In order to project the team’s performance this year, I’m going to look at each pitcher’s projections and trends for the coming year and use that to generate an estimated runs given up total.
Defense should be roughly the same, given that we basically have the whole starting lineup back; substituting Jacoby Ellsbury for Coco Crisp will probably cost us a few runs defensively in the short run, but I don’t expect that to be incredibly significant.
Rotation (listed in order of appearance)
1. Josh Beckett (200 IP, 3.80 ERA)
Beckett is a known commodity now, though I am allowing for one avulsion or blister incident during 2008 in his innings count. He’ll come back to earth in terms of more walks issued and probably a few more HRs this season, but everything else looks sustainable for this 27-year old. Chalk up 88 runs for the bad guys with this kind of performance.
2. Daisuke Matsuzaka (210 IP, 3.75 ERA)
The loss of Schilling means a huge burden lands on the shoulders of this man. If he’s not ready to be our #2, the Sox will be in trouble early on. But as I’ve said, I’m confident that he’s up to the task. I’m not saying he’ll be good all season; I expect a hot streak around June and a swoon in either May or September. But an ERA this low would translate into just 90 runs for the opposition.
3. Tim Wakefield (160 IP, 4.80 ERA)
A good year for Wakefield would be about 180 IP, but the man’s going to be 41 this season; there’s a good chance he’ll miss bits of the season here and there. At just below league average, that’s worth about 90 runs here.
4. Julian Tavarez (90 IP, 5.15 ERA)
Given the Sox’ penchant for going with what’s proven, even if it’s proven to be just mediocre at best, Tavarez should get a few starts early on. The man’s just not very good as a starter, with a 5.08 ERA lifetime. This will cost approximately 56 runs.
5. Jon Lester (110 IP, 4.85 ERA)
Lester will be given a shot, and no one knows how he’ll respond. All indications are that he’s stronger this year, but is he mentally ready to take the ball every 5th day? Lester threw about 153 innings total last year between Triple-A and the bigs, so he’ll likely throw about 170-180 this year, and much of that split will be determined by how he does early on. His K rate and BB rates improved last season over 2006, so I look for that trend to continue. This means about 62 runs here.
6. Bartolo Colon (60 IP, 5.00 ERA)
Colon had the best K rate in 2007 he’s had in years, but it still wasn’t that great. His control slipped, though he suffered from a .364 BABIP, which should come back down slightly. When the Sox deem him ready enough, and when they’ve had enough of Tavarez, they’ll call on Colon, probably around mid-May. My guess is that he won’t show enough to stick, and they’ll move on to Buchholz in early June. 35 runs against.
7. Clay Buchholz (110 IP, 4.30 ERA)
They’re going to want to limit his exposure this season, but the need for starting pitching won’t let them. Buchholz appears ready to be very solid, if not spectacular at times. 55 runs against.
8. Curt Schilling (40 IP, 4.75 ERA)
This could end up being 40 innings, or it could very easily end up being zero. The Sox will need to supplement with starts from Devern Hansack, David Pauley or Kyle Snyder if Schilling is out. Or they could look to trade for a pitcher at the deadline. 23 runs against.
Closer. Jonathan Papelbon (60 IP, 2.80 ERA)
How do you predict an ERA for a guy who keeps posting such ridiculous numbers? You don’t. But I’ll just be conservative here and say he’ll post the highest ERA so far in his Major League career this year. 20 runs.
Setup. Hideki Okajima (65 IP, 3.50 ERA)
He can’t be amazing two years in a row, can he? Actually, I think he can. But again, conservatism is the rule here. 26 runs against.
Setup. Manny Delcarmen (60 IP, 3.20 ERA)
The Sox look ready to trust him in higher-leverage situations this year, and he’ll end up in this role by mid-season. If he just keeps within himself and lets his curveball work its magic, he’ll allow just 23 runs this year.
7th inning. Mike Timlin (50 IP, 4.40 ERA)
He’ll still throw plenty of valuable innings this year, but all the secondary stats suggest that we should be getting the fork ready. 26 runs scored on him.
7th inning. Javier Lopez (40 IP, 3.50 ERA)
JLo will redeem himself as a LOOGY this year, but righties will hit much better than they did against him in 2007 (.176/.300/.265). 16 runs allowed.
Long man. Kyle Snyder (60 IP, 4.65 ERA)
I like Snyder a lot, but last year was his best ever, so I think a projection like this is safe. Like I said above, I wouldn’t be surprised if he got a couple of spot starts here and there in his swingman role, upping his innings over last year. Will cost us 32 runs.
Various callups (120 IP, 4.70 ERA)
I didn’t realize how many more innings the Sox pen would have to make up to match last year. I’m thinking some combination of Bryan Corey, Hansack, possibly even Craig Hansen or Bryce Cox. About 65 runs against.
Totaling up the runs here, I get 707 runs scored against us (it was 657 last season). Combined with our offensive projections for 2008, which I had at 935 runs, that’s a very strong differential of 228 runs, even better than last year’s gap of 210. The Pythagorean W-L for that kind of performance would be 103 wins. Whew. Gotta like that.
Of course, this all hinges on Beckett and Matsuzaka being all they can be (as well as the offense), and Wakefield being healthy enough to make most of his starts. One observation: the bullpen depth could be made slightly better, in case of injuries.
Given all the caveats here, I’m comfortable penciling the Sox in for 95 wins and a playoff berth.