The hot stove season is winding down around Major League Baseball. With pitchers and catchers due to report to spring training in two weeks, it's time to stop talking about the 2010 season and time to start watching how the team will actually perform between the white lines.
The Red Sox front office has completed the re-shaping the ballclub, at least for now. With the possible exception of one reliever, the team that will report to Fort Myers seems destined to be the team that takes the field on Opening Day. It will be quite different than most of the teams the Sox have fielded in recent years...shorter in offensive firepower and longer on pitching and defense.
The great debate has been underway for weeks: Will the 2010 edition of the Red Sox be any better than the 2009 version?
Many people argue that the team will be worse...that the loss of Jason Bay from the lineup will be difficult to overcome. The club contends that the improved pitching and defense, the so-called "run prevention," will offset the lost run production precipitated by Bay's departure and the subtraction of Lowell from the everyday lineup. In two weeks, we will start to get a sense for who's right.
But since the hot stove season hasn't ended quite yet, let's engage in a little bit on analysis in an effort to ascertain who may be right.
On offense, the 2010 Red Sox lineup will need to replace Jason Bay in left field, a combination of Mike Lowell and Casey Kotchman at the corner infield positions (158 games played between them), and a combination of Nick Green, Julio Lugo, and Alex Gonzalez at shortstop (184 games played, though that number is somewhat deceptive because it includes any appearance at the position, even two innings).
Into the breach steps Mike Cameron, Adrian Beltre, Marco Scutaro, and Billy Hall (NOTE: Beltre and Hall combined for 147 games played in 2009, though Hall played the majority of his games in the outfield).
For the sake of this analysis, I will discount the impact of Kotchman and Hall, who are seldom-used bench players. Nor will I engage in project Adrian Beltre into Fenway Park (a good hitters' park) as opposed to Safeco Field (a terrible hitters' park).
As a basis of comparison, I will utilize the metric known as Runs Above Replacement (RAR). There are several sites that provide different methods for calculating RAR—several of which provide results that I believe are dramatic overstatements. As for me, I like Ron Shandler's metric from Baseball Forecaster, so that is what I will use in this article.
On offense, the combination of Bay, Lowell, Gonzalez, Green and Lugo combine for a projected RAR of 26.3 for 2010, in large part because Lugo and Green are drains on run production (combined they are a projected -8.3 runs). Beltre, Cameron and Scutaro are projected for a RAR of 14—and that was BEFORE Beltre signed to play half his games in Fenway Park). So the net impact of the changes on the Red Sox offense is minus 12.3 RAR.
On the mound, the club added righty John Lackey (27 games started) to the rotation, ostensibly at the expense of Tim Wakefield and Paul Byrd (who combined for 27 GS). Lackey 's projected RAR is a plus 15.4, whereas Wakefield and Byrd are projected to combine for a RAR of minus 18.4. The net result of the change is an improvement of 33.8 runs above replacement over the course of the season.
Finally, in terms of defense, the departure of Bay is projected to result in the move of Jacoby Ellsbury from center field (where the metrics indicate he's well below average) to left field (where they say he is above average). Defensively, UZR/150 projects that Beltre will be an eight-run improvement over Lowell at third base, Ellsbury will be a 17-run improvement over Bay in left field, and Cameron will be a 13-run improvement over Ellsbury in center. Scutaro will cost the team four runs at shortstop when compared to Gonzalez. In total, the changes in the field are projected to save the team 34 runs.
Based on this comparison, the team will be a plus 55.5 runs in 2010 (about .33 runs per game).
With that said, it is hard to imagine that Beltre will not improve on last year's production (eight HR and 44 RBI) playing a full season in "the friendly confines." Fenway Park is the eighth-best ballpark in terms of offense, according to ESPN, whereas Safeco Field in Seattle is cavernous, and known to be deadly to right-handed hitters (21st of 30 ballparks in terms of offense).
A similar argument can be made for Cameron, who played half of his games in Miller Park (No. 27 of 30 ballparks in terms of offense) in Milwaukee.
So it is very possible that the changes that have been made will have an even more dramatic impact than what is projected in this article.