A 2010 Sabermetric Outlook On The Boston Red Sox

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A 2010 Sabermetric Outlook On The Boston Red Sox
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So far the Sox have made five significant acquisitions during their offseason remodeling this winter; Marco Scutaro, John Lackey, Mike Cameron, Adrian Beltre, and Bill Hall. The names aren’t sexy but to quote the age-old adage, pitching and defense wins championships.

Sure, ‘chicks dig the long ball’ but it won’t matter how many runs you score because if you can’t prevent them (see: Texas Rangers 2008, Washington Nationals 2009), you’re going to lose. Sabermetrics show that runs prevented outweigh runs scored by about a 10% increase in winning percentage for every 100 runs prevented versus 100 runs scored.

These offseason acquisitions represent a dynamic shift in the Red Sox M.O for the 2010 season, the game is run prevention. John Lackey, a veritable ace will now be the team’s number 3 pitcher and was worth 4 WAR last season (wins above replacement player, a team made up of replacement players would win 25 games) and is projected to add another 4 WAR to the Red Sox. For comparison, AJ Burnett and Andy Pettite each were worth roughly 3 WAR last year.

In addition to signing John Lackey, they signed Marco Scutaro, a shortstop who was worth 4.5 WAR last year and was above average defensively with a 1.9 UZR. UZR is a defensive stat measuring the number of runs above or below average a fielder is in both range runs, outfield arm runs, double play runs and error runs combined. Scutaro will replace the corpse of Julio Lugo/Nick Green/and Alex Gonzalez. For comparison on UZR, Julio Lugo posted an ugly -13.4 UZR last year. Scutaro put up career numbers last year, sporting a .282 BA and a .379 OBP and is not likely to repeat them but still provides a huge upgrade (offensively and defensively) over the Sox’s other options.

To replace Jason Bay in the outfield, the Sox signed Mike Cameron, one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball, a winner of three gold gloves. Since 2002, Mike Cameron has been worth +29.6 WAR to his ballclub, or about the same as David Ortiz, Aramis Ramirez, and Jim Thome, while posting a WAR of over 4.0 every year in the past four seasons.

Replacing Jason Bay and his wince-inducing -18 UZR with Mike Cameron and his 10.0 (when comparing outfielders on the same line, center fielders are worth an additional 10 so it is really a 20) UZR represents a difference of 34 run difference in the outfield. Mike Cameron, a right handed pull hitter, has a fly ball rate of 46.2% (nearly 50% last year) and should see his offensive output skyrocket in Fenway. Boston’s roster overhaul didn’t stop there as they recently signed Adrian Beltre, one of the best defensive third basemen in baseball to a one year contract with an option. Beltre posted a 13.4 UZR (second amongst third basemen to Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman’s eye-popping, league-leading, gold-glove winning 18.1 UZR) coupled with 2.4 WAR.

Many critics complain about Beltre’s offense, but paltry offensive statistics can be attributed to playing in Safeco Park (a very hitter-unfriendly park), as his batting average away from SafeCo has been a very respectable .287 and playing through tough injuries including a gruesome testicle contusion last year. Beltre is expected to put up anywhere from 2.7 to 4.2 WAR and his offensive numbers are sure to improve, not just due to the park switch but because he is a right handed pull hitter—which Fenway (and the Monster) is very conducive to.

The most recent move the Red Sox have made has been to trade Casey Kotchman for Bill Hall, a third baseman who had his worst offensive showing last year (.201 BA) with the Brewers and the Mariners. Bill Hall is an excellent defender and can play every position except for catcher. He has a career UZR average of 5.0 in the outfield, 8.7 at third base, 2.3 at shortstop, and a slightly below average -1.1 at 2B. While he may not look like much, he is a supersub and his true value is in allowing the Red Sox to carry another pitcher due to his defensive flexibility (most likely Lowrie will be relegated to AAA unless Lowell is traded).

Many critics claim that the Red Sox were bad offensively this year and will be ‘awful’ next year, but such a claim is preposterous. The Sox were 3rd in runs scored last year and claims of offensive doom in 2010 are unfounded. Let’s start with catcher. Last year, Jason Varitek had a .306 wOBA (weighted on base average), while Victor Martinez managed a .399 while with Boston. To be conservative, let’s project him as closer to .370 next year. Without counting time spent at DH or 1B next year, the switch from Varitek to Martinez behind the plate will be a minimum of 8.2 runs over last year.

2009 saw a plethora of players at shortstop, and the corpse of Julio Lugo, Nick Green, Alex Gonzalez, etc put up a utterly atrocious .289 wOBA over 574 plate appearances, while Marco Scutaro managed a solid .354. For the sake of being conservative, adjust his wOBA to .327 (which should be his minimum next year and over the same 574 plate appearances, the difference between Scutaro and last year's shortstops is worth 19.5 runs.)

At third base last year, Lowell managed a wOBA of .346 over 440 plate appearances. Beltre had a really bad year last year but to be fair he was dealing with injuries so we’ll use his three year .340 wOBA average. Again for the sake of conservatism, we won’t input the gargantuan boost Beltre will gain from hitting in Fenway and given the small difference of .006 wOBA, it’s only a 2.3 run difference over last year. Here comes the big one.

Although Ellsbury may be Bay’s replacement in left field, it’s really Cameron who is replacing Bay on the team. Bay posted a staggering .397 wOBA over 638 plate appearances. Giving Cameron the same number of plate appearances will be a conservative .340 wOBA, less than his production in recent years but we’re doing this conservatively. The change in the outfield is worth -32.3 runs. All of this tallied results in a figure of -6.8 runs.

The Sox should score only 6.8 runs less in 2010 than in 2009—and this is ignoring the boosts to Cameron and Beltre’s production that Fenway will provide, ignoring Ortiz’s second half-resurgence (one that should carry over to this year), ignoring the improvements that Ellsbury and Pedroia should see as they mature, and ignoring “small ball” (i.e, Beltre and Cameron can both steal while Bay could not and Lowell was a rally killer, grounding into 24 double plays last year). This extremely conservative figure of -6.8 runs is nothing to be worried about, the Sox are and will be a better team than they were last year.

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