11-9-2011: Other areas of need and available free agents

Ben Cherington came out yesterday and suggested that the Red Sox were not likely to be big players on the free agent market this offseason. I think he’s being genuine, but even if they were, what good would it do them to come out and say that?

Here are the problem areas as I see them, and some free agent projections (all numbers assume a transition to the AL East).

1. Starting pitching

With so much money already committed to the rotation, I would be surprised if the Red Sox continued to throw money at this problem. Adding C.J. Wilson or Yu Darvish would be nice, but can we afford another $100M contract here, while our core players will be earning more and more every season? Signing a big arm to a long-term deal like that might mean saying goodbye to Jon Lester or Clay Buchholz once their current deals expire.

Name Age IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA WHIP
CJ Wilson 31 182.1 8.2 3.7 0.5 3.42 1.30
Roy Oswalt 34 161.6 7.1 2.4 0.9 3.93 1.30
Erik Bedard 33 64.2 8.7 3.5 1.0 3.94 1.36
Hiroki Kuroda 37 154.8 7.2 2.4 1.0 4.06 1.34
Mark Buehrle 33 189.1 4.9 2.1 0.9 4.10 1.39
Edwin Jackson 28 186.5 7.3 3.3 0.9 4.14 1.45
Freddy Garcia 35 109.2 6.1 2.7 1.0 4.27 1.40
Bartolo Colon 39 93.8 7.0 2.7 1.2 4.28 1.40
Javier Vazquez 35 167.3 8.0 2.7 1.3 4.41 1.33
Jeff Francis 31 123.2 5.6 2.4 0.9 4.58 1.46
Paul Maholm 30 161.2 5.5 3.2 0.9 4.68 1.54
Tim Wakefield 45 118.8 5.8 3.3 1.1 4.92 1.46

As you can see, bringing back Tim Wakefield really shouldn’t be an option; almost any free agent is likely to be better than him going forward. Erik Bedard has huge injury concerns, and that’s not what this staff needs. Hiroki Kuroda doesn’t seem likely to come out east. I think Roy Oswalt could be a fit if he’s willing to take a two-year deal at good money, and Buehrle would be a solid signing if we can get him for fewer than four years. Edwin Jackson scares me a little bit long-term, so I’d avoid offering him more than three years as well.

2. A closer/setup man (or two)

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11-1-2011: Replacing Big Papi

The two biggest expiring contracts we have to deal with this offseason are those of DH David Ortiz and closer Jonathan Papelbon. Even though we can’t imagine a Red Sox team without these two integral players, they are both Type A free agents. Letting them walk and signing a replacement would result in a net gain of one or two high draft picks, which is very tempting. Should they be replaced? Can they be replaced? And with whom should they be replaced are some of the biggest questions facing new GM Ben Cherington. Let’s look at the DH problem first. Paying less for a DH seems like a very good way to drop payroll, as no other team has been paying $12M/year for their DH (of course, no other team has been getting our production from the DH spot, either).

What will we be missing?

Ortiz has become THE definition of a prototypical designated hitter, producing a number of stellar seasons since being signed by Theo Epstein before the 2003 season. In his first 5 seasons with Boston, Big Papi produced slugging percentages around or exceeding .600, but has fallen to earth quite a bit since then. Entering his age 36 season, we face the tough choice of re-signing this face of the franchise, or possibly letting him go to a division rival.

Ortiz had quite a renaissance 2011, slashing .309/.398/.554 and smacking 29 home runs. He cut his strikeouts significantly, becoming a much more selective hitter in the process; he posted a career-best 83.3% contact rate. His .321 BABIP suggests that it wasn’t just lucky hits that inflated his numbers, but it was in large part actual performance. Even with the excellent year, here’s what we see for the aging slugger over the next three seasons:

Year AB HR RBI Avg OBP SLG wOBA wRAA
2012 543 27 97 0.266 0.354 0.488 0.374 29.9
2013 513 23 86 0.258 0.337 0.462 0.356 17.6
2014 475 19 74 0.249 0.320 0.434 0.336 6.0

Looking at these projections, you can see why a lot of people have been warning against anything longer than a two-year deal for Ortiz; it’s thought that he’s looking for three years. There’s a very good chance that his offensive value just crashes in 1-3 years, so I really would not sign him for more than two years plus maybe a team option. Read more of this post

10-13-2011: Some random thoughts on free agents

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to leave all this clubhouse talk behind and start thinking about next year. We’ve got a number of decisions to make on our own guys, and I’ve heard lots of names bandied about, which I’d like to weigh in on and discuss.

David Ortiz, DH (age 36 next year)

The guy has been great for us, and he had a wonderful bounceback year. I expect he’ll be wanting a three- or even four-year deal, but I would like to see the Sox spend no more than 2/20 on him if he stays. Is anyone convinced that he will definitely duplicate his numbers next year? How about in two years? Three? Given his age and his recent comments, maybe we SHOULD let him go, take our draft picks and let Kevin Youkilis DH. We can sign a stopgap third sacker and let him compete with Jed Lowrie/Mike Aviles for the job until Will Middlebrooks is ready.

C.J. Wilson, SP (age 31 next year)

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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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9-7-2011: Just how good are these prospects, anyway?

The Red Sox had a lot of their top prospects succumb to injury or slump in 2011, but not all the news is bad. Once these guys get up to the Double-A and Triple-A levels, it becomes possible to project what their batting lines might be based on their component rates (how often they walk, strike out, hit home runs, etc.).

Here’s a quick look at what we might get out of these guys next year, based on their track record so far (all numbers assume starting roles for the Red Sox next season, adjusted for Fenway Park).

Josh Reddick, RF (.261/.321/.433 with 35 doubles and 18 HR in 557 AB)

Reddick finally got healthy and got the chance to open some eyes this year with his bat, his glove and energetic play. While he had a great season, most of his batting average came from an unusually high rate of singles, as shown by his high-ish .329 BABIP. His projected 7.6 BB% and 20.9 K% rates for next year suggest that he might be on the cusp of a starting role. It’s worth noting that it won’t take much to better the .232/.304/.360 the Sox got out of their right fielders this season. I fully expect the Sox to give him a shot at the job in the offseason, but they should bring in a short-term veteran for him to compete with.

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8-10-2011: Bedard, Aviles and Fields

I’ve been away on vacation, so I just found out a few days ago about the deadline deals that were made. I was very pleased to see that we landed a starter with potential as well as a right-handed hitter off the bench.

SP Erik Bedard and OF Josh Fields for C Tim Federowicz, SP Stephen Fife, RP Juan Rodriguez, and Chih-Hsien Chiang

As I mentioned before, I thought the rotation was the area we needed to improve the most. It would have been ideal to land a quality pitcher without recurrent health issues, but those guys are simply not available unless you trade the farm for them. I was glad to see that we didn’t send any real top-tier talent anywhere in this deal. Other than that, Bedard is almost the ideal acquisition – an established (but not too old) AL pitcher who’s pitched extensively in the AL East, and he is a middle rotation guy who is capable of being much better than that at times. His contract is expiring, so the Sox have the option of re-signing him or possibly getting draft picks when he leaves. The only other thing he lacks besides health is playoff experience.

Josh Fields’ primary function is basically right-handed pop off the bench. He is also a warm body you can stick in the outfield corners. He provides some depth in case something happens to Darnell McDonald.

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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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5-10-2011: What we know so far about our Red Sox lineup

This year is just over one month old, but it seems like the Red Sox have been scuffling forever, doesn’t it? Besides that 10-day streak of pitching dominance, this year’s team just hasn’t felt like contenders to me. BUT small sample size, you say! Yes, I grant you that. There are certainly signs of hope. Carl Crawford is turning it on now, and Adrian Gonzalez’ power is showing up one month late. But when is it safe to say something according to the numbers we already have?

When stats start to mean something

Turns out sabermetricians have already gone and done the hard work for us. Here is a handy list of statistics and around how many plate appearances you need before they start to mean something. Given that most of our regulars have about 100-150 PA, that means we can only really draw meaningful conclusions about the following:

  • Swing rate (50 PA)
  • Contact rate (100 PA)
  • K rate, LD%, Pitches/PA (150 PA)

Not a whole lot to go on. But let’s do the exercise anyway:

2011 2010
Name PA Swing% K% Contact% LD% Pit/PA PA Swing% K% Contact% LD% Pit/PA
Pedroia 151 44.0 20.5 79.4 13.7 4.36 714* 39.7 7.2 93.0 20.0 3.96
Gonzalez 149 48.2 16.8 85.7 16.8 3.71 693 48.8 19.3 78.7 21.1 4.50
Ellsbury 140 44.7 22.5 84.3 20.4 3.79 693* 41.2 11.9 88.4 17.7 3.77
Crawford 136 47.7 18.8 83.3 15.9 3.76 663 51.1 17.3 82.8 16.5 3.75
Ortiz 131 43.4 14.2 81.7 20.4 4.23 606 44.5 28.0 75.8 17.3 4.37
Youkilis 128 35.9 30.7 78.5 21.1 4.63 435 38.5 18.5 87.0 16.3 4.28
Lowrie 105 51.5 19.2 82.5 18.5 3.89 689** 43.2 22.1 83.0 20.0 3.98
Drew 104 39.2 25.0 81.3 10.8 4.55 546 38.3 22.0 82.7 16.5 4.08
Scutaro 76 35.1 5.9 97.0 11.1 3.76 695 37.5 11.2 94.8 17.3 4.04
Salty 73 52.3 27.5 74.8 16.0 4.08 972** 49.4 30.6 72.8 20.4 3.92

[* = 2009 stats, ** = career stats used]

You can see that most of the numbers fall into place, but there are some notable differences. Dustin Pedroia’s numbers are all out of whack. He’s swinging more at the dish and striking out almost three times as much as he did last season. His contact rate and line drive percentage are WAY down, which to me suggests some kind of injury. Is this a result of his offseason foot surgery? Could be. He may need some extra time off, which might actually be doable while Jed Lowrie and Marco Scutaro are both healthy.

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2-3-2011: Handicapping the AL East

It’s February, and we’re all itching for things to get started. I went ahead and did a little exercise based on my projections. Consider these a back of the envelope prediction for the division.

For offense, I plugged in OBP and SLG into Baseball Musings’ lineup analysis tool, multiplied by 162 games, and took away 8% of those runs based on the play of substitutes and injuries, etc. Historically, it’s worked out that way for the Sox the past few years.

Team Offense R/G Runs
NYY 5.57 830
BOS 5.50 820
BAL 5.35 797
TB 5.06 754
TOR 4.77 711

The Yankees still have the most thump, but not by a large margin. Adding Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford is nice, but it’s full seasons of Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, and Jacoby Ellsbury that will really narrow that gap. Baltimore has added a lot of pop this offseason, and they could be dangerous to pitchers’ ERAs this season. The Rays’ offense may be a bit better than this, but my projections don’t really like Ben Zobrist or Reid Brignac all that much. The Blue Jays have some potential, but they remain punchless as usual.

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1-14-2011: The Yankees and Soriano, 2011 draft picks, Sox offseason pays off

The Yankees signed a pretty good reliever in Rafael Soriano yesterday, but curiously, I’m fairly positive about it. I’m happy because his 3-year, $35M deal (with TWO opt-out clauses) smacks of desperation. It’s like they were trying to copy what we did with Bobby Jenks, but botched it badly. Nobody pays this much to a setup guy, but somehow Scott Boras made the Yankees just look foolish. Brian Cashman had to directly go back on his word to sign Soriano, and they gave up their first-rounder to Tampa Bay in order to do it. They also ensured that we would get Texas’ first-round pick for signing Adrian Beltre. The Yankees haven’t improved this offseason, and they have some heavy payroll commitments coming up. I’m not saying that Soriano won’t make them better. He’s a very good player when healthy. But they could end up flushing quite a bit of change down the toilet on this deal.

We’ve done pretty well on gathering draft picks while also improving as a team (getting younger and more athletic). Only Tampa Bay has acquired more early picks, but I’m of the opinion that they will take a pretty big step back this year, so they’ll need them.

The Red Sox offseason has already paid off, as far as upper management is concerned. They are selling tickets like crazy, and ESPN has picked up four of their early games on Sunday nights. They are relevant again. They also have some ticket voucher giveaways coming right up.

Hideki Okajima has resigned with Boston for one year on the team’s terms. I still think he could be mildly effective, though we probably won’t see any more low-2 ERAs from him anytime soon. I feel somewhat comfortable with him and Felix Doubront as lefty options out of the pen, though even the righties don’t have terrible splits against lefties.

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