The Boston Red Sox might not be as bad you think in 2013. Boston could potentially be in contention for a postseason berth, or at least that’s what FanGraphs’ positional power rankings say.
Dave Cameron of FanGraphs recently came out with his set of projections for the upcoming season, trying to dig into who the real contenders will be. Cameron notes that the projections are far from perfect:
Keep in mind that simply summing the linear weights contribution of each individual player is a very crude way to project a team’s performance, since it leaves out things that a good projection system should forecast, such as strength of schedule and the non-linear interactions that effect run scoring.
Cameron does, however, feel that it’s a good way to distinguish “where teams stand heading into the coming season.”
So, let’s take a look at what might be in store for Boston in 2013, using FanGraphs’ projections as a guide.
Strengths: Designated Hitter, Second Baseman, Center Fielder, Relievers
The Red Sox will have a good season if a couple of things fall their way. There might not be a more essential player than David Ortiz, who will start the regular season on the disabled list after missing all of spring training with heel issues.
FanGraphs has the Boston designated hitter position ranked first among all those in the American League. But that, of course, depends on Ortiz’s health. If Ortiz misses an extended period, obviously that ranking won’t hold up and Boston’s projected record would suffer because of it.
Dustin Pedroia, however, is one player that will be healthy to start the year and is expected to in the starting lineup on Opening Day against the New York Yankees. Pedroia, a former American League MVP, is one of the top second basemen in baseball without a doubt.
For the upcoming year, FanGraphs puts Boston’s second base position—Pedroia—right below the Bronx Bombers' second base position—Robinson Cano. There really shouldn’t be any arguments there, but it is good to see that Pedroia is valued so highly and that big numbers are expected of him.
Jacoby Ellsbury will be hitting toward the top of Boston’s lineup to start the year just like Pedroia. Ellsbury is entering his walk year and although the Red Sox could’ve traded him over the offseason, they hung onto him instead and will try to maximize the juice from the last year of his contract.
Boston’s center field position is the fourth-most valuable in baseball, according to FanGraphs. The three teams in front of the Red Sox are the Pittsburgh Pirates—Andrew McCutchen—the Los Angeles Angels—Mike Trout—and the Los Angeles Dodgers—Matt Kemp.
The Boston bullpen also appears to be one of the team’s stronger areas heading into this upcoming season. The Red Sox traded for Joel Hanrahan and signed Koji Uehara over the offseason, two above-average relievers. Hanrahan will start the season as the closer, while Uehara will likely come out of the 'pen in the seventh and eighth innings.
What was somewhat surprising was how successful FanGraphs thought the Boston bullpen would be.
According to the article, the Red Sox should have the seventh-best bullpen in baseball in 2013 and the fourth-best in the American League. If Hanrahan turns out to be a good acquisition, there’s no reason why that ranking couldn’t stand.
Weaknesses: Left Field, Shortstop, Catcher
While there were a couple of categories where the Red Sox are expected to do well, there are also a few where the Red Sox are expected to do poorly. On the bright side, low expectations give the players incentive to prove the media wrong.
Ever since the Red Sox signed Carl Crawford a couple of years back, left field has been a disaster. Crawford getting traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers last season left an obvious void out near the Green Monster. This offseason, Boston brought in Jonny Gomes to give it his best shot.
But while Gomes could end up having a solid season, that’s far from guaranteed. The Red Sox aren’t done making cuts yet and there’s still a chance that they open with the season with surging prospect Jackie Bradley on the roster. How well Bradley will play if given the opportunity is yet to be determined, but he’d be a more eye-appealing option than Gomes.
Another position Boston addressed this offseason was shortstop. Mike Aviles was traded over the offseason, and it was thought that Jose Iglesias would finally get the chance to start. But that wasn’t the case, as the Red Sox later signed Stephen Drew to fill the hole.
What’s good for Iglesias, however, is that Drew will start the season on the disabled list with a concussion and he’ll now be the starter, according to Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe. Iglesias, though, has never been much of an offensive threat, which is also why Boston should be concerned. FanGraphs has the Boston shortstop position ranked 26th in baseball.
The last thing that caught my eye was Boston’s catching situation. Jarrod Saltalamacchia had a pretty good season last year and the Red Sox added David Ross, a veteran backstop, over the offseason. In my opinion, Saltalamacchia and Ross behind the plate for the bulk of the season aren’t so bad.
But FanGraphs has Boston catchers ranked 23rd in the league, which is very high. It was somewhat rare for Saltalamacchia to have such a good 2012, but I don’t think the drop-off will be too large. For Boston to finish the year with the 23rd-best catching production, Saltalamacchia would have to have a pretty horrible year. I just don’t see that happening.
Overall Prediction: 84-78, Fourth in American League East
Like I said in the introduction, the Red Sox might finish better than you think. Boston only won 69 games last year. Anything more than 69 should be considered a success. But winning 15 more games than 2012 would be incredible, and that’s what FanGraphs projects.
Looking at where other teams in the league rank, an 84-78 season would mean Boston finished 12th in Major League Baseball, seventh in the American League and fourth in the AL East. Even though Boston would miss the postseason, I would deem that type of year a remarkable success.
The upcoming season for the Red Sox isn’t about making the postseason. It’s about improving based on last year’s disappointment—and the prior year as well.
The Red Sox aren’t going to go from worst to first in the snap of a finger; it’s going to take time. Not many teams win 15 more games that they did the previous year. To be able to do that would really mean that Boston is in the right direction going forward.
And like Cameron mentions in the article, the projections aren’t 100 percent accurate. Add in the strength of schedule and a couple of other things and who knows what changes. Maybe Boston’s finish improves and maybe it declines.
But for the time being, we know where it’s likely the Red Sox land.