With some key additions including slugger Adrian Gonzalez, the already-talented Boston lineup got even better this winter
As the title suggests, there's rampant optimism among Red Sox fans after this winter's acquisitions. The club traded for Adrian Gonzalez, a highly-prized first baseman whom the Boston brain trust has coveted for years. That grab was followed by the signing of Carl Crawford, the former Tampa left fielder who was the top free agent available this offseason.
The team then made some other changes, bringing in Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler to shore up an ailing bullpen, moving Kevin Youkilis back to third base after Adrian Beltre signed with Texas, and inking a diverse supporting cast of role players.
Adding two big bats to an already productive lineup got fans excited and competitors scrambling to devise ways to combat an offense that could be historically great. It's true that these Sox need to prove themselves on the field before we can crown them division champs (or better), but the enthusiasm is justified.
Let's quantify just how good this offense might be.
In doing so, it's important to remember that offensive production doesn't necessarily equate to wins. You could have the best lineup in history and still struggle if adequate pitching isn't in place. But this year's Sox have an improved bullpen and a serviceable rotation. In fact, if John Lackey and Josh Beckett can rebound from last year's poor numbers, the starting five might be among the better rotations in baseball.
So if we take it as a given that the pitching can hang in there and keep the team in games, how good might the offense be, and what might that mean for the win column?
To figure it out, I took a look at the franchise's historical data, specifically team OPS. OPS, which is on-base percentage plus slugging percentage, is one of the better metrics at providing a snapshot of how good a player or team is (or was) at the plate.
Going all the way back to 1901, the franchise has a correlation of 0.92 between team OPS and runs scored. A value of 1.00 would have been perfectly positive, indicating that higher OPS always equates more runs scored, so a value of 0.92 is very strong. In simple terms, it's been statistically true that the better the team does in one of those categories, the better they do in the other.
This doesn't mean that an increase in OPS causes an increase in runs (or the other way around), but it doesn't mean that two are connected. So if we want to figure out how the 2011 offense might produce, we can draw some reasonable conclusions based on the OPS numbers its likely to put up.
Taking a look at the recent and career stats for each player likely to make a significant contribution, I came up with some ballpark expectations of what we might see.
These are crude predictions; I can't really estimate what effect the team chemistry might have, or what advantages the better players might enjoy as a result of having more big bats in the lineup. It's also hard to determine how adjusting to Fenway will impact the newcomers. And there will almost certainly be a handful of other guys playing in a handful of games whose numbers will also factor in.
But on the whole, these are pretty defensible.
I also made some assumptions about playing time, guessing that Lowrie and Scutaro will share time at short, that Cameron and Kalish will rotate in the outfield taking some time away from Drew and Ellsbury, and that Ortiz will have some days off periodically. In short, I applied percentages to make these 13 guys add up to nine full-time players.
The result is an estimated team OPS of .836.
So what does that mean?
These calculations assume that everyone does more or less what he's been doing recently. At that "average" pace, the team's OPS of .836 would be the third best in Red Sox history.
In 2003, the Sox posted an OPS of .851 while scoring 961 runs, and back in 1950 they finished with .848. The 1950 also featured a team record 1,027 runs.
Are you starting to see what all the excitement is about?
If doing the expected could net that kind of output, what might happen if even one guy breaks out? What might happen if Big Papi repeats his .899 from last year? The 2011 season is, after all, a contract year for him. What if Gonzalez proves that Petco Park and the weak-hitting Padres were holding back and breaks the 1.000 mark? Or if Youk improves? Or if Lowrie plays well enough in the field to keep Scoots on the bench?
Just a two percent increase from these estimates would be a new all-time mark for the 110-year-old club.
All kinds of good things can happen that would make this team even better than I'm suggesting, and that, as Bostonians might say, is a wicked good thought. 1,000-plus runs is within reach, and if a few things break the team's way, we could very well witness the best offense in Red Sox history.
And that would almost certainly lead to a playoff berth, a deep postseason run, and possibly more.
So fire up the DVR. Take some extra time off work. And plan on staying up for the West Coast games. Because it's not too hard to imagine that 2011 might just be a record-breaking year.