is a much, much better hitter. The Rays have a knack for picking up guys like this at the right time though, so a breakout this year wouldn’t surprise me.
  • Mark Melancon: As mentioned, he was dealt for Hanrahan. He’s a good bounce-back candidate, but was pretty terrible for the Sox in 2012.
  • Scott Atchison: Atchison somehow managed to pitch to a sparkling 1.58 ERA last year and nearly made the All Star team. His 3.11 SIERA indicates he’s bound to come back to earth. He also has a damaged ligament in his elbow and was only able to garner a minor league deal from the Mets.
  • Daisuke Matsuzaka: He’s really just a name at this point. He won’t be missed. 

Health

David Ortiz has been sidelined with a sore achilles and is likely to start the year on DL. He shouldn’t be out for more than a couple of weeks though. It seems like it’s always something with Big Papi, but he’s still one of the most feared hitters when he’s in the lineup. The Red Sox have more than enough outfield depth to allow Gomes to slot in at DH when needed.

As mentioned, Stephen Drew has been dealing with a concussion. Concussions are really unpredictable and often resurface. It seems like the Sox expect him back soon though.

Mike Napoli’s health will also be something to watch closely. I don’t think anybody really knows how his avascular necrosis will affect him this year. He’s been asymptomatic so far though. He could stay healthy all year and be a bargain signing.

Lefty relievers Craig Breslow and Franklin Morales are both doubtful for opening day meaning Andrew Miller will be the lone lefty out of the pen early on.

It will also be important to keep an eye on John Lackey who missed all of 2012 while recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Strengths

The Red Sox offense certainly looks to be dangerous. Baseball Prospectus predicts they will score 802 runs which ranks 3rd in all of baseball behind the Rangers and the Tigers. If they can all be in the lineup at the same time, Ortiz, Napoli, Pedroia, and Ellsbury set the foundation for a potent lineup. The Sox look to be particularly strong in the outfield. When Ortiz returns to his post at DH, they’ll have Ellsbury, Victorino, Gomes, Bradley, Ryan Sweeney, and Daniel Nava all in the outfield mix.

Weaknesses

The team’s primary weakness is their lack of infield depth. The backup infielders are Jose Iglasias, Pedro Ciriaco, and Brock Holt who are all basically replacement level players. It’s already looking like Drew might need to miss some time and third baseman Will Middlebrooks hasn’t been the epitome of health the last couple of years. These guys could end up being exposed in short order.

The back end of the rotation also has some question marks. Felix Doubront has tremendous stuff, but hasn’t been able to translate it into success in the big leagues. John Lackey is also huge question mark coming off of a horrendous 2011 and subsequent elbow surgery. There isn’t much behind these guys either. Franklin Morales will probably serve as a swingman this year. Otherwise, there are no real viable options.  Rubby De la Rosa and Allen Webster have potential, but probably need time to hone their skills in the minors.

Season Outlook

2013 will no doubt be an improvement over last year for the Red Sox. GM Ben Cherington was very proactive this offseason in improving the team which will certainly give them a boost. It’s also fair to expect bounce back years from much of the roster. Guys like Lester, Buccholz, Ellsbury, and even Dustin Pedroia will likely improve on last year’s performances. John Lackey will also be back in the mix after missing all of last season due to Tommy John surgery and should provide at least some value. Lastly, outfield prospect Jackie Bradley has made lots of noise this spring and might even make the team out of camp. Although he’s starting to get a bit overhyped, he’ll make an impact sooner rather than later. Things are looking up in Boston, but it’s still unclear if they’ll be able to compete with the dominant forces in the AL East. As with any team, a lot of their success will depend on health. They have several injury-prone hitters who will need to stay relatively healthy in order for this team to eclipse the .500 mark. At worst, they’ll probably finish in 4th place ahead of the Orioles. They should remain competitive with the Yankees, Rays, and Blue Jays, but are probably the least likely to make the playoffs out of those 4 teams.

Photo By UCinternational [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

About Chris

Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, and is an occasional user of the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell
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