Hot Stove 2010: So where do we stand?


Yesterday was like a whirlwind, as the Red Sox pounced on two veteran free agents in one afternoon. Seemingly out of nowhere, they signed both SP John Lackey and OF Mike Cameron. Lackey is a workhorse who has learned how to pitch well, despite losing ground in some areas, such as batter contact rate. He pounds the corners with a heavy fastball and features a knee-buckling curveball. With his knowledge of pitching plus his large frame, he figures to age pretty well; that must be why the Sox were willing to go five years with him.

As for Cameron, he’s a patient power hitter who has learned what he can and can’t do at this level. He won’t hit for much average, but gets on base enough and hits with enough power to make him above average at the plate. In addition to that, Cameron brings with him several Gold Gloves in centerfield, and he can still go get it, despite being 37 years old. He’s a good addition if he stays healthy and avoids any rapid decline.

In case you’re wondering about the timing of these moves, it might have something to do with the 8-year offer the Cardinals reportedly made to Matt Holliday. The Sox wanted to be in on him, but they’re not paying crazy money for a less-than-HOF-type player. Boston was obviously not ready to go much beyond their initial offer to Jason Bay, and once the Cardinals made their offer, they moved on to the next best free agent to improve the team, then opted for Cameron to fill the void in the outfield.

Now that the blueprint for 2010 is falling into place, we can examine where we stand, to see what else needs to be addressed this offseason.

Offense
Losing Bay and Mike Lowell will hurt the offense, no doubt about that. But there are several mitigating factors that might help it hurt a bit less:

  • Jason Varitek was the starting catcher for four months; now Victor Martinez is full-time at the position
  • Marco Scutaro replaces Nick Green and Jed Lowrie’s production at shortstop
  • David Ortiz hit .258/.350/.516 in the second half, suggesting the first half may have been a fluke

Last year we entered the year projected for 936 runs according to the Baseball Musings Lineup Analysis Tool. That’s ideal runs based on just the starting 9. We finished with 872 runs, 3rd in the AL. The previous year, we were also projected for 936 runs, and ended up with 845. Split the difference, and we might expect to actually score about 92% of whatever that ideal case is. Plugging in a projected lineup for 2010 gives me this:

Ellsbury
Pedroia
Martinez
Youkilis
Drew
Cameron
Ortiz
Kotchman
Scutaro

An average of 5.62 runs per game, or 910 for the season. Multiply by 0.92 factor, and we end up around 837 runs, which still would have been good for 3rd in the AL. Weaker, yes. But it’s not as bad as you may think.

This lineup has a lot of flexibility, and good backups means everybody stays fresh and at their best. And don’t forget, this offseason is not over yet. There may still be a bat coming to Boston.

Pitching
The current rotation of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Clay Buchholz is without equal in baseball. Tim Wakefield is number 6 of this group! That’s three 1A guys and two potential aces in the same rotation. Add to that a strong bullpen, and this team will be hard to score off of. Here are my projections for 2010:

Beckett 199.1 IP, 3.66 ERA
Lester 184.2 IP, 3.48 ERA
Lackey 179.1 IP, 4.09 ERA
Matsuzaka 140.2 IP, 4.27 ERA
Buchholz 126.1 IP, 4.53 ERA
Wakefield 152.1 IP, 4.41 ERA

The key number here is the number of innings accounted for here, 982.2 IP. You only need about 1000 IP in a whole season. That’s 440 earned runs for a 4.02 ERA. Unlike last year, there is a lot more stability and certainty with these guys. We probably still need to add one more depth guy, but this is an excellent group.

Papelbon 67 IP, 2.82 ERA
Okajima 62.1 IP, 3.54 ERA
Bard 49.1 IP, 3.75 ERA
Ramirez 70 IP, 3.59 ERA
Delcarmen 61.1 IP, 3.87 ERA
Atchison + others 150 IP, 5.50 ERA

Again, these are a lot of excellent arms in here, and a healthy starting rotation (cross those fingers) will mean no overwork and a very good 4.15 ERA from this group.

Put the two projections together, and a staff ERA of 4.07 sounds pretty darn good. That would have been good for 2nd in the AL last year.

Defense
Last year’s defense, with Bay and Lowell on the left side of the field, shouldn’t even compare to this year’s team, with the additions of Cameron and Scutaro, both strong defenders. It remains to be seen what else happens this offseason, but Kevin Youkilis can be about average at third, if not better. Improved defense should lead to more runs saved, which is better for the bottom line.

Overall
Speaking of the devil, what can we expect from a team that scores 837 runs and allows 709 runs? That’s a good run differential. We may see a Pythagorean record of 94-68 (0.582 winning percentage). That’s better than last year, and pretty close to Theo’s stated annual goal of 95 wins.

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