When the Boston Red Sox began spring training last year, their big new addition was Bobby Valentine. All eyes were on him as the Red Sox got ready for a new season.
Yeah...that didn't go so well. It's a good thing things are different this year.
There are a ton of fresh faces in Red Sox camp this year. John Farrell has taken over for Bobby V, and Ben Cherington went out and acquired a handful of veteran players. Among the new Red Sox are Ryan Dempster, Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino.
The Red Sox are hoping for the best from their new additions, but yours truly has his own expectations. Here are my predictions for each of Boston's eight key offseason additions.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
Prediction: Dempster will win 15 games and pitch 200 innings, but his ERA will be 4.50.
Ryan Dempster carved out a solid career in the National League, compiling a 4.31 ERA in parts of 15 seasons. He had a 3.74 ERA as a member of the Chicago Cubs.
But Dempster's transition over to the American League with the Texas Rangers in 2012 went about as well as Carl Lewis' transition from sprinter to singer. After posting a 2.25 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP with the Cubs, Dempster had a 5.09 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP with the Rangers.
And it was for real. As I pointed out in my full Red Sox season preview, Dempster was getting by with an impossibly low .244 BABIP with the Cubs. His transition to the Rangers corrected it, boosting it up to .335. The contact was hard, too, as evidenced by the .470 slugging percentage hitters had against him.
Dempster's ability to throw strikes and get hitters to swing and miss will save him from total disaster with the Red Sox, but his track record says to expect a BABIP of around .300 and a HR/FB over 10.0 (see FanGraphs). He's been able to achieve an ERA in the 3.50-4.00 range with numbers like these in the past, but that was in the National League. A 4.50 ERA projection suits him better in the AL.
Still, Dempster should be a six-inning-start machine, and he should give the Red Sox 200 innings if he makes over 30 starts. Given the offense he's going to have supporting him, a 15-win season is in the cards as well.
Seeing as how Dempster is their No. 3/4 starter, the Red Sox will take it.
Prediction: Stephen Drew will have a higher OPS than Derek Jeter.
This actually isn't that bold of a prediction. It comes down to Stephen Drew being healthy and Derek Jeter not being that healthy and old to boot.
When Drew was at his healthiest between 2008 and 2010, he averaged an .800 OPS and about 15 home runs per season. He had high contact percentages and modestly high BABIPs to thank for that.
Drew was having a down season in 2011 before he suffered a gruesome ankle injury, and he didn't come back from it until late June last year. He showed signs of life after he was dealt to the Oakland A's, hitting .250 with a .707 OPS in 39 games.
Drew probably should have done even better than that, as he walked more than usual and he finished the year with a line-drive rate over 27 percent (FanGraphs).
If Drew carries these habits over to 2013, an OBP of around .350 and a slugging percentage around .400 are in the cards. That would give him a rock-solid .750 OPS.
My concern with Jeter is that he'll be trying to duplicate a .347 BABIP in what will be his age-39 season. That's a very rare feat, and his balky ankle will only make it tougher to achieve.
If his batting average falls, his slugging percentage will fall too. His OPS will fall from .791 to below .750, where it resided in 2010 and 2011.
Thus, Drew tops Jeter and then goes and gets a fat free-agent contract.
Prediction: Gomes will hit 25 home runs.
Jonny Gomes has never hit 25 home runs. The closest he's come is 21 home runs, and that was back in 2005.
But this will be the year for him. He's in the right place at the right time.
We know Gomes can crush left-handed pitching. That's all the A's asked him to do last year, and he did it to the tune of a .974 OPS. Of his 18 home runs, 11 were hit against southpaws.
Indications are that hitting lefties will be Gomes' job in Boston too, but the Red Sox have yet to come up with a clear platoon partner for him. Their options are Daniel Nava and Ryan Sweeney, neither of whom boasts particularly impressive numbers against right-handed pitching.
So Gomes could end up seeing more at-bats against right-handed pitchers than the Red Sox are anticipating. Thus, he could end up with enough plate appearances to make a spirited run at 25 home runs.
Fenway Park will help him get there. It's a park that favors right-handed pull hitters, and that description fits Gomes pretty well. For his career, he has a .940 slugging percentage when he hits the ball to left field (see FanGraphs).
He'll be doing that a lot in Boston. Occasionally, the ball will go over the wall.
Prediction: Hanrahan will save over 30 games, but will also blow 7-10 saves.
In Joel Hanrahan, the Red Sox have themselves a proven closer. If they get their way, he'll post an ERA under 2.00 and be as automatic as he was in 2011.
Don't count on it.
There's nothing wrong with Hanrahan's stuff. He throws in the upper 90s with a sharp slider that he can get hitters to swing and miss at. He should be a high-strikeout guy in Boston.
His control is the problem. Hanrahan managed a BB/9 of 2.1 in 2011, but his BB/9 ballooned over 5.0 in 2012. It was bound to happen, as his career BB/9 is over 4.0. His command in 2011 was too good to be true.
Also too good to be true that year was Hanrahan's HR/FB rate (or lack of one). He had a HR/FB of 1.9, well below his career mark of 8.8 (FanGraphs). He may not struggle with the long ball as much as he did in 2012, when his HR/FB ballooned to over 12.0, but he'll give up a few here and there.
There are two things you don't want your closer to do: walk hitters and give up home runs. Hanrahan will dabble in both this season, and his save situations are going to be adventurous as a result.
He'll get the job done more often than not, but Boston fans will get used to cursing his name throughout the season.
Prediction: Napoli will only play in 120 games, but he'll hit 30 home runs.
It doesn't sound like Mike Napoli's hip condition is a serious concern in the short term, as he and everyone else expect him to be just fine for Opening Day.
But you can expect Napoli to miss some games here and there anyway. He has a history of coming down with nagging injuries, and I'm expecting the trend to continue in 2013.
Don't worry. His power won't be affected. In fact, his power should be just fine.
Napoli is right there with the best in the business as far as power goes. He ranks fourth among all hitters with at least 2,000 plate appearances since 2008 in Isolated Power (ISO). The only guys ahead of him on the list are Albert Pujols, Jose Bautista and Ryan Howard.
Napoli's BABIP will likely stay below .300 and his strikeout rate will stay close to 25 percent, but the power isn't going anywhere. Fenway Park will only help augment his power, as his swing is as perfect for Fenway as Gomes' swing.
Napoli slugs .765 when he hits the ball to left field (FanGraphs), and he owns a .710 slugging percentage for his career at Fenway.
If he plays in 120 games, he'll hit 30 home runs. Just imagine what he'll do if he gets in 140.
Prediction: Ross will catch 70 games this season.
On paper, David Ross is Jarrod Saltalamacchia's backup. He shouldn't catch any more than 50 games this season.
But he will, and 70 sounds about right.
Ross isn't your garden-variety backup catcher. He can hit a bit, as he compiled an .816 OPS and hit 24 home runs in limited action with the Atlanta Braves over the last four years. He's also a strong defender who calls a good game. He consistently posted a catcher's ERA under 4.00 in Atlanta.
Salty, by comparison, is at best a decent defensive catcher. His problem is that he always seems to struggle with one thing or another. In 2011, it was passed balls. In 2012, it was throwing runners out. He also owns a catcher's ERA close to 5.00 as a Red Sox.
Salty's offense, meanwhile, comes and goes. He was a money hitter in the first half of the 2012 season, posting an .807 OPS and hitting 17 home runs. In the second half, he regressed to post a .658 OPS and hit only eight home runs.
It's hard to trust Salty to be consistent because of how often he strikes out. He's struck out over 30 percent of the time in each of the last two seasons, in part thanks to very high swinging-strike percentages (FanGraphs).
Salty's inconsistencies won't result in him getting benched this season. But since Farrell will have such a solid backup to turn to, he won't mind calling Ross' number more and more.
Prediction: Uehara will finish with an ERA in the 1.70 range.
The Red Sox picked up one of the offseason's hidden gems when they signed Koji Uehara, and he should be a welcome addition to their bullpen as a primary eighth-inning setup man.
Uehara's best asset is his control, which is insanely good. He walked three hitters in 36 innings last year, and he owns a career BB/9 of 1.2.
Even better, he can strike hitters out as well. Uehara doesn't feature overpowering velocity, but his fastball/splitter combination is among the game's deadliest due to movement and location. He had a 16.0 swinging-strike percentage in 2011, and an 18.9 swinging-strike percentage in 2012 (FanGraphs).
Uehara's only weakness is his tendency to give up the long ball. He gave up 11 in 2011, and four in limited action last season. The catch is that he rarely gives up catastrophic home runs because of his ability to keep runners off the bases. Only eight of the 27 homers he's surrendered in his career have come with men on.
If Uehara sticks to his usual performance pattern in 2013, he should post an ERA under 2.00. He was at 1.75 in 2012 and at 1.72 with the Baltimore Orioles in 2011 before he was traded, so the 1.70 range sounds about right.
Prediction: Victorino will be a platoon player by the end of the season.
I've had two months to digest the Shane Victorino signing, and I still don't get it.
The Red Sox must be hoping that Victorino will flip a switch and go back to the way he was in 2011 when he compiled an .847 OPS, but he's not going to do that.
Victorino will be facing right-handed pitchers most of the time, and he just can't hit them. As ESPN's Keith Law (Insider required) pointed out, Victorino has a mere .311 OBP against right-handers over the last three seasons. And that's with a big spike in production in 2011.
That spike was too good to be true. Victorino didn't increase his walk rate all that much, and he didn't even have a BABIP over .300. His success had a lot to do with a .212 ISO that was way higher than his career norm (FanGraphs).
Victorino's career track record suggests he should be a sub-.300 BABIP and sub-.200 ISO guy in 2013, and his struggles against right-handers will only make things tougher for him.
Eventually, the Red Sox will decide they're better off having somebody split time with Victorino in right field. Then they'll have to decide what to do in the next two years of his contract.
It's a good thing it's only a three-year deal.
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