10-6-2011: The year that was

Alright, now that the initial sting has worn off a bit, I can go back and actually try to analyze this past season with some objectivity. We’ll cover our predictions, what went right and what went wrong.

First up, we predicted that the Sox would take the division with 92 wins. While the win figure was not off by much, the Yankees took it with 97 wins (not 90), and of course the Rays edged us out in the final game of the season with 91 wins (not 83). We also had Baltimore with 79 wins and Toronto at 76. Oops.

OFFENSE

We projected Boston to be 2nd best in the AL East at 820 runs behind New York’s 830 runs. In actuality, we led all of baseball by scoring 875 runs compared to 867 for the pinstripes.

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9-22-2011 Link: A defense of Theo Epstein

For all of you who are laying the blame for our September meltdown squarely at Theo Epstein’s feet: Brian MacPherson of the ProJo points out that the injuries we’ve sustained to the rotation this year would have been devastating for any club. The fact that we’re still the favorites for the wild card is pretty impressive.

I’m not saying that Epstein is free from blame, not at all. But who could have foreseen the loss/implosion of 60% of our starting five? In my opinion, going into the season with Tim Wakefield, Andrew Miller, Alfredo Aceves, and Felix Doubront as depth starters was not unreasonable. They went out and got Kevin Millwood and Erik Bedard, but I think the front office could have done more to shore up the rotation, once they realized how bleak the situation was getting to be.

And don’t forget the devastating losses of Rich Hill and Bobby Jenks too. This bullpen went from being a real strength to a weakness pretty quickly with the loss of these two. Matt Albers and Daniel Bard are getting overexposed because they haven’t been there, and Dan Wheeler hasn’t been effective.

6-2-2011: May wrapup, a great month

The month of May was a good one for the Sox, a really good one. They began the month at just 11-15 on the year, scraping the bottom of the division. The offense was barely average, and the pitching was decent but inconsistent. What a difference a month makes. Now Boston sits at 30-26 on the year, and is in second place, just two games back of the Yankees, despite the recent three-game sweep at the hands of the ChiSox. What have been the keys to this turnaround?

Offense

The Red Sox offense was the most potent in the American League in May, and not by a little. Putting up 126 runs in 29 games (5.38 runs/game) is very impressive by 2011 offensive standards, where league average is just 4.30 runs/game. Just a year ago, the average was 4.45 runs/game, and the year before that, it was 4.82 runs/game. So you probably have to kind of mentally add a quarter to a half run per game onto that figure if you want to compare with previous years.

Month R/G Avg OBP SLG BABIP wOBA BB% K%
April 4.11 0.243 0.331 0.380 0.283 0.319 10.9 21.1
May 5.38 0.287 0.349 0.472 0.317 0.361 7.9 18.4

As a team, the Red Sox put up a .287/.349/.472 slash line and a .361 wOBA (second was the Yankees at .340) and were about 26 percent better than the average AL offense. Looking at the walk and strikeout rates, it looks like the Sox as a team got more aggressive, and it’s been paying off. also, the power is back on. They hit the most doubles with 61 and tied with New York for first with 39 HRs this month. Even the running game got started (along with Carl Crawford), as the Sox swiped 28 bases in May. Some of this extra production comes from that high .317 BABIP in May. With league average at .286 on the year, that’s going to fall back to earth a bit. Still, this offense has moved up to fourth on the year and has the potential to keep pushing up the ranks.

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5-17-2011: What we know about our pitchers by now

While several hitting statistics are starting to stabilize by this point in the season, pitching stats take quite a bit longer to mean something. At 150 batters faced, you can reference strikeout rate, GB rate and line drive rate, and at 200 batters faced, you can talk about fly ball rate and FB/GB ratio. Here’s a look at these numbers from our rotation:

2011 2010
Name BF K% GB% LD% FB% GB/FB BF K% GB% LD% FB% GB/FB
Lester 238 24.4% 55.3% 12.0% 32.7% 1.69 861 26.1% 53.6% 16.9% 29.6% 1.81
Buchholz 202 14.9% 47.0% 14.6% 38.4% 1.22 711 16.9% 50.8% 17.7% 31.5% 1.61
Beckett 195 25.1% 43.8% 16.4% 39.8% 1.10 577 20.1% 45.8% 19.0% 35.3% 1.30
Lackey 192 9.9% 33.6% 21.2% 45.2% 0.74 930 16.8% 45.6% 18.4% 36.0% 1.27
Matsuzaka 167 15.6% 31.6% 12.8% 55.6% 0.57 664 20.0% 33.0% 21.6% 45.5% 0.73
Wakefield 99 11.1% 37.5% 16.3% 46.3% 0.81 610 13.8% 37.0% 16.5% 46.6% 0.79

You can see that Jon Lester is his same dominant self, and that he is clearly the ace of this staff, boasting very high strikeout and ground ball rates. Josh Beckett is fully healthy, striking out hitters at the highest rate in the rotation and a lower line drive rate. Clay Buchholz is very solid in these peripherals, and so we should continue to see solid starts out of him, though he won’t likely reproduce that sub-3.00 ERA from last season.

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5-9-2011: The rebuilt bullpen, a work in progress

After one month, it seems that everything about the sub-.500 Red Sox is unsatisfactory. I read this article the other day impugning our new bullpen, and I’ll admit there have been some really bad moments, but has it really been that bad?

As a group, the bullpen has an ERA of 4.89 thus far, which ranks as the 4th-worst bullpen in the AL and 6th-worst figure in all of baseball. But if you take a closer look at the figures, they have not pitched that badly. Rather, their 7.37 K/9 and 0.86 HR/9 rank solidly in the middle, and they’ve walked very few batters at 3.17 BB/9. This translates into a much better 3.74 FIP and 3.78 xFIP (corrected for HR luck), which puts them right in the middle of the pack. Considering that they pitch in the uber-talented AL East, I’d say that’s not a bad performance at all. I’d be happy to get that kind of performance from them for the year.

One glaring weakness has been their inability to prevent runners from scoring, as shown by their 64.6 LOB%, fourth-worst in MLB behind the White Sox, Astros, and Mariners. You could chalk a lot of that up to bad luck, but whatever the reason, once guys get on base, they tend to score more often against the Sox than other teams.

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4-8-2011: Yankees series predictions, Aceves called up

If there was any inkling of overconfidence by these Red Sox coming into the 2011 season, it’s gone now. The defensive and baserunning miscues we saw this week showed a general lack of focus and preparedness, and those need to be dealt with, NOW. Our boys limp into Boston 0-6 on the year, having been swept in embarrassing fashion by the Rangers, and now even the rebuilding Indians at the Jake. I don’t think any less of this team talent-wise, but I do think that there’s a comfort level which has to be reached, and it will only happen after we win our first game.

Game 1: Phil Hughes vs. John Lackey

Normally, I’d say that Hughes is a better pitcher, but you have to take into account the beating that he took in his first start against Detroit. Don’t discount the fact that his fastball was clocking in at only 89 mph, whereas it’s normally about 3-4 mph faster. I think Lackey surprises us with a pretty solid outing (say 2-3 runs over 6 innings) and we finally win our first game here.

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3-21-2011: The bullpen shakeout

On a team with few questions, the newly rebuilt bullpen has gotten the most attention this spring. Let’s take a look at what we’ve got and what we expect to happen with the roster.

The Locks

Those guaranteed a job include Jonathan Papelbon (closer), Daniel Bard (setup) and Bobby Jenks (setup). Having a top three like this really makes this a formidable bullpen, at least against righties. Dan Wheeler (bridge) will almost certainly be part of this bullpen, so that leaves only 2 spots, really. Should the Sox go with four starters to open the year, I could see them carrying one more reliever to begin.

The Other Contenders

What we really need is for one of the lefties to come out and dominate again. You would think that Hideki Okajima would be guaranteed a spot, being a lefty with experience pitching for the Sox, but actually, the equation is not that simple. Okajima’s contract has a clause in it that allows the Sox to send him to the minors, and with the way Dennys Reyes is throwing, I expect them to exercise it. Reyes is also out of options, which makes it almost certain that if it comes down to the two of them, it’ll be Reyes. Felix Doubront is just as good, if not better than these two, but the Sox will start him at Pawtucket, most likely as a starter, this season.

Of the remaining righties, you’ve got a ton of possibles, including Scott Atchison, Matt Albers, Alfredo Aceves, and Michael Bowden. Each of these guys has a different advantage. Atchison is the vet from last year, who is the most known quantity, while Albers has the out-of-options advantage. Aceves and Bowden can be swing men and give you multiple innings, with Aceves having better stuff and Bowden being the long-time Sox farmhand deserving of a shot. I’ve listed these guys in probable order here.

1-2-2011: Okajima signs, bullpen and roster complete

With the signing of Hideki Okajima over the weekend, the Red Sox bullpen makeover is complete and we are looking at a full 40-man and a filled-out active roster.

Here’s what our projections see for this bullpen going forward:

Name IP K/9 BB/9 ERA
Papelbon 68.2 9.9 2.9 2.95
Doubront 38.2 8.5 3.8 3.57
Jenks 55.1 8.3 3.1 3.59
Bard 60.2 9.1 3.9 3.61
Miller 38.0 7.8 3.9 3.77
Okajima 57.0 7.9 3.5 3.85
Wheeler 57.1 7.9 3.0 4.09
Albers 34.0 6.6 4.4 4.50
Hill 23.1 8.0 5.4 5.21

Not bad, Mr. Epstein, not bad at all. The projections see Jonathan Papelbon returning to form this season. His ERA was high, but his peripherals were still solid last season, as shown by his 3.51 FIP and 3.72 xFIP last season. As long as he can avoid the DL, I think this is a distinct possibility.

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Links 12-15-2010: Guerrier to LAD, Albers, ticket$, WAR expectations, more

Now that Scott Downs has signed with the Halos and Matt Guerrier with the Dodgers, the Red Sox are hesitant to go three years with any of the remaining relievers, hence the lull. They are supposedly adding hard-throwing righty Matt Albers, who has never done well in the ERA department, but has a good sinker and pitched very well towards the end of last season. Hey, at least it’s a start.

The two big signings last week accomplished what ownership set out to do, as the Red Sox sold 238,818 tickets last weekend. That’s almost back up to post-2007 World Series level. Wow.

The Phillies are pretty darn good now that Cliff Lee is in the fold. Dave Cameron does the WAR analysis, and says that he expects the Red Sox to be right up there as a team that’s expected to win 98 games. “Expected” is the key word here.

 

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