Boston Red Sox 2011 Newcomers: Welcome To Beantown, Boys
This past calendar year has been nothing but heartbreak after heartbreak for New England sports fans.
(All 29 other sports regions/cities roll their eyes collectively).
We're no Seattle or Cleveland, but these have been somewhat trying times for fans that have high standards for success.
A quick recap: The Red Sox didn't make the playoffs due to freak injuries to their two best players; the Bruins blew a three game lead in the Eastern Conference semi-finals to a Philadelphia Flyers team made up of unwashed heathens; the Super Bowl favorite Patriots tanked in their first playoff game against the Jets; and the Celtics lose the NBA Finals game seven against the Lakers. Rough stuff.
Also, that NBA deadline deal which took Kendrick Perkins out of green was another unexpected occurrence that was unsettling, to say the least.
And through all that, I've remained positive. Why, you ask?
Did you see who the Red Sox signed this offseason?
Honestly, I don't think Boston was all that bad last season. Eric Patterson and Daniel Nava started more games than anyone should ever ask of them; John Lackey ate a whole lot of nachos; and Adrian Beltre really liked kicking people in the chest super hard.
Despite all that, they almost won 90 games last season. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz proved to be a fearsome one-two punch to build a rotation around; Jed Lowrie showed some real glimmers of being a versatile major league baseball player; and that Daniel Bard guy threw the ball wicked hahd, dude guy.
Now, everyone is healthy, and there are some fresh faces that make this team the clear favorite in the American League.
Carl Crawford: Boston's Interpretation of the Initials CC
The Red Sox biggest free agent acquisition in the sense of who has the most skill was Carl Crawford.
The Red Sox biggest free agent acquisition in the sense of who has the most size was Bobby Jenks.
But lets talk about Carl first.
Offensively, Carl will get from 40 to 50 stolen bases; hit around .300; abuse the awkward right field corner in his quest to get a 20 triples in a single season (not impossible for him); and he has a little pop.
He's coming off his best season—from a slugging perspective (.495 in 2010, his OPS was .851)—but whether or not that's a result of a playing in a contract year remains to be seen. Apart from the 2007 campaign, where he battled a wrist injury, Crawford's OPS has been steadily in the 800s, so there's no reason to expect any sort of drop off.
Known for his hard work and motivation that can permeate an entire clubhouse, it may be more reasonable to expect Carl to have another career year.
Defensively, he's the best left fielder in baseball. He didn't win a fielding bible award (the only legitimate defensive award, IMO) last year for the first time since the lost 2007 season—losing out to New York Yankees counterpart Brett Gardner—but he did win his first Golden Glove.
Fenway Park is home to the smallest left field in baseball, and even allowed Manny Ramirez to have some (gulp) fairly decent years with the glove, but his ability to plug the left-center gap hasn't been seen in Boston's left field since Carl Yastrzemski (this is if you discount the three weeks Jacoby Ellsbury played left last year, and I do).
I don't buy into the argument that he's a waste of a defensive stalwart since he's stuck in left field.
Between Crawford and Jacoby playing center, it's going to be tough for opposing players to get anything when hitting in their general direction. Pay attention to how many doubles to left the Red Sox staff allows this year. It will be lower. I Promise.
Bill James's Projections, reached using math: 149 games, .300 BA, .350 OBP, .453 SLG, 14 HR, 93 RBI.
Corey Nachman's Projections, reached with conjecture and nothing math related: .310 BA, .364 OBP, .478 SLG, 16 HR, 101 RBI.
Jarrod Saltla....Jarrod Saltlamackia...Jarrod Sal...Salty. We'll Call You Salty.
If I'm the first to say it, then I'll sound like an idiot, but I do think Jarrod Saltalamacchia was a good pick up.
There aren't many catchers with real offensive upside like him, and his throwing issues seem to have been sorted out.
Considering what it would have cost to get him even an off-season ago (probably a Clay Buchholz or Jacoby Ellsbury) when his stock was higher, I'm glad we got him for practically nothing—just a few prospects that were mid-level at best.
Now, the Sox got him before the trade deadline last year, and he did make a few appearances later in the year. This should still be considered his first go with the team.
He has spent the entire off-season working with trainers and instructors, and he is spending his Spring Training with the best coach a catcher could ask for: Jason Varitek. Tek has given some very solid reviews of what he's seen out of Salty.
If Salty's arm/head is sorted out, the offense will follow, and he'd be a more dependable guy to gun down would-be base stealers than Varitek, who is well past his prime. If he learns how to properly call a game, too, he could be a well above average backstop. And he's only 25, to boot.
The best thing is that Salty has as little pressure on him as a starting catcher from Boston could have.
He's not expected to put up Kevin Youkilis numbers, he just has to be a better hitter than Jason Varitek. That shouldn't be too hard.
For the first few months at least, expect Salty and Tek to platoon the catcher position. Jarrod will probably start against the right handers, while Jason starts against the lefties, whom he can still hit well against.
Bill James's Projections, worked out in a clean, organized working environment: 110 games, .249 BA, .323 OBP, .422 SLG, 12 HR, 43 RBI.
Corey Nachman's Projections, worked out while eating hummus: 106 games, .255 BA, .345 OBP, .445 SLG, 16 HR, 57 RBI.
Nice Pitch, Bobby: Bobby Jenks
I am by no means an apologist for Jonathan Papelbon (even though I think he's going to set the world on fire this year), so I welcomed the signing of Bobby Jenks for that reason.
The other reason is because Ozzie Guillen LOATHES Bobby Jenks, so he must be doing something right.
Ozzie Guillen is the worst manager in baseball not named Dusty Baker.
Back to Bobby—a well established closer coming off of a tumultuous season.
He had a few nagging injuries, and an ERA of 4.44; not good for the anchor of a bullpen. He's not the anchor in Boston, so there should be less pressure. He's in better shape and is injury free, so he has no limitations. He is now playing for a player's manager, so he shouldn't need a translator to converse with him. He can still throw in the upper 90s, and most players have difficulty with that sort of cheese. He's going to be solid.
On a side note, I love relievers with crazy tattoos. Brandon League was my favorite to watch pitch because he looked like the lead singer of some hardcore band. Jenks looks more like a biker and has less tattoos than B-League, but Jenks's tats are in prominent areas. He also has a sweet beard.
He's a throwback to a bullpen grinder who could give two effs about his appearance, he just wants to strike you out. I dig that from my relievers.
Bill James's Projections, slaved over for hours: 49 IP, 3 wins, 2 losses, 32 saves, 3.12 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 48 K, 17 BB.
Corey Nachman's Projections, conjured up while listening to the new Radiohead album: 51 IP, 4 wins, 1 loss, 4 saves, 2.91 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 53 K, 17 BB.
Dan Wheeler: The Other Impact Player That Used to Play in Tampa.
Dan Wheeler doesn't garner a lot of fanfare, but ardent followers of the BoSox know how good he can be, since he's made so many Red Sox hitters look silly swinging at his breaking ball.
He's been a consistent contributor to the Tampa Bay bullpen for a few years, and it was surprising to see them let Wheeler walk, since he has a real habit of not allowing many base runners.
His WHIP was 1.07 last season—his highest in three years, but not by much. The two seasons prior, Wheeler had WHIPs under 1.
He's going to be the sixth-seventh inning guy in Boston, which gives the Sox a huge advantage. Having a dependable guy for those innings only requires your starters to go a minimum of five. Dice-K has to be doing cartwheels all the time now.
Wheeler-Jenks-Bard is a more than capable bridge to Papelbon, and maybe even more dependable than Papelbon himself.
I can blast Jonathan Papelbon in my columns because I know there's no way he reads them.
Bill James's Projections, that involved a calculator and/or an abacus: 47 IP, 3 wins, 2 losses, 2.87 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 42 K, 14 BB.
Corey Nachman's Projections, that involved coffee and squeezing a stress ball: 45 IP, 3 wins, 2 losses, 2.75 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 39 K, 14 BB.
Matt Albers: This Guy's Also New
Matt Albers occasionally throws the ball in the strike zone, and he probably did something once.
Bill James was somehow not too busy to come up with some projections for Matt Albers: 73 IP, 3 wins, 5 losses, 4.68 ERA.
Corey Nachman,somehow, was too busy.
Get Ready for a Ton of Rocky Balboa's Wife References: Adrian Gonzalez
Adrian Gonzalez is the best left handed hitter in baseball, with an uncanny ability to hit with power to all fields.
If only the historical society of Massachusetts agreed that bringing in the bullpens ten feet would still allow for Fenway Park to still recieve tax credits for being recognized as a historical landmark. But alas, we're not about to rename Williamsburg "Gonzalez Gardens." I just trademarked that.
Even though the right field bullpens are 380 feet away from home plate, this is a marked improvement over the dimensions in PETCO Park—which has a power alley of 402 feet.
Despite those very unfriendly distances, A-Gone still raked last year.
Despite an injured shoulder labrum, A-Gone still raked last year.
He hit 31 homeruns, knocked in 101 runs, and played Gold Glove caliber first base—not that the Gold Glove is relevant. He has steadily stayed between 30 and 40 homeruns a year for the past four seasons, and I expect the trend to turn from 30 to 40 homeruns a season to 40 to 50 homeruns a season.
I have a lot to say about Adrian Gonzalez, and there will be a much longer column about him in the not too distant future, but if you take away anything from this at all, it should be this: Boston fans should be the most excited for Adrian Gonzalez. He's the biggest threat they've had in the clean-up spot since Manny Ramirez.
Except in this case, I mean threat in a 100% positive way.
Bill James's Projections, which I don't think he even agrees with: 161 games, .285 BA, .378 OBP, .512 SLG, 33 HR, 102 RBI
Corey Nachman's Projections, which are insane: 161 games, .302 BA, .405 OBP, .551 SLG, 47 HR, 130 RBI.