The Red Sox organization made a calculated decision during this past offseason to trade offense in exchange for pitching and defense. The club had the third-highest total of runs scored in 2009, but failed to measure up in the field.
The decision was made that the offense is robust enough to sacrifice some run production in exchange for run prevention. So, Jason Bay was dispatched and Mike Lowell will soon follow...in their place the team signed free agents 3B Adrian Beltre, CF Mike Cameron, and RHP John Lackey. According to some analysis , the tradeoff will actually improve the club significantly in terms of runs scored/runs against.
Beltre was brought in for his glove work...the big question is whether he will be able to improve his offensive production in light of his dismal performance in 2009 (an ISO of just .114).
As far as his home field is concerned, he comes to Fenway Park from Safeco Field. According to ESPN park factors, Fenway Park is a vastly superior ballpark for hitters than Safeco (a +12.5 percent improvement with respect to runs and a +7.8 percent improvement with respect to homers). Batting charts indicate that he will benefit somewhat from the Green Monster (three or four home runs), but because he tends to hit to all fields, the impact will be less than you might anticipate.
While his 2009 batting average was normal, many of his other metrics were horrid...even his walk rate (which was never major league average to begin with) was nearly half his career average (4 percent versus 7 percent; MLB average of 8.9 percent). And what of his horrible power production? His career HR/FB ratio sits at 13.1 percent but last year it was only 5.6 percent.
But it’s not like his skills just disappeared. While his contact rate was a bit low (75 percent), it wasn’t terribly different from 2006 (77 percent) or 2007 (76 percent), when he hit 25 and 26 HR respectively...and his strikeout rate (15.5 percent) was actually lower than his career mark (15.8 percent).
The numbers have led people to speculate on two reasons for his 2009 decline: 1) injury, and 2) that his earlier performance may have been artificially enhanced and that he got off the supplements as a result of the league’s more aggressive testing initiatives. He hasn’t complained of injury as the cause of last year’s struggles...and last year wasn’t the first year of increased PED enforcement by MLB.
The fact no one can understand the reason(s) for his precipitous decline and what the future holds for him is the reason he struggled to find a taker for his services...thus, his one-year deal with the Sox.
So, what kind of numbers will he put up in 2010? As I’ve mentioned previously in this series, I am not a devotee of the most widely-used projection systems: CHONE, Bill James and PECOTA. They all have problems. CHONE projections tend to be strong for hitters but weak for pitchers. The PECOTA system has the opposite problem—it is strong for pitchers, but weak for hitters. And while Bill James is well-known and an employee of the Red Sox, his annual projections are consistently overly-optimistic.
I prefer the work done by Ron Shandler (who is the godfather of ‘fanalytics’) and Mike Podhorzer (the new kid on the block).
Shandler’s Baseball Forecaster is must-reading for any baseball fan, especially if he/she is a fantasy baseball aficionado. Shandler and his minions do great work. They can be found at BaseballHeadquarters.com .
Podhorzer’s predictions at fantasypros911.com went 42-0 when compared head-to-head with other projection systems last year. Seriously, folks, if you don’t know about fantasypros911.com , it’s time that you take a look. Great stuff!
So what do these two systems project for Beltre for the upcoming season?
Shandler: .269, 16 HR, 62 RBI, 66 R, 11 SB
Podhorzer: .279, 21 HR, 75 RBI, 75 R, 10 SB
As I said earlier, I think Fenway Park will have a beneficial impact on his production, but I just can’t see Beltre rebounding to the levels predicted by Podhorzer. If he comes close to Shandler’s numbers I think the Red Sox will be thrilled.
SOX1FAN projection: .270, 15 HR, 65 RBI, 50 R, 10 SB