2011 Boston Red Sox Team Preview: 5 Big Questions
We here at Baseball Professor think about our readers first and ourselves second—albeit a close second. That’s why we decided to reach out to other bloggers (who follow their respective teams more closely than we do) to give you a deeper look into the important issues every fantasy owner has to come to grips with this season. Our seventh installment is with the Boston Red Sox and comes courtesy of Mike Silver from Fire Brand of the AL.
1. Are Josh Beckett and John Lackey Worth Their Contracts?
Before last year, the Red Sox gave two pitchers long-term deals. John Lackey allowed a league-worst 305 baserunners in 215 innings and Josh Beckett won just six games and posted a career-high 5.78 ERA. It’s obvious that neither pitcher lived up to expectations, but can we expect them to bounce back and actually earn some of their money this year?
Beckett and Lackey each suffered through a rough season in 2010. I think Lackey is the one where people can say “I told you so,” while Beckett was much more of a surprise.
Lackey’s been steadily regressing for a few years now, so it wasn’t much of a shock when he underwhelmed. That said, I think he’ll be a lot better this year—think an ERA between 4.05 and 4.25. If you feel like monitoring his progress, watch his O-Contact percentage. If he’s set for a good year, it will be in the low 60s. If it’s up near 70, like last season, he’ll continue to be unimpressive.
Beckett’s success hinges on his health. For as long as he’s healthy, he should be able to produce at his previous levels. However, back injuries are particularly tricky and last year was the third in a row where he missed time because of it. Set to turn 31 this year, he isn’t getting any younger and will be an injury risk for the remainder of his career.
2. Will Marco Scutaro or Jed Lowrie Be Boston's Primary Shortstop?
Manager Terry Francona has bluntly gone on record saying that Marco Scutaro is his shortstop. Still, with Boston’s infield coming off injuries in 2010—Adrian Gonzalez’s shoulder, Dustin Pedroia’s foot and Kevin Youkilis’ thumb—it’s easy to envision Jed Lowrie instead serving as a super utility man. Do you think Scutaro will keep the starting shortstop job all year, and what kind of season do you see Lowrie having?
My read on Tito has always been that, if he’s saying it, he’s going to stick to it. He’s a player’s manager, and he’s earned that trust, so Scutaro‘s the guy—at least for the beginning of the season.
What I see happening is a slow phasing out of Scutaro as the season progresses, with the team slowly giving more time to Lowrie at short. There is a mutual option on Marco after the season, while Lowrie is under team control for the foreseeable future, so the team will want to get a look at their cost-controlled replacement.
As for Lowrie repeating last year’s breakout, it all depends on the power. While a lot of people think his pop is a fluke, I think it’s actually somewhat sustainable. The funny thing about last season was that he didn’t really hit for much power; he just hit a lot of fly balls. If he can keep that fly ball percentage north of 50 percent, I see him topping 20 home runs in a full season’s worth of at-bats, with a .276 average and .830 OPS.
3. Is Jonathan Papelbon Due for a Rebound?
The Red Sox actively sought bullpen help this offseason largely as a result of Jonathan Papelbon’s worst season in the majors. Trade talk has swirled around Papelbon all winter, so how do you expect him to rebound from 2010 and will he be with the team as they make their second-half playoff push? In the event the Red Sox move Papelbon, who takes over closer duties?
I’ll answer the second part first. If Papelbon is moved or unable to close, I think the job is Bard's. Of course, there’s always the chance that Jenks sneaks his way into the role. However, if you can only back one horse, bet on Bard.
As for a rebound, I think that what you saw last year is what you get from Papelbon. His plate discipline indicators over the past few years have been projecting a season like 2010, and he finally stopped overachieving. That’s probably a big part of why they are so eager to move him—he’s not capable of producing at the sub-2.00 ERA anymore. I see low 3.00s for this season—think 2.90-3.30.
4. Can Clay Buchholz Remain a Front-Line Starter?
After throwing a no-hitter in his second career start, Sox fans have been waiting for Clay Buchholz to put it all together. They finally got their wish last year as Buchholz finished the season 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA. Can we expect a repeat performance? Also, do you see Buchholz striking out more batters in the future?
Last year, Clay Buchholz had one of the most interesting seasons in recent memory. He walked among the class of the MLB last year, but got there for all the wrong reasons. His BABIP and HR/FB were both too low, but that really only evened out his worse-than-expected K/9 and BB/9.
He’s got all the tools to be elite and, yes, we should see a rise in Ks this season. I’m a big fan of his this season, for the right reasons, that he finally gets punch outs at the clip he’s supposed to. I see a 3.71 ERA with a 7.7 K/9. Sure, it’s not a repeat of his 2.33 ERA from last season, but really, who can we ever expect to repeat that?
5. How Effective Will Jacoby Ellsbury Be?
With Adrian “Wrecking Ball” Beltre now in Texas, Ellsbury can safely patrol the Fenway outfield once again. After playing in just 18 games last year, will Ellsbury return to the 70-steal player we saw in 2009? Thinking more long-term, what kind of home-run potential do you think Ellsbury has in Boston?
I don’t think that Ellsbury returns to being a 70-steal guy this season if only for the reason that he’s going to have to share the position with Mike Cameron. Cameron’s no spring chicken, and he’s got injury concerns, but as long as he’s healthy, I think they split time.
If he does see full-time at-bats at some point this season, he should steal at a 60+ pace. His injuries weren’t to his legs, so I don’t see his speed being affected.
As for his power potential, I’ve heard he’s got some great batting practice power, but his game swing isn’t tailored to the long ball. I think he hits double digits this season, with an upside in the high teens. He might approach 20 some day, but no one will ever confuse him for a power threat.
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