In 2011, the Boston Red Sox had arguably the best offense in baseball. The team led the majors in runs scored (875), hits (1,600), doubles (352), total bases (2,631), on-base percentage (.349) and slugging (.461). They also finished in the top three in average and home runs. In 2012, they will return most, if not all, of the usual suspects.
But that isn't to say that the team's powerhouse offense does not have question marks. Can Carl Crawford bounce back from the worst year of his career? Will they again get some of the worst offensive production in baseball from their right fielder? Can Jacoby Ellsbury reproduce his breakout season of last year?
Keep reading for my take on all of this and more.
Success for the Red Sox will start at the top. Leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury had a historically good season last year, hitting 32 home runs to go with his 39 stolen bases. The power of that 30/30 equation was highly unexpected for a player who had never hit more than nine home runs in a season before.
So, can he do it again? I think it's fair to expect his power to decrease a little bit next season. Jacoby Ellsbury's home run to fly ball ratio of 16.7 percent was significantly higher than the league average. And recent data suggests that there's a correlation between the amount of contact players make on pitches out of the zone and their home run rates.
This could be bad news for Ellsbury's power considering he makes contact on more than 75 percent of pitches he swings at outside the strike zone.
But it will mean good news for his ability to be a perennial .300 hitter. And so is Ellsbury's .336 BABIP, which may be higher than the league average but is lower than what his BABIP should have been based on his 22.9 percent line drive rate. Overall, I would expect a slight rise in average and on-base percentage, and a moderate loss in power.
2012 Projection - 155 games played, .325/.380/.520, 125 runs scored, 25 HR, 45 stolen bases
Dustin Pedroia is the definition of consistency. Even foot surgery could not slow down the second baseman whose .861 OPS in 2011 was a whole .001 points higher than his OPS the previous year. His wOBA the last two years were an identical .377. He will show up, he will play 150-plus games and he will hit.
There were no major statistical anomalies in Pedroia's numbers in 2011. Overall, his BABIP was a sliver higher than it should have been and perhaps his home run to fly ball ratio was as well. Pedroia's another player who makes contact on more than 75 percent of pitches that he swings at outside of the strike zone, so I wouldn't expect him to repeat a career-high 21 home runs. But other than that, I'd expect more of the same.
2011 Projection - 158 games, .300/.375/.465, 110 runs scored, 17 HR, 85 RBI, 25 stolen bases
Adrian Gonzalez had no trouble adjusting to the Boston sports market or the American League. Going into the All-Star break, the newly acquired first baseman was sitting on a .354 average, 17 home runs and 77 RBI. But in the second half of the season, his power vanished, and he finished the season with his lowest home run total since 2006.
Gonzalez should not have hit .338 in 2011. His .380 BABIP was almost .050 points higher than it should have been. His low home run totals may have had something to do with hitting in Fenway Park, which allowed 12 percent fewer home runs than the average Major League Baseball park last year. But he also had an uncharacteristically low isolated power. Common sense dictates that with better protection in the order he should get better pitches to hit.
For all the success Gonzalez had last year, he did not draw a lot of walks. His walk rate of 10.3 percent was significantly lower than his walk rate of 13.4 percent in 2010 and his walk rate of 17.5 percent in 2009. Once he becomes more familiar with American League pitchers, his walks rate and home run totals will likely return to normal.
2011 Projection - 158 games, .310/.400/.560, 35 HR, 115 RBI
The biggest issue with Kevin Youkilis has been his health the last two years. In 2010, Youkilis tore a muscle in his thumb and managed to play just 102 games. The next year, back issues limited him to just 120 games. Youkilis will turn 33 years old in 2012 and his hard-nosed play style appears to have taken a toll on his body.
It probably would not be fair to count on Youkilis for much more than 120 games next season. But he was a perennial .950 OPS hitter until last year. With Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez hitting in front of him, he will have plenty of chances to drive in runs.
2012 Projection - 120 games, .295/.390/.540, 21 home runs, 90 RBI
The 35-year-old designated hitter saw a surprising resurgence in his production in 2011. Usually when a player of his age sees an increase in production, you could expect his numbers to return right back to normal the next year. But given the adjustments Ortiz made against left-handed pitchers, I wouldn't count on a nosedive in his production.
The career .813 OPS hitter versus southpaws had a career best .989 OPS against lefties in 2011. Ortiz stated that he realized the previous offseason that "most of the time when you struggle against lefties, you're getting yourself out," according to CSNNE.com.
He made a concerted effort to have more plate discipline in those situations. The results were 27 walks and just 33 strikeouts in 173 at bats against left-handers, good for a .423 on-base percentage.
Now that Ortiz has finally addressed his biggest weakness as a hitter, he's not likely to abandon his new approach. But a 36-year-old hitter can only produce at an elite level for so long. David Ortiz's 2012 season will be a matter of skill and experience facing off against Father Time.
2012 Projection - 140 games played, .285/.370/.520, 28 home runs, 100 RBI
The Boston Red Sox have every reason to expect Carl Crawford to bounce back in 2012. A career .293 hitter with 427 stolen bases simply does not forget how to hit and run at age 29.
There are a variety of factors which figured into Crawford's disappointing first year in Boston. He was likely uncomfortable with the $142 million contract that he signed and the expectations that came with it. Crawford was also nursing a bad left hamstring for most of the season.
The left fielder was never a very patient hitter, and he does not hit for a lot of power, but his training routine and preparedness are legendary. While he's unlikely to reproduce a career year like he had in 2010, he will return to the productive speedster that he was for nine years with Tampa Bay.
2012 Projection - .285/.336/.450, 80 runs scored, 15 HR, 90 RBI, 50 stolen bases
In 2006, Baseball America named Jarrod Saltalamacchia the 18th best prospect in baseball. In 2007, he was the featured prospect in a trade for Mark Teixeira. And in 2011, he finally fulfilled his potential. Saltalamacchia clicked last year, both offensively and defensively.
He appears to have put his anxiety issues behind him and now appears to be at least a league average catcher. Saltalamacchia went into September with a .781 OPS and appeared to fatigue in the last month of the season as the team leaned on him heavily.
His final numbers on the season, .235/.288/.540, do not look all that impressive. But his OPS ranks him sixth out of 13 American League catchers who had at least 300 at bats. And Saltalamacchia's BABIP was actually .029 points lower than it should have been given his impressive 21.9 percent line drive rate.
With two competent backup catcher options in Kelly Shoppach and Ryan Lavarnway, Saltalamacchia should get regular rest in 2012. And he should see an increase in his offensive production as a result.
2012 Projection - 100 games played .250/.340/.450, 14 HR, 50 RBI
The Iglesias era is fast approaching, but it isn't quite here yet. The 23-year-old shortstop prospect's development was stunted to some degree. He also hit an unimpressive .235/.285/.269 at the Triple-A level. To begin the season at least, the Red Sox will rely on Marco Scutaro.
Scutaro's hard-nosed play was a blessing last year. He played through multiple injuries and hit .387/.438/.581 in September when the rest of the team was collapsing around him. The 36-year-old may be approaching the end of his career, but he's still a quality hitting shortstop.
2012 Projection (Scutaro) - 115 games played, .280/.355/.400, 12 HR, 50 RBI
Barring a catastrophically bad performance in the minors, Jose Iglesias will get another chance to get his feet wet in the major leagues. Most of Iglesias' value comes from his defense though, so I wouldn't expect him to contribute much to the offense.
2012 Projection (Iglesias) - 25 games played, .240/.295/.350, 0 HR, 5 RBI
On the bright side, Red Sox right fielders couldn't possibly hit as poorly as they did in 2011. Last year, Boston's .652 OPS out of the right field position ranked 29th among 30 teams. It's possible that the Red Sox acquire another right fielder to platoon with either Josh Reddick or Ryan Kalish. But as the team stands now, this it the kind of production that you can expect from the team's right fielders.
Josh Reddick is a great contact hitter, but he has very little plate discipline. The 24-year-old outfielder had an outstanding 23.3 percent line drive rate last year, and he did show some flashes of power, hitting seven home runs in 87 games. But he was anything but consistent.
Reddick hit .407 in June, .280 in July, .208 in August and .271 in September. He drew seven walks in July but drew only two walks in September. Which Reddick the Red Sox will see in 2012 is anybody's guess.
2012 Projection (Reddick) - 80 games played, .270/.320/.440, 5 HR, 25 RBI
Red Sox outfield prospect Ryan Kalish will also get a shot at the starting position. Kalish is a year younger than Reddick but is the more polished player. He struggled in 53 games with the Red Sox in 2010 and was hurt most of the year in 2011. But with a year more of experience under his belt he should look more like the .294/.356/.476 hitter that he was at the Triple-A level in 2010.
2012 Projection (Kalish) - 60 games played, .275/.350/.480, 4 HR, 22 RBI
Overall, the Boston Red Sox offense will look a lot like it did in 2011, and that's a good thing. Its components will be a year older, and some can expect some regression in their production coming off career years. But with improved health, a bounce-back season from Carl Crawford and more options to fill in at right field, the team should be able to improve on its 875 run total from 2011.
Here's how I project the Boston Red Sox offense to finish among all Major League Baseball teams in the following categories:
895 runs (first)
.282 AVG (second)
.352 OBP (first)
.451 SLG (third)
.813 OPS (first)
369 doubles (first)
198 home runs (fifth)