Boston Red Sox: Complete 25-Man Roster Projections for Next Season
As the Patriots and Celtics roll, the snow piles on and the Gonzalez/Crawford acquisitions finally begin to set in as reality, baseball seems a long way away.
But, in just 49 more days, pitchers and catchers report to spring training!
The Sox seemed to have slowed down their offseason moves. While they might be in the mix for some more relief help and/or another right-handed bat, the Sox should be pretty content in the fact that they've addressed their offseason needs while the New York Yankees have not.
This seems as good a time as any to publish a complete early season preview, projecting what the opening day roster would look like if the season started tomorrow.
1) CF Jacoby Ellsbury
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If I had to pick one guy who injuries impacted the most in 2010, it would be Jacoby Ellsbury. He made just 18 total appearances and only 78 official at-bats.
Ellsbury quickly went from being the high-flying prospect on the rise, who had stolen 120 bases in two seasons with the Red Sox (2008-09), to the whipping boy of the Boston media, labeled as soft and a bad teammate.
However, Ellsbury had legitimate excuses for missing the time that he did. He fractured ribs on three separate occasions, and each time tried to mount a comeback. He was pushed back too early by the Red Sox after the first injury, and suffered a setback as a result.
There seemed to be a disconnect between Ellsbury, the organization and his teammates. He was mentioned in trade rumors for Adrian Gonzalez as well as Justin Upton this offseason, yet still remains in Boston.
Whatever the case was, any "issues" with Ellsbury no longer seem to be a problem, and he will be the opening day center-fielder for the Red Sox.
What Ellsbury needs to do to succeed in 2011: The main concern with an injury like rib fractures isn't the physical toll, but the mental toll, that it has taken/will continue to take on Ellsbury.
Jacoby relies on his speed, in the outfield and on the base paths, as his main weapon. Naturally, that comes with a lot of diving, contorting and acrobatic plays. If he isn't able to go full-bore in fear he might re-injure himself, his play could suffer.
Also, there were some questions about Ellsbury's plate discipline, and whether or not he could really be a full time leadoff hitter for a high-powered Red Sox offense. He seemed to answer those questions in 2009, but after almost a year off from baseball, who knows where his plate approach will be to start the season.
Most importantly, Jacoby needs to focus on baseball, and baseball only. He needs to forget the head games, and just go out there and focus on improving every day, and playing to his strengths.
Ells is still very young and very talented, and has the potential to be one of the most dynamic players in the league.
Manager Terry Francona has long since maintained that the Red Sox are at their best when Ellsbury is able to lead off, and I don't foresee that changing with the signing of Carl Crawford.
2) 2B Dustin Pedroia
Pedroia was prototype A of the injury-riddled Red Sox of 2010. Hopefully, he'll be prototype A of the healthy Red Sox of 2011.
Pedey had 12 HR, 41 RBI, 9 SB and a .288/.367/.493 batting line (which was fast on the climb), through just 75 games and 302 AB, when he fouled a ball of his foot and broke it during interleague play in Colorado.
What Pedroia needs to do to succeed in 2011: Stay healthy?
Pedroia has proven that he is one of the best players in baseball when healthy over the last four seasons with the Red Sox. During that time, Pedroia has been a three time All-Star, Rookie of the Year Award Winner, MVP and Gold Glove Winner.
Pretty dang good for a guy who's generously listed at 5'9", 180 lbs, and just 27 years of age.
If I had to nitpick, though, I would say that Pedey might have to adjust to hitting in a new spot in the lineup. It's unlikely that he is supplanted from the two-spot in the batting order, but with the additions of Gonzalez and Crawford, you never know where Pedroia will be asked to bat.
One thing is for sure, Pedroia hasn't been nearly as good hitting first:
Batting First: 320 AB, .253/.318/.375
Pedey has minimal sample sizes batting in other spots of the lineup, as he's made the overwhelming majority of his career appearances out of the two spot (401 games, 1844 PA).
Again, I think it's unlikely that Pedroia gets moved from second in the order, but it's something to consider.
Also, good news for Pedroia and Red Sox fans everywhere. Pedroia tested his surgically repaired foot out for the first time recently, and to good results. However, the details surround the event were less than ideal, in typical Dustin "Laser Show" Pedroia fashion.
Pedroia and his family were vacationing with Dodgers OF Andre Ethier when Pedroia had to sprint across an airport terminal in order to make a flight. Here's what he told WEEI - Boston about the situation:
“They wanted me, who just got cleared to jog, to sprint to the gate, which is on the other side of the airport, to hold the plane up. So I’m sprinting, testing out my foot with my shoelaces untied, holding my 30-pound son — by the way, my foot felt phenomenal — sprinting through the airport, and I get to the gate, and I’m like, ‘Ma’am, did the flight leave?’ She said, ‘I’m going to give you three minutes.’ I’m like, ‘There’s no way.’ Andre’s kid is a little bigger than [Pedroia's son] Dylan and he’s running everywhere. Two seconds later, the pilot comes off the plane and goes, ‘We’ve got a situation.’ I thought, ‘Jeez, now we’re definitely staying here.’
“She pulls off this couple. Some woman was beating the [expletive] out of her husband on the plane. They pull those two off. This guy has a bloody face. He must have smarted off or something. The flight was delayed 30 minutes, and we got to get on the flight. I almost high-fived everybody. It was awesome.”
“It was out of control. We ended up getting on. I was more pumped my foot felt good from sprinting with a 30-pound kid on me. We got on the flight. I was pumped. It was a good day.”
3) LF Carl Crawford
Isn't this just a brilliant sight to behold?
The signing of Carl Crawford by the Boston Red Sox was one of the most unexpected moves of the offseason thus far.
They had just dealt for 1B Adrian Gonzalez, and Jayson Werth's mind-boggling contract supposedly created a new aspect in Crawford negotiations.
What Crawford needs to do to succeed in 2011: Crawford has had the benefit of playing his entire career in the American League East. He's comfortable with the high level of competition and is familiar with all of the ballparks and pitchers that the East features. Crawford even cited the opportunity to stay in the East as one of the biggest factors in determining where he would play in 2011. So, Sox fans needn't worry about any "adjustment period."
Defensively, one of the biggest things that any leftfielder needs to learn is how to play the Green Monster. The Monster made Manny Ramirez look like a gold glove caliber defender for years. Not because he actually was, but because he figured out exactly how to play the wall, determined how balls ricocheted off it, and learned exactly where to position himself.
Crawford is a legit Gold Glove-caliber outfielder (he won his first last season), but that doesn't necessarily mean success in Fenway (just ask Mike Cameron).
Playing outfield in Fenway Park, especially left, is just as much about learning the nuances of the park as it is about fielding ability.
Crawford is lightning fast, and we may see him play some of the shallowest outfield in baseball. Leftfielders have had success in the past playing shallow; it allows them to get to any balls that might otherwise be bloop singles, and anything over their heads turns into a wall-ball hit anyways.
Another interesting question has to do with where Crawford will bat. Potential lineups have him projected anywhere from 1-3, and the Sox certainly have a number of guys who are legitimate candidates for any one of those spots.
Crawford has spent the majority of his career batting second (2651 PA), although he has significant sample sizes batting first (1695 PA) and batting third (852 PA).
The numbers seem to indicate Crawford is best hitting out of the second spot in the order, but Crawford has recently said he doesn't care where he hits, and that comments he made earlier in his career about not wanting to hit first no longer held true.
Personally, I see him best suited for the three spot, which will allow him not only the benefit of hitting behind guys like Ellsbury and Pedroia, but in front of one of the best power trios in baseball in Gonzalez, Youkilis and Ortiz. This allows the Sox to utilize Crawford's game-changing and playmaking abilities to the max.
4) 1B Adrian Gonzalez
The Red Sox sent shockwaves around the baseball world when they landed 1B Adrian Gonzalez, the apple of GM Theo Epstein's eye since his days in the Rangers organization, and easily the best offensive player to become available during the offseason thus far.
Even better for the Red Sox, the prospects they dealt were all a long way off from being Major League ready, and the sacrifice of those prospects should have no bearing on the team's performance over the next two-to-three years at least.
What he needs to do for success in 2011: Gonzalez doesn't have much to prove, as he's already regarded as one of the best all around players in baseball.
However, whenever a drastic change of scenery occurs, there are always a few questions that get raised.
As silly as it sounds, Gonzo has to adjust to the AL. More often than not, it's pitchers who have trouble when they switch from the NL to the AL, but the competition of the NL West just isn't on the same level as the AL East.
He also has to learn to use Fenway to his benefits, something I don't envision being a problem for him. Gonzalez is one of the best opposite field hitters in baseball, and he should be able to use the short porch in left to his advantage.
Using Gonzalez' hit chart from last season, he would have hit an additional 11 home runs if he had played his 81 home games at Fenway Park instead of Petco Park, translating into 30 total homers at home.
And, given the fact that Gonzo will play another 27 or so games in the likes of Yankee Stadium, Camden Yards, and the Rogers Centre, it's in no way a stretch of the imagination to say that he could be in contention for 50 home runs in 2011.
In his introductory press conference, Gonzalez also mentioned that he's been working on his conditioning and speed all season long, which should help him stretch a "Fenway single" into a "Fenway double," which is of no small importance.
5) 3B Kevin Youkilis
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Youkilis was also hit hard by the injury bug in 2010, as he appeared in just 102 games and made 362 AB before thumb surgery ended his season.
What Youkilis needs to do to succeed in 2011: Other than health, the biggest challenge facing Youkilis in 2011 will be his transition from first base (where he won a gold glove) to third base, his original position.
What fans might not realize, however, is that Youkilis is just as comfortable playing third as he is playing first. He's long maintained that he doesn't care where he plays, as long as he doesn't have to worry about switching back and forth. Youk was told early on by GM Theo Epstein to prepare this offseason as if he was going to start the year at third, and that's exactly what he's been doing.
Also, fans might not realize that Youk actually has a pretty decent sample size at third base on the major league level.
While he made just two appearances at the hot corner in 2010, he totaled 63 appearances and 56 starts there in '09, and 36 appearances and 32 starts in '08.
Over the course of his career, Youkilis has appeared in 219 total games at third, totaling 1606.1 innings of work.
Using UZR/150, the measure of how many runs a fielder is worth above or below the average fielder, Youkilis' play at third hasn't been that far off from his play at first.
Youk has a career UZR/150 of 7.4 at first base, and a 6.9 at third base. Given a full offseason to prepare to play third, Red Sox fans shouldn't be concerned about Youkilis' defense.
6) DH David Ortiz
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Despite all the media attention and questions concerning decline, David Ortiz has done one thing: remain the best pure designated hitter in the game.
In 2009, Ortiz got off to a monumentally slow start and wasn't a serviceable hitter until the start of June. After that, however, Ortiz was one of the best power hitters in the game.
In 2010, Ortiz got off to another slow start, yet not nearly as bad as 2009. He finished the season with 32 HR, 102 RBI, and a .270/.370/.529 batting line.
You could make the case that Ortiz deserved the Silver Slugger over Vladimir Guerrero, but in any case, Ortiz had a very solid 2010.
What Ortiz needs to do in order to succeed in 2011: His struggles throughout the first half of 2009 can be attributed to after effects of a wrist injury that he dealt with for the majority of the 2008 season. As a result of this injury, Ortiz's bat speed was lessened, and he was forced to cheat on fastballs, which messed up his mechanics.
In 2010, Ortiz's early struggles were all mental. Even before the season began, whispers of whether or not David Ortiz could produce another quality season surrounded the slugger. Once the season started, but David Ortiz did not, the whispers got louder. Fortunately, Ortiz picked it up, and produced what turned out to be a very good season.
So, it's no surprise here that a fast start would be huge for Ortiz in 2011. Fans should be less critical of Ortiz if he doesn't start off hot, as he's had two slow starts followed by blistering finishes in the last two seasons. This should ease any mental burden that Big Papi might have to bear.
Also, this is a contract year for Ortiz. His future with the Red Sox is uncertain, and a quality 2011 could tip the scales of bringing back Ortiz for another season or two, or at the very least ensure him a quality contract offer from another club.
Additionally, the eyes of Red Sox nation aren't going to be on Ortiz. Much of the media focus and fan interest will be on the new additions, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, as well as the return of Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis from injury, along with the performance of Josh Beckett and John Lackey.
For once in his life, Big Papi might not be the center of attention in Boston. And that might be a very good thing.
7) C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
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Ideally, when it's all said and done, it's most likely that Salty ends up with the majority of the starts in 2011. I think it's pretty safe to say that at this point, Jason Varitek cannot handle the rigors of a full MLB season.
Salty provides an interesting mark of uncertainty in an otherwise solid position player lineup. One can point to the fact that he's never been given the chance to start consistently on the major league level, and that the Rangers have a recent history of mishandling catching prospects (i.e. Max Ramirez, Matt Treanor, etc.) Or, one could point out that Salty hasn't performed well enough to hold onto a Major League job. It depends on how you look at it.
What he needs to do for success in 2011: Fans need to realize now that they aren't going to see the same offensive production out of the catcher slot that they did when Victor Martinez was here. V-Mart has been the best offensive catcher in the bigs for pretty much his entire career, and that production is not going to be replicated.
What Salty needs to do is become comfortable with the staff, and quickly. This lineup isn't going to struggle to score runs, even if he's hitting .220.
However, the Red Sox rotation has a number of questions coming into 2011. Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka are coming off injury-plagued seasons, and Lackey is coming off a "down year."
All that, plus the inconsistencies of Jonathan Papelbon and the high turnover rate of the bullpen, and the Red Sox are going to need a firm backstop to call the signals and direct the show.
Any offense would be an added bonus, and I believe that the Red Sox believe that Salty can develop into an above average offensive catcher, but for the time being, learning the nuances of catching on the MLB level should be priority number 1 for Saltalamacchia.
8) RF JD Drew
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At this point in his career, fans know what they're getting in Drew: a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder who still hits right handers well but couldn't hit a lefty if he was serving up eephus pitches.
In the last year of his contract and final season with the Red Sox, Drew can still contribute a good deal to the 2011 team.
What Drew needs to do to succeed in 2011: There isn't too much to say here, other than don't get hurt. It would be unrealistic to expect a spike in his offensive stats against left-handers (he hit just .208/.302/.309 against them in 2010).
If Drew is healthy, he's still the best player defensively for the Red Sox in right field, and is an above average hitter against right handed pitchers (329 AB, 18 HR, 49 RBI, .277/.358/.517 in 2010).
One thing that is a possibility for 2011 is the potential for more of a timeshare in right than we are accustomed to seeing. They still have around $8 million invested in Mike Cameron, who if healthy can be a suitable defensive player and an able right handed hitter who can fill in when a lefty is on the mound.
Other than that, I think we're in for one more typical JD Drew type year, where the good he does on the baseball diamond is overshadowed by his professional demeanor and less-than-flashy approach to the game.
9) SS Marco Scutaro
Many fans wish to see Jed Lowrie open the season as the Red Sox starting shortstop, and while that very well may happen, I'm not willing to list him as the clear cut starter just yet.
Marco did many good things that went unnoticed last year. First and foremost, he was one of the biggest constants in the injury-laden Red Sox lineup. He appeared in 150 games, second on the team only to 3B Adrian Beltre.
Scutaro dealt with a number of injuries in 2010, most notably shoulder and neck injuries, which severely limited his defensive range and throwing strength. Despite all this, he played night in and night out, and posted some solid numbers.
In 632 AB (which led the team) Scutaro had 174 hits, 11 HR, 56 RBI, 92 Runs (which also led the team) and a .275/.333/.388 batting line.
This may not seem like much, but in a thin position like shortstop, his contributions were significant.
His 2010 numbers were comparable to that of New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who in 663 AB had 179 hits, 10 HR, 67 RBI, 111 Runs and a .270/.340/.370.
The only real difference was that Scutaro was one-fourth of the cost.
Scutaro also elevated his game when it counted most. Just look at his splits with runners in scoring position:
With RISP: 128 AB, 38 H, 2 HR, 45 RBI, and a .297/.380/.375 batting line.
What Scutaro Needs to do to succeed in 2011: Scutaro may very well end up in a platoon or backup situation depending on how Jed Lowrie performs in spring training and over the course of the season.
He should have that fact in the back of his mind, and prepare to play multiple positions, mostly short, third, and second. Other than that, offensive production on the level of 2010 wouldn't be too shabby.
It would be unfair to expect him to return to 2009 form, but if he did, it might help him hold onto a starting job.
Unless he has the season of his life in 2011, his level of playing time probably won't be determined by what he does, but by what Lowrie does.
Bench: OF Mike Cameron
Mike Cameron is coming off a disappointing 2010 for the Boston Red Sox. He appeared in just 48 games and made just 162 AB before abdomen surgery ultimately ended his season.
As mentioned before, Cameron is now one of the most expensive backup's in baseball, as he's due about another $8 million for 2011.
What Cameron needs to do to succeed in 2011: Even before Cameron got hurt, his fielding was atrocious. This came as a bit of a surprise to the Red Sox; Cameron is a three-time Gold Glove winner, and was considered a key part of Theo Epstein's "run prevention" spiel of 2010.
Cameron constantly misjudged plays, getting late jumps and taking awkward angles to what normally would be considered routine fly balls.
His improvement defensively and his attention to the nuances of Fenway Park become all the more vital if he is to be a true backup. Instead of focusing on just one position, Cameron has to focus on all three, as his right handed bat could be used to spell any of the three left handed starting Boston outfielders.
Bench: OF Darnell McDonald
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McDonald was nothing but a journeyman before a rash of injuries hit the Red Sox outfield in 2010. Of all the new names we saw given a chance to play in 2010, McDonald stands to benefit the most in 2011.
McDonald appeared in 117 games and made 319 AB for the Sox in 2010, which both surpassed his previous combined career MLB totals. Darnell made appearances with the Orioles in 2004, the Twins in 2007, and the Reds in 2009.
Over the course of the season, McDonald hit 9 HR, 34 RBI and batted .270/.336/.429. It might not seem like much, but Darnell's propensity for coming up big in the clutch, his above average arm, and his defensive reliability make him a suitable backup for the Red Sox in 2011.
What McDonald needs to do to succeed in 2011: McDonald is in a tough spot. If the Red Sox choose to go with an additional infielder instead of a fifth outfielder, it will be McDonald who loses his job.
If McDonald does find himself with any playing time, he needs to run with it. He needs to contribute in any way possible, to show not just the Red Sox but any future teams that 2010 wasn't a fluke and he deserves a spot on a Major League roster.
Bench: INF Jed Lowrie
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Jed Lowrie finally did good things in a Red Sox uniform last season. He was stricken with Mononucleosis early in the season, just one more item on the list of maladies he has suffered over his brief career, but finished the year strong.
He made his first appearance in July, just when members of the Red Sox started dropping like flies.
Lowrie was able to get starters playing time, and he ran with it. It's likely that he has the chance to win the starting job in camp or at the beginning of the season sometime if he continues to improve on the success he had in 2010.
What Lowrie needs to do to succeed in 2011: If there's anyone who could use a clean bill of health, it's Jed Lowrie. He's long been labeled as "injury prone," and has suffered a string of wrist injuries as well as the more recent bout with Mono over parts of three big league seasons (2008-10).
If Lowrie is healthy, he needs to build on the success he had in 2010.
In 171 AB, Lowrie posted some solid numbers: 14 2B, 9 HR, 24 RBI, .287/.381/.526.
For a player who had only four career Home Runs in 328 previous MLB at-bats, that's a pretty significant power increase.
Given 600 AB, Lowrie would have hit roughly 32 Home Runs if he had continued on the same production rate.
This increase shows two things: Lowrie's wrist is finally healthy, as he's able to fully drive the ball, and he's capable of putting up very good numbers when healthy and given consistent playing time.
Also, one more tidbit of info. Lowrie's "natural position" is shortstop. However, due to all the injuries, he did quite a bit of defensive shuffling last year.
He appeared in 27 games at second, 23 at short, and even six at first base.
It's logical to think that one's production might be higher when they played a position they were more comfortable with, and that's exactly the trend Lowrie followed in 2010:
As a shortstop: 71 AB, 23 H, 6 HR, 13 RBI, .324/.422/.648.
The sample size is less than significant, but it's still important to note that Lowrie's offensive numbers were through the roof when he was playing the defensive position he was most comfortable with, shortstop, and the one he would be playing if he won a starting job in 2011.
I'm not telling you to expect Lowrie to compete for an MVP if he wins the starting shortstop role early on in the season, but still, it's food for thought.
Bench: C Jason Varitek
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Varitek started the 2010 season on a high note. Relegated to backup duty for the first time to open a year, and not having to deal with the everyday rigors of a full time job, 'Tek's play looked refreshed.
He was averaging a HR every 16 at-bats before he broke his foot, ultimately limiting his season to only 39 games and 112 AB.
What Varitek needs to do to succeed in 2011: If I had to make a surprise prediction for 2011, it's that Red Sox nation is going to see more of Jason Varitek than initially expected.
Even if Jarrod Saltalamacchia is hitting well, it takes time to learn a staff, especially as Salty has never gotten the chance to develop any more than a part time relationship with any big league pitcher.
Salty has limited experience with the Red Sox staff; he appeared in just 10 games with the Red Sox last season.
Other than learning the staff, he's going to have to learn a fairly new bullpen that already features two new faces and could feature more by the start of the season.
This is where Varitek steps in. There's no better game caller in baseball than Varitek. He's one of the most studious and teaching-oriented players in the game, and this role will have to be evident if the Red Sox want to find success from their catching tandem in 2011.
Tek provides the luxury of allowing the Sox to ease Saltalamacchia into a starting role. Varitek will do just fine in handling the staff, all while preparing Salty to do the same.
SP 1: Jon Lester
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Over the last couple of years, Jon Lester has developed into one of the best young pitchers and left-handers in the game of baseball.
He's also developed into the ace of the staff, and I think it's time he gets the nod as the opening day starter in 2011.
What Lester needs to do to succeed in 2011: I've always maintained that the year Lester starts fast is the year he wins the AL Cy Young. So, it's no surprise that Lester would really benefit from a strong April.
In 17 career April/March starts, Lester is 3-6 with a 4.76 ERA and 1.51 WHIP. After the cold New England Spring turns into a warm New England summer, Lester always settles down.
Last year, Lester was the first player to report to camp, in an attempt to cast off these early season struggles. Unfortunately, he was not able to do so, and he had a 4.71 ERA in five April starts. Lester then went 5-0 in May with a 1.84 ERA and 0.93 WHIP, capturing the AL pitcher of the month award.
Lester obviously has one of the best, if not the best, offense in baseball hitting behind him. A 20 win season is a definite possibility, and he has all the peripheral stats, ERA, SO, WHIP, IP, etc, to be considered for a Cy Young.
Lester blew up in a few select games last year, but often times that was the result of poor defensive plays and purely indicative of how the season was going for the Red Sox, not of Lester's ability.
There's no reason to suspect less than a great season from Lester in 2011.
SP 2: Josh Beckett
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Josh Beckett was one of the many microcosms of the 2010 injury-filled season.
He made just 21 starts all year, and posted a 5.78 ERA. He never looked entirely healthy or comfortable with his mechanics at any point point during the season.
Beckett was coming off a fairly strong 2009 campaign, which saw him go 17-6 with a 3.86 ERA, 199 SO and a 1.19 WHIP.
After struggling mightily out of the gate (2-2, 7.22 ERA in five starts in March/April), he dominated the middle months of the season, going 10-2 with a 2.43 ERA through 15 starts in May-July. He was in contention for the AL Cy Young when his play faded a little bit through the latter portion of the season.
What Beckett needs to do to succeed in 2011: Beckett has the stuff to front any rotation in baseball. However, he's struggled at times with consistency, and has often "overpitched" in the the eyes of the media.
Last year, he fell in love with his cut fastball, throwing it in all scenarios and to any part of the plate. It was his go to pitch, and batter's recognized that.
According to fangraphs.com, Beckett threw his cutter 15.3 percent of the time, the highest percentage of his career. Beckett had only really started developing it the season prior, so it's no surprise we saw more of it in 2010 than we had ever before.
However, Beckett is most known for his devastating curve, which has been his main out pitch throughout his time in a Red Sox uniform. Beckett has the ability to throw it at any time in the count, and he can break it off at a few different angles.
However, we saw his curve just 18.2 percent of the time, the lowest percentage since 2005 and the lowest of any year he's spent with the Sox.
His regular fastball velocity was also down to 93.5 MPH, the lowest average it has been since 2005.
All in all, Beckett was throwing a fastball, whether four-seam, two-seam or cut approximately 70.5 percent of the time, and without much success.
It was clear that, for whatever reason, Beckett was not comfortable with his off-speed stuff, and as a result he was going to his fastball more than he should.
In 2011, for Beckett to regain his Cy Young caliber form, he needs to find the middle ground that has worked so well for him in the past. He needs to keep hitters off balance, not overpower them by throwing fastballs by them.
Maybe a drop in the rotation order will do wonders for his psyche. Maybe he'll no longer think he has to "lead the staff," and he'll just go out there and pitch. Or, maybe all he needs is a clean bill of health and a new season.
SP 3: Clay Buchholz
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Clay Buhholz had the best season of any Red Sox pitcher in 2010, and he might have captured his first career Cy Young award in just his first full season as a starter had he not missed nearly a month with injury from June - July.
While Buchholz's success was a surprise, fans of Boston who had seen him pitch on more than a few occasions knew that he was capable of accomplishing what he did.
It's no stretch of the imagination to say that Clay Buchholz has the best pure staff of any pitcher on the Boston Red Sox. Last year he featured arguably the best fastball-change up combo in baseball.
To give a comparison, both Johan Santana and Cole Hamels are two pitchers who are widely regarded as having some of the best change-ups in baseball. Last year, Buchholz's change dropped more vertically on average than each of their respective change ups.
His fastball might be his greatest asset, however. He averaged 94.1 MPH, and has the ability to well exceed that into the upper 90's if need be.
It's also very deceptive, and he can move it seemingly to all parts of the plate. Last year, his fastball was worth 20.8 runs above the average MLB fastball.
What Buchholz needs to to do succeed in 2011: Last year was no fluke. However, Buchholz needs to improve his peripheral stats if he wants to post another sub 3.00 ERA next season.
His FIP (Fielder Independent Pitching) was 3.61, more than a full point above his 2.33 ERA. He also left 79% of runners on base, struck out only 120 batters, and had a 3.5 BB/9 and a 1.79 SO/BB.
I'm not trying to convince anyone that Buchholz' 2010 was so far out of the norm that he will never repeat it. In fact, I believe Buchholz is the real deal and we'll see even better things out of him in 2011. However, he is human, he is a young pitcher, and he does have things to work on.
Buchholz surely has the stuff to be a legitimate strikeout leader, and considering how well he pitched last year it's still surprising to realize that he only fanned 120 batters.
His minor league stats indicate an upward trend in strikeouts to come: over 6 minor league seasons, Buchholz posted a SO/9 ratio of 10.2. He struck out 508 of the 1767 batters he faced.
His BB/9 minor league ratio of 2.5 also would seem to indicate potential for less walks as well.
I think the dip in Buchholz' peripherals last season were a result of him finally grasping the mental aspect of pitching that he struggled with for so long. He was just going out there and pitching; he wasn't focusing on striking guys out or not walking any batters. He did what he had to do to get a win.
As he gains more MLB experience as a clear cut everyday starter, we'll start to see his strikeouts go up, and his walks go down.
SP 4: John Lackey
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John Lackey had a disappointing 2010 as a member of the Boston Red Sox. In 33 starts he was 14-11 with a 4.40 ERA and 1.42 WHIP.
What Lackey needs to do to succeed in 2011: To give Lackey the benefit of the doubt, I'm going to chalk his 2010 struggles up to his adjustment to a new team, new division, and new ballparks, as well as a result of an injury filled season that saw underproduction across the board. It's easier to play when you're winning and having fun, and it was pretty clear that no one was having much fun last season.
Other than his poor performance, Lackey was the workhorse the Red Sox expected in 2010. He led the team in innings pitched (215.0), and games started (33). All of that is pretty ironic when you consider that he often struggled to qualify for a win. Imagine how many innings he would have thrown had he pitched well last year.
At any rate, he was one of the few players on the team who suffered no visible physical ailments.
However, it seemed as if Lackey was never comfortable with his mechanics. His curve was noticeably flat, and his fastball often missed its intended target, despite virtually no change in the average velocity or movement of either pitch.
For whatever reason, Lackey just didn't pitch well. You could point to old age, or decline, but when a man pitches over 200 innings and starts 30 plus games without showing any change in velocity, or without any sign of injury, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, especially considering he's been consistently good for so long.
While there may be a difference between the AL West and AL East, it doesn't account for that much of a drop in production, and the only other option is that Lackey just forgot how to pitch. I'm not buying that one, either.
It sounds cliche, but Lackey just needs to pitch better in 2011. He's always operated with a lot of runners on base, and he could perhaps use somewhat of a downtick in walks, but there's no physical affliction to tangibly point to as a cause for his poor season. You could say that it was "all in his head."
He has the support of one of the best offenses in baseball, and we need consistency, not greatness, out of Lackey in 2011.
SP 5: Daisuke Matsuzaka
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Daisuke suffered a consortium of injuries in 2010, most notably neck, back, and forearm injuries that limited him to only 25 starts and 153.2 innings of work.
There's not much left to be said about Daisuke at this point. He's often mortifying to watch pitch, but the fact of the matter is that there is much worse than him out there in the Majors today.
What Matsuzaka needs to do to pitch well in 2011: Consistency (I'm sensing a trend here) is a word Daisuke should look to add to his vocabulary.
Last year he ran the gamut from near a near no hitter on the road against the Phillies (5/22), to a 112 pitch, 4.2 inning, 3 ER run performance at home against the Royals in his very next start (5/27). I'm not sure if it gets much more diverse than that.
Fans have been pining for Daisuke to translate his potential into a more Americanized style of pitching, where he challenges hitters instead of dancing around him. While this drastic transition would be welcome in Boston, I'm not sure it's a reasonable expectation at this point.
Instead of trying to make him into something he's not, a return to his 2008 form would be perfectly fine for the Red Sox. In '08, Daisuke was often painful to watch, as he led the AL in walks (94). He steadfastly refused to challenge hitters except when absolutely necessary, and as a result he didn't go deep into many games (he only averaged about 5.2 innings per start).
Yet batters hit just .164 off him with runners in scoring position, the lowest average in the Majors, and he allowed zero hits in 14 bases-loaded situations.
All in all, he finished 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA. He was fourth in AL Cy Young voting.
While watching Daisuke pitch isn't nearly as enjoyable as watching Jon Lester plow through the Orioles lineup on any given night, the end result of his 2008 campaign is perfectly acceptable considering he's the fifth starter on this staff.
CL: Jonathan Papelbon
Yes, Jonathan Papelbon is still the closer of the Boston Red Sox.
While some might think that the addition of Bobby Jenks and the ever-present Daniel Bard are reasons enough to deal the struggling star, I'm not so sure. If I had to put money on it, I'd say Papelbon ends the 2011 season as a member of the Sox.
The fact of the matter is that 2010, easily Papelbon's worst season, isn't that far off from the career averages of Mr. Jenks himself. For instance, batters hit just .232 off Papelbon last season, while they have hit at a .239 mark against Jenks for his entire career.
Essentially, Pap at his worst is about on par with what Jenks might give you. Pap at his best is possibly the best closer in baseball.
Additionally, even if Papelbon is "bad" in the sense that he doesn't give us the same performance that he did in the earlier portion of his career, he's still better than the majority of the relievers in baseball. Red Sox fans have been so spoiled by watching the likes of Pap and Rivera on a consistent basis that they wouldn't know poor relief pitching if it beaned them in the face.
Trust me. If you really want to know what it's like to go through a season without any late inning help, ask any Arizona Diamondbacks fan.
And the most important thing that seems to be going overlooked throughout this whole discussion, is how bad a season Papelbon actually had. Sure, he set career lows in a number of different categories, but was it as bad as the numbers seem?
22 of Paps 29 earned runs came in just seven of his 65 appearances. This includes back-to-back blown saves in Colarado. Inter-league play is the bane of many players not comfortable with unfamiliar ballparks. It's also worth mentioning that this was the same series in which Dustin Pedroia broke his foot and Victor Martinez broke his hand, so I'm thinking that team morale couldn't have been high at this point.
When Pap was bad, he was really bad, but for the most part Pap was a dominant closer in 2010.
What Papelbon needs to do to succeed in 2011: Despite his "poor season" in 2010, Pap actually did some good things. Most notably, he regained the splitter which had been so devastating earlier in his career yet had all but left him in 2009.
However, Papelbon's fastball was all over the place. It wasn't uncommon to see him miss targets by a few inches or greater on more than one fastball during his appearances.
He also could be the beneficiary of an additional/improved breaking pitch (as his slider is rare, and does little more than hover low in the zone), or experimentation with additional fastball grips.
His 4-seam fastball is interminably straight, and doesn't move much or at all. So when he's missing with it, it's very, very hittable.
His splitter isn't designed to be thrown for strikes, so when a batter gets ahead in the count, he knows what's coming: a straight 4-seam fastball. When a batter knows what's coming and a pitcher is having accuracy problems with it, the result is a drastic rise in ERA...which is what we saw in 2010.
An additional off-speed pitch or a fastball with some movement, like a 2-seam or cutter, would help keep batters off balance. No longer would they be allowed to sit dead-red when they're ahead in the count.
Last year Papelbon's spring training project was rediscovering his splitter, which he accomplished. It'll be interesting to see if he adds anything to the repertoire in 2011.
It's also worth noting that Papelbon becomes a free agent for the first time after the 2011 season. If he ever wants to get a multi-year, expensive contract, a drastic improvement this year is the only way that will ever happen.
SU: Daniel Bard
Daniel Bard was one of the few bright spots in the Boston Red Sox bullpen last season.
Among American League relievers, he was tied for fourth in appearances (73), tied for fourth in IP (74.2), tied for third in SO (76), first in holds (32), eleventh in WHIP (1.00), and tied for ninth in ERA (1.93).
He features one of the best fastball's in the game, as well as a very good slider.
What Bard needs to do to succeed in 2011: When you think about it, there isn't much left for Bard to improve on.
He's already proved that he can be one of the best set up men in baseball. His only real "fault" was that he faded a bit towards the end of the season (2.70 ERA in 14 games in Sep/Oct), but that can be attributed mostly towards overuse and the end of an all around disappointing season for the team.
As long as Bard doesn't inherit the closer's job at some point this season (I don't think he will be, unless injuries occur), he's not being asked to do anything that he hasn't done before. Bobby Jenks should be key in limiting his innings, which should keep Bard fresh.
Relief pitching is as fickle as it gets in the world of sports, but provided Bard avoids all that, we should see another strong 2011 from him.
SU: Bobby Jenks
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Jenks, a former All-Star closer for the Chicago White Sox, will provide some much needed late inning help for the Boston Red Sox.
Some speculation has indicated that the signing of Jenks could mean the end of current closer Jonathan Papelbon's run in Boston.
However, this is not the case. Boston baseball insider Alex Speeir explained it best with a recent appearance on WEEI:
"Let's start by taking a step back. Let's not forget, their bullpen stunk last year...there were a lot of issues. The way in which you fix those issues is not by taking away inventory of potentially good pitchers in the bullpen. You do not want to get rid of people who can help you. You want to add people who can help you, that's the deal that they had with Jenks. They keep Papelbon...Jenks had a worse season last year than Papelbon so I'm not why there would be a great deal of hue and cry for Bobby Jenks replacing Papelbon as closer. He's a lot more valuable as the third dominant arm in a bullpen than he is as one of two dominant arms in the bullpen. I mean it's a simple math issue; three is better than two, four is better than two, right now they've added a bunch of guys...you want to add inventory and give a manager more options."
What Jenks needs to do to succeed in 2011: Jenks has seen his stats decline over the last two seasons, much like Papelbon. His 2010 ERA of 4.44 was the highest total of his career.
However, his FIP (fielder independent pitching) was just 2.59, and his batting average against balls in play was an uncommonly high .368. This would seem to indicate that much of Jenks' drop in production during the 2010 campaign was due in part to a dose of bad luck.
Moreover, when you factor out things like fielding, Jenks' 2010 wasn't much different from his career averages.
The biggest problem that could show itself over the course of the season is how Jenks acclimates to a new role. He's conditioned himself as a closer, both mentally and physically, for his entire career.
Some closers just don't do as well when the pressure isn't cooking and the game isn't on the line. It will be interesting to see how Jenks reacts to more sporadic appearances, as he's no longer guranteed an appearance when a save chance is on the line, and as he'll be splitting set up duties with Daniel Bard.
I'm more interested in who grows the more atrocious piece of facial hair, Jenks or Youkilis? It should be a battle for the ages.
MR: Dan Wheeler
Former Tampa Bay Ray and Warwick, Rhode Island native Dan Wheeler is one of the new faces the Red Sox will see in 2011.
The 33 year old has appeared in 530 games over parts of eleven seasons, posting a career ERA of 3.84.
He's come into his own as one of the better middle relievers in the game with the Rays, where he's pitched in at least 64 or more games while posting an ERA of 3.35 or lower in each of the last three seasons.
What Wheeler needs to do to succeed in 2011: Really, the biggest thing the Sox can ask for out of Wheeler is the same production that he's give the Rays for the last three seasons.
Wheeler walks very few batters, and pounds to zone with a combination of five different.
One thing to be aware of: the Red Sox do not yet have a clear left-handed relief pitcher, and Wheeler could see an uptick in work against left-handed batters, as it's very possible he becomes a quasi-left handed specialist.
In 2010, Wheeler was actually better against lefties than righties, as they hit just .154 off him in 39 AB. This is a striking contrast from 2009, where lefties hit .305 off Wheeler, but righties hit just .156.
The absence of a particularly imposing left-handed reliever means that Wheeler's performance against left-handed batters could become a key component to the bullpen's success in 2011.
MR/LR: Scott Atchison
Scott "Atch-Attack" Atchison (OK, so nobody really calls him that, but I think we should start) was the third best reliever in the Red Sox bullpen last season, behind Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard.
He hadn't appeared in a Major League game since 2007, when he made 22 appearances with the San Francisco Giants.
Despite underwhelming stuff, Atchison seemed like a Cy Young caliber pitcher in comparison to the inconsistencies of Hidecki Ojakima and Manny Delcarmen.
He walked just 19 batters in 60.0 innings of work, and struck out a respectable 6.2 batters per nine innings.
Atchison featured a 63% strike percentage, and his ability to pound the zone has been one of the more consistently positive aspects of his sporadic Major League career.
What Atchison needs to do to succeed in 2011: Basically, much of the same.
If Atchison performs the way he did in 2010, he'll be a guy who can reliably eat up multiple innings per outing and occasionally spot start.
Atchison's spot will likely be open for competition during Spring Training, but barring a major relapse in performance by Scott or an unexpected Spring by a competitor, I'd say Atchison has the edge in retaining his job.
LR: Tim Wakefield
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Is there a better emergency option in baseball than Tim Wakefield? I doubt it.
Last season was the first time since 2002 where Wake wasn't a full time starter.
The 44 year old knuckleballer is set to appear in his 19th Major League season, all but two of which were spent with the Red Sox.
What Wakefield needs to do to succeed in 2011: Fans have seen enough of Wakefield to know what to expect from him.
He'll go out there and consistently give the Red Sox a chance to win. He's one of the best options in baseball in case any one of the Red Sox current starters were to go down with injury at any point during the season.
We all know Wake's value as a starter, so it's imperative he makes good on the rare chances he gets out of the bullpen. If he performs well in a relief role, this could solidify his spot on the team.
The main worry here is that his job becomes obsolete as the season rolls on. If the Red Sox rotation remains injury free, the Sox may want to use Wakefield's roster spot to add a more traditional reliever.
If Wakefield is able to perform well in a relief role, not just as a sixth starter, his spot in the pen will be justified.
Left Handed Pitcher X
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As noted before, the Red Sox don't really have a clear left hander in the bullpen. I expect the Red Sox to be very active in acquiring/developing any one of the following guys:
Brian Fuentes, FA - WEEI's Alex Speeir and MLBtraderumors.com have all speculated that the Red Sox are still open to adding a lefty via the free agent market, and Fuentes is the obvious top choice. The former All-Star closer is seeking a three year deal in the range of what Scott Downs got with the Angels, which the Red Sox flat out wont offer him. They've been pretty staunch in their opposition to giving relievers multi-year deals. This one really depends on the market. If teams show little interest in Fuentes, don't be surprised if the Sox were to offer an incentive laden, fairly decent, one year contract to the lefty.
Dennys Reyes, FA - This lefty has put together a very nice string with the Twins and the Cardinals over the last five seasons. He had a one year, $1.1 million dollar deal in line with the Phillies, before the deal was nixed for an unknown reason. He remains an option.
Will Ohman, FA - Ohman spent 2010 with the Orioles and Marlins, and remains an option as a lefty-specialist.
Joe Beimal, FA - Beimel has spent the last season and a half with the Rockies. He's an option, although he might not be for much longer, as the Mets reportedly have legitimate interest in him.
JC Romero, FA - Romero, who has been a staple of the Philadelphia Phillies bullpen for the last three-and-a-half seasons, spent 23 games with the Red Sox in 2007 before he was released in mid-June. He was signed four days later by the Phils, and that's where he's been ever since. He remains an option, although he's said recently that he hopes to return to Philadelphia. And honestly, with that staff, who wouldn't? You'd hardly have to do anything!
Hidecki Okajima, FA - Yes, it's still possible we see Okie-Dokie back in a Red Sox uniform next season. Okajima was having an atrocious season when he went on the DL in August. Upon return, Okie returned to old form, and posted a 1.38 ERA over 15 games in September/October. There was some speculation that he was hiding an injury or injuries, leading to his drop off in performance.
Felix Doubront, BOS - Doubront delighted in just 12 appearances in 2010, nine of which were in relief. Albeit in a small sample size as a reliever (just 41 batters faced), Doubront looked impressive, featuring a curve that was supposed to be nonexistent, and holding batters to a .243 average. The 23 year old is likely a last-ditch effort to fill the last bullpen spot, as he still projects as a starter, and that's what the Red Sox would like him to develop as.
Andrew Miller, BOS - The 25 year old former Marlins reliever is one of the lefties who will be given a chance to compete for a job during spring training.
Lenny DiNardo, Bos - The former Red Sox reliever signed a minor league contract this offseason, and will also potentially have the chance to compete for a job.
Rich Hill, Bos - The former Chicago Cub prospect and Milton, MA native appeared in six games for the Red Sox last season. He could potentially be given the chance to compete for a job as well.
Down on The Farm
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These are some of the guys we could see at certain points in 2011, but who won't open the season with the team.
Ryan Kalish, OF - Kalish played well in 53 games for the Red Sox in 2010. The playing-time beneficiary of injury, some Red Sox fans were hopeful Kalish would get a chance to start next season. However, the 22 year-old could use some more seasoning, and another year in the minors could do him some good. He could potentially take over a full time starting job as soon as 2012, when JD Drew's contract expires. We'll likely only see him if the Red Sox outfield gets slammed hard again by injuries, so here's hoping he doesn't see any time in the Majors until the September 40-man roster expansion.
Josh Reddick, OF - If an outfielder goes down for a short period of time with injury, or the Sox need a temporary extra outfielder, Reddick could be the man. He's got an absolute cannon, and is a reliable fielder, he just hasn't figured it out offensively on the MLB level yet.
Jose Iglesias, SS - It's unlikely we see Jose in a Red Sox uniform during 2012, but given Scutaro's age and Lowrie's history of injury, Iglesias is a name worth at least mentioning. Defensively, the 20 year old can hold over the fort if a rash of injuries were to occur in the middle infield. Don't get your hopes up on seeing this highly touted prospect anytime soon.
Yamaico Navarro, INF - The 23 year old appeared in 20 games and made 42 AB last season for the Red Sox. He remains an internal option if the Sox were to find themselves with a large need for middle infield help.
Michael Bowden, RHP - Bowden has regressed somewhat, and he's failed to do much of anything with the few MLB appearances he's made in his brief career. Still, he remains an option as an emergency starter/reliever if needed. He's made at least one appearance in each of the last three seasons, so don't be surprised to see him up at some point in 2011.
Felix Doubront/Andrew Miller/Rich Hill/Lenny DiNardo/Matt Albers, LHP - Their value to the Sox was discussed on the last slide, and they each have a small chance to win a job in camp or during the season as a left-handed reliever.
So, there you have it, the 2011 Red Sox in a nutshell as I see them now.
On a side note, I wouldn't be surprised if the Red Sox pursued a Bill-Hallish type player who bats either right-handed or switch hits and can play both infield and outfield. This would give them some additional roster flexibility, and makes carrying a full time DH all the more easier. If they were to sign a guy like this, it would mean McDonald loses his job.
The offseason thus far has been about as good as to be imagined for Red Sox fans. So, when April rolls around, get out and support your team.