This is the third and final stats-drive spring training analysis, mostly because spring training is now over. If you haven't read the first two articles, check them out: Part 1 and Part 2.
Today we're going to look at J.D. Drew and Jason Bay, our last two position players in the starting line-up, then take a quick look at the Red Sox pitching staff.
We'll start with the oft-injured J.D. Drew. I think he's going to have a great year, because he's under no pressure to carry the team like he did last June. He'll bat fifth, in between Youkilis and Bay, which is a great place for him.
J.D. Drew has come up with some of the most clutch hits in the history of baseball, no pitcher is going to walk Youkilis to get to Drew, and similarly, no pitcher would willingly walk Drew to get to Bay.
Drew's back will be the main concern this season, but with capable back-ups, Francona will have an easy time giving Drew the rest he needs. Think about it, when Drew came back from his back issues for the playoffs, he hit some seriously clutch hits and helped the Red Sox reach game 7 of the ALCS.
In 2007, Drew hit .321 with 13 hits, one home run, and seven RBI in spring training, then hit .270 with 126 hits, 11 homers, and 64 RBI. Of course, Drew's biggest contribution in 2007 was the $14 million two out Grand Slam in the ALCS , which we all remember fondly as the day Boston fans officially forgave J.D. Drew.
In 2008, Drew's Spring Training posted frighteningly similar numbers: .321 average, 9 hits, 1 home run, and 5 RBI. for the 2008 season, where he was absolutely on fire the month of June and then kind of...fizzled, Drew hit .280 with 103 hits, 19 dingers, and 64 RBI.
I'm beginning to wonder if a good spring is bad for Drew's regular season, which fills me with hope, because his 2009 spring training numbers are down. He hit .265 with 9 hits and 1 RBI.
So what's the projection for Drew this season? Its difficult to say, honestly, because we never know how many at-bats he'll get or how much his back will bother him.
My projection is he'll hit somewhere in the .270-.290 range with maybe 15 home runs, it could go higher if he is rested when he starts slumping.
Next we'll look at Jason Bay.
Jason had a monster season last year, coming off an injury-dampened 2007. How will he look in his first full year as a Red Sox?
In 2008 spring training, Bay hit .231 with 9 hits and 5 RBI. He hit .286 with 165 hits, 31 homers, and 101 RBI during the regular season.
This spring, including his brief stint at the World Baseball Classic, Bay hit .285 with 12 hits, 4 home runs, and 11 RBI.
So what’s the projection for 2009? Can Jason Bay replace Manny’s bat in the line-up? No. But he can get pretty close. I’d look for Bay to have another 30+ home run season, and bat around .280-.300. That could be overly optimistic, but I have faith in him.
The pitching staff might be the strength of this Red Sox team, despite a talented line-up. With three aces, four if Smoltz or Penny come back with a good bit of their past form, and one of the best bull pens in the league, the Sox are looking to make another run at the post-season.
In this I'm going to look at the (current) starting five: Beckett, Lester, Dice-K, Wakefield, and Penny. Then, in honor of the stellar 'pen, we'll look at Papelbon to close things out.
Beckett is slated to start opening day at Fenway against the Rays, so what should we expect from him? Will he be good but not great like last year, or lights out like he was in 2007? I’m banking on 2007, since he was never really healthy in 2008.
My projection for the 2009 season is that Beckett will be on form again, pitch about 200 innings, with 70-75 earned runs, 40-45 walks, and 185-190 strikeouts. I’d look for him to post an ERA around 3.15-3.25.
Next we have Jon Lester, who emerged as one of the game’s elite southpaws last season, and should continue to build on that in 2009.
The only concern facing Lester this year is the number of innings he threw last year. He pitched 210 innings, and was clearly gassed by game 7 of the ALCS.
While I don’t expect him to pitch that many innings again, I project he will throw about 190-200, with 70-75 earned runs, 60 walks, and 155-160 strike outs. I’d look for him to post an ERA of about 3.18-3.28.
Then we have Daisuke Matsuzaka, the heart attack-inducing MVP of the World Baseball Classic. Dice-K has looked good this spring, at the WBC and with the Sox. While you should never count on him to eat innings, or have a low number of walks, he’s just looking to have a break-out year.
I’d look for him to go about 176 innings, with 73 earned runs, 85-90 free passes, and 165-170 strike-outs. I’d look for him to post an ERA around 3.45-3.65, but don’t discount him, it’s just as likely for that ERA to settle out around 2.90-3.10.
Then we have Tim Wakefield, the longest tenured Red Sox, and still pitching strong. That’s mostly due to the fact he’s a knuckleballer, and thus the pitching motion doesn’t wear on his shoulder like the normal pitching motion.
So will Wake look good again this year? Sure. He’s consistent. He should eat about 186 innings, with 90-95 earned runs, 65-70 walks, and 115 strike outs. He should post an ERA of 3.85-4.00, but this won’t matter as much if he can get the run support.
Tim Wakefield is going to give up two or three runs a game. His season record depends on how much run-support he gets.
Brad Penny is the newest addition to the pitching staff, and like many of the Red Sox additions, he’s coming off of an injury.
Assuming he recovers and gets back to some of his form, I’d look for Penny to go between 170-190 innings, 75-80 earned runs, and post an ERA of 3.20-3.50. I have a wide range here because I’m not sure how Penny will perform. It’s a sort of waiting game with him.
And now we’ll close this series off with one of the game’s elite closers, Jonathan Papelbon.
Paps has posted great stats the past three years, with more than 30 saves in 2006, 2007, and 2008. I wouldn’t look for that to change at all. Last year, Papelbon had 41 saves, I’d look for him to have between 40-45 saves this season and post an ERA of 2.60-2.80.
Papelbon is the capstone of a stellar bull pen, and should have fewer four, five, and six out saves this year because the road from the starter to Papelbon is paved with pitchers like Takashi Saito, Justin Masterson, lefty-specialist Javier Lopez, and many others.
With that, I end my stats freak predictions. What’s my prediction for the season? I think the Red Sox win the AL East, but it’s a tough road with the Yankees and the Rays, so I think we’re in for a very exciting season.