February 16, 2011
We all have questions about the 2011 season and Alex Remington luckily has some answers. Like he did last season, The Stew's resident stats guru will address baseball's big questions as opening day approaches.
The Situation: The Red Sox won the offseason, adding the best hitter on the free agent market in Carl Crawford(notes) and the best hitter on the trade market in Adrian Gonzalez(notes). Unsurprisingly, members of the team are feeling confident about their chances this season. Paycheck ace Josh Beckett(notes) didn't quite guarantee it, but he even threw out a goal that the team can strive toward:
"I've always wanted to be on a team that won 100 games. I don't think I'm more determined, but this team has a chance to do something really special like that and I think that's where some of the determination comes from."
The Analysis: It's certainly possible. The Red Sox are one of the best teams in baseball, they have the second-highest payroll, and they've averaged 94 wins a year over the last four years. Last year, they had a bad year by their standards, and still wound up with 89 wins, and then they added the two best position players on the market. To say the least, they're a good bet to bounce back and make the playoffs after missing out in 2010..
This analysis has three components: the competition, the newcomers, and the 2010 injuries.
The competition: Of course, the team's ceiling isn't entirely within its control. The Sox finished third last year, and their two main rivals figure to be in the mix next year, too. Baseball standings are a zero-sum game, and if the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees win 180 games between them, as they usually do, the Sox will have trouble finding another 100 wins of their own. In fact, there has only been one 100-win team in the division in the past seven seasons, the world champion 2009 Yankees. The Red Sox improved far more than their rivals did: other than the splashy and inexplicable Rafael Soriano(notes) signing, the Yankees mostly stood pat, and the Rays lost Crawford, Soriano, Carlos Pena, and Matt Garza(notes). But the Rays plugged in Rookie of the Year candidates Jeremy Hellickson(notes) and Desmond Jennings(notes) and signed the still-potent bats of Manny Ramirez(notes) and Johnny Damon(notes), so they'll still be dangerous. Meanwhile, the Yankees are the Yankees.
The newcomers: Over the past two years, Crawford and Gonzalez have combined to average about 10 to 12 Wins Above Replacement each year. Adrian Gonzalez will more or less replace Adrian Beltre(notes), as Youkilis shifts from first to third to accommodate him, and that's a wash — both Adrians were worth six to seven wins last year. (As an aside, Gonzalez and Beltre are probably the third and fourth greatest players named "Adrian" of all time, behind Hall of Famers Adrian "Addie" Joss and Adrian Constantine "Cap" Anson. But they are certainly the greatest Adrians ever to replace one another.)
Crawford moved into left field, which was a black hole in 2010, manned by a replacement-level platoon of Jeremy Hermida(notes), Daniel Nava(notes), and Bill Hall(notes). Fangraphs actually indicates that the Sox got -0.5 WAR from their left fielders in 2010, so Crawford's production is all gravy. That means that the two new arrivals should be worth about five wins to the team.
But Victor Martinez's(notes) departure is salient, because he's been worth three to four WAR over the last couple years, and it's unlikely that a full season of Jarrod Saltalamacchia(notes) — yips or no yips — will be able to replace his booming bat behind the dish. So we might have to backpedal a couple of wins off the Crawford total.
The injuries: The Red Sox didn't just get stronger from the outside, though. A winter worth of rest will be good for their entire lineup, considering that nearly all of them were hurt at some point last year, when they were probably the most banged-up team in baseball. It's rather remarkable they won 89 games at all, considering that they used the disabled list 24 separate times, losing Josh Beckett, Dustin Pedroia(notes), Kevin Youkilis(notes), Jacoby Ellsbury(notes), Mike Cameron(notes), and Jed Lowrie(notes) for months at a time. (That said, the Rangers actually used the DL 25 times, and they were league champions.) Only two Red Sox, Jon Lester(notes) and John Lackey(notes), made 30 starts and pitched 180 innings.
But Lackey and Josh Beckett were symbolic of the season. After the Sox invested more than $150 million in the two of them, in a December free agent contract for Lackey and an April extension for Beckett, the pitchers produced two of their worst seasons in the majors, combining for a 4.91 ERA in 342 2/3 innings over 54 starts. Lackey has been in decline for several years from his peak in 2005-2007, so he might not be any better than he pitched. But assuming Beckett's healthy, he's likely to bounce back to better performance.
However, Beckett's success will likely be partly offset by a decline for Clay Buchholz(notes), whose peripherals indicate that he won't likely be reproducing his 2.33 ERA in 2011. As for the rest of the rotation, Lester and Matsuzaka both performed about up to standard — Lester's season was very similar to his sterling work in 2008 and 2009, and Matsuzaka's mediocre year was very similar to his mediocre 2007 and injury-shortened 2009, making his 2008 look more like a fluke. Neither of them is likely to pitch much better in 2011 than in 2010.
If all five starters manage their usual levels of health and effectiveness, they're likely to be worth another couple of wins over their 2010 performance. Likewise, if Pedroia, Youkilis, and Ellsbury combine for their usual 450 games, rather than the paltry 194 they managed last year, they're likely good for another six wins between them.
The Forecast for 2011: For the Red Sox to win 100 games, they'll need to win 11 more than they won last year, and that isn't outside the realm of possibility. A lot of things went wrong last year, most of them injury-related, but a few things went right, too: Adrian Beltre's stunning season and Clay Buchholz's career year. They added two terrific players, one who will replace Beltre and one who fills the black hole in left field, and between their performance and a return to health for the rest of the lineup, they're a likely candidate for the top of the division and wins in the high 90s.
But 100 is still a tall order, even though the Sox probably have as good a shot as anyone. (The Phillies are a good bet too, and they're in a weaker division, so they might be an even better bet than the Sox.) The Red Sox may well be destined for special things — including a pennant and their third World Series since 2004 — but unfortunately for Josh Beckett, I'm predicting they'll fall short of triple-digit wins. I think they'll top out around 97 and need those playoff victories to pass the century mark.