I have a few favorite times of the year, August when I visit relatives in New England, September when the kids go back to school, Thanksgiving and Christmas so I can get my cooking swerve on, but February is my favorite month. As a lifelong Red Sox fan February has always represented the “Next Year” of “Wait Till Next Year” mantra that has been sung by Sox fans pretty much each October of my life. 2004 and 2007 and now 2013 being the exceptions to that rule, the Sox enter the 2014 season as World Champions. Defending a title in any sport is difficult, but defending it in baseball is probably the toughest of all the sports. So many things have to go right to win the World Series, injuries have to be kept at a minimum, you need to have a fair portion of guys on the team having career years, and you need to have depth. Defending is tough because you play extra games to win, guys go all out to win (usually) and if you do win you have all of the extra stuff that goes along with winning the WS. You have to make appearances, have parades, go on tour with the trophy. Don’t get me wrong, as a fan having the team you root for win the World Series is awesome, but it puts the team at a disadvantage in terms of training and preparing for the next season.
Not only are the Red Sox are going to have a hard time defending the title due to the extra burden of winning it, they have other issues that will decrease their chances of repeating. They lost their centerfielder, Jacoby Ellsbury to free agency, are going with a young left side of the infield in Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks with prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. replacing Ellsbury in CF. They have to decide who is going to lead off, who is going start in left (my money is on Daniel Nava) and if they will play some of the pitching prospects they have. All of those are why many of the projections show them finishing behind Tampa Bay in the AL East and possibility squeaking into the playoffs as the 2nd Wild Card team. The projections have them winning about 86-88 games this year (but still leading the AL in runs scored, not sure how that works). Last year was supposed to be a bridge year to get to the youth of tomorrow; this year’s projections are showing that maybe this will be the bridge year. Also, I subscribe to Bill Simmons 5-year rule for winning a championship. The rule states there is a 5-year grace period from complaining about the team you root for after winning a championship. If they do make the playoffs as the 2nd WC team, I’ll be happy, even if it does mean playing a 1-game playoff on the road.
Projections are always fun to do, I do them every year, but this will be the first year I put them down on a public forum. I usually do them as an exercise in analysis, plus it give me something to do while waiting for the start of Spring Training and then Opening day. I do two projections, one before Spring Training starts and then update it just prior to opening day. I do this because you never know who will take off in training camp or who will get injured leading to a replacement player at that position. Also, I haven’t really looked at the other projections other than a few news reports on them and I don’t use a computer model. My projections are based on looking at the players historical record on Baseball Reference figuring out how they will do. My initial predictions are counting stats based (BA, HR, RBI for hitters, Wins, loses, ERA for pitchers) I get into details and predict OBP, SLG, OPS, WAR, etc for the updated projection before the season starts.
This will be a three part post, Hitting, Pitching and then overall projections (record, runs scored, runs allowed, etc). Without further ado, here’s the initial offense projection.
1 – Daniel Nava – (LF – .282/15/75) – I think they will try Nava in the leadoff role. He gets on base and is a pretty smart player. While he won’t steal bases at a high rate, he goes pretty good from 1st to 3rd and gets good breaks. He has improved in each year in Boston so this year shouldn’t be any different. He is an average defender and know how to play left. I think he will still platoon some with Gomes, but Nava has shown he can be an everyday player and should be given a shot to do so this year. Plus he can play 1B if Napoli needs time off.
2 – Shane Victorino – (RF – .285/13/65) – Victorino could end up leading off, but I think he is better hitting 2nd. The question will be does he continue to bat only from the right side of the plate. He was banged up last year and lead the league in being hit by pitches. He had his thumb repaired in the offseason. He will regress some this year at the plate, but his defense should continue to be above average. If he can stay injury free (or as close to it as possible) he should have another good year for the Sox.
3 – Dustin Pedroia – (2B – .307/20/100) – Pedroia is the littlest big man on this team. He is one of the best all around players in the American League. I can see him having a great year. He’s had nagging injuries to his hands and feet over the last few years, but if those are healed his power should return. His 9 HRs last year were far off his usual mid teens HR numbers. His defense is still top caliber, with Cano going to Seattle he is the premier second baseman in the top tier markets. Also, if Victorino end up leading off, Pedroia should slide into the two spot where he has better career OPS numbers.
4 – David Ortiz – (DH – .297/28/110) – There is no reason to believe that Ortiz will regress. His last four seasons have been historical for a player in his 34-37 baseball years. He should continue to mash the ball. He has become the type of hitter that opposing pitchers fears, he is a tough out with power to all fields. He has shrunk many of the holes in his swing. He used to struggle at low and inside pitches like cutters from right handed pitchers, now he takes those pitches to the opposite field and uses the Green Monster in Fenway better than any left handed hitter the Sox have had in the long time.
5 – Mike Napoli – (1B – .262/27/95) – Napoli is coming off a solid season for the Red Sox. They signed him last year to a one year deal because of problems with his hips. He accepted the one year deal (originally the Sox offered a 3 year deal) and made the most of it. He had a monster April and a out of the world September/October, was a solid player in the other months and played above average first base. In 2014 his hips are not a question, his defensive skills are not a question which should translate into a great season. He and Ortiz have the opportunity to create that 1-2 middle of the order punch that hasn’t been seen since Manny was being Manny.
6 – Will Middlebrooks – (3B – .262/18/65) – I’m going out on a limb and am predicting a better season for Middlebrooks. Last year he struggled (I’m hoping it was just a sophomore slump than lack of big league ability) at the plate and in the clubhouse. They sent him down to AAA and he struggled there too. I think he needed a wakeup call, from early reports it seems he got on. He came into camp with more muscle and was there working out early. If he hit to his prospect potential from a few years ago this team could play deep into October. In a way I don’t want them to sign Stephen Drew, even though I think he is the best defensive SS in the AL, because I want Middlebrooks to succeed.
7 – AJ Piezynski – (C – .273/15/68) – I’ll admit I don’t know much about Piezynski from watching him play, other than when the Sox played Chicago or Texas the last few years. His numbers over the last few seasons have been promising and I can see why they signed him to replace Saltalamacchica. Piezynski has a reputation of being a player nobody likes, but those stories usually come from the opposition with his teammates speaking highly of him. He should give them better production than Salty did at the plate and can handle the pitching staff since he is a veteran catcher.
8 – Xander Bogaerts – (SS – .268/12/48) – Bogaerts has been touted as their top prospect for the last few years. One of the reasons for signing Drew for a 1 year deal last year was, as I stated before, to bridge last season to the next Red Sox generation of guys like Bogaerts. His performance late last year and in the ALCS against the Tigers shows tremendous potential for a 21 year old playing on the biggest stage of his career. He drew timely walks and wasn’t timid at the plate. He earned the SS job for the WS over Drew, while he didn’t play like he did against the Tigers he gained a bunch of experience that should help him this season.
9 – Jackie Bradley (CF – .265/8/40) – Bradley won’t be able to replace the offense that Ellsbury gave the Sox, at least not in 2014. I think he will be a better CF than Ellsbury, he is smoother and take better routes to balls hit in the outfield. Where Ellsbury may get to ball and have to dive and make highlight reel catches, Bradley would get to them and catch them on the run. The question will be will his minor league success translate at the Major league level.
Jonny Gomes – (LF – .256/14/55) – I struggled with Gomes over Nava in LF for my 2014 projections. He seemed to be the go to guy at the end of the season and in the playoffs. It seemed that every time he played he did something big, but his BABIP was very high last year and I expect that to regress this season. Nava is a better overall player so he should get the starting nod. Gomes should still get his 300+ ABs this season and will hit against lefties since he is a professional at mashing lefties.
David Ross – (C – .238/10/45) – Ross should be more than a backup catcher. If healthy he should get about 300 ABs for the team and share catching duties with Piezynski this season. He has proven himself as a leader on the team and can handle the pitchers well. I expect he will get more starts early in the season as Piezynski learns the staff.
Mike Carp – (LF/1B – .275/7/38) – Carp’s numbers may end up higher depending on the number of at bats he gets. He proved he can come off the bench and be productive last year, hitting nearly .300 in just over 200 ABs.
Other (no projections, just some notes):
Grady Sizemore – Signed a one year deal with the Sox, Sizemore is trying to come back after not playing since 2011 due to injuries. He could be a outfield utility guy or some have said could play CF if Bradley doesn’t perform.
Ryan Lavarnway – Not sure where he will end up, don’t expect them to carry 14 position players. From reports he has been working out at 1st in an effort to improve his trade value. His potential for hitting has been high for several seasons now, and actually hit pretty well in limited at bats last year. He’s like Kalish, loads of potential but hasn’t translated to the Majors. Maybe they can package him with some pitching this season to add a starting pitcher if they need one.
Overall, they should have a good lineup top to bottom. Plus they have depth (with Gomes and Carp probably starters on most MLB teams) should anyone get hurt. This team will be the normal Red Sox team of the last few years. Get on base, look at a lot of pitches, drive starters out of the game early. Some guys should regress some, while others should improve their numbers from last season. Can see why they are projected to lead the league in runs scored this year.
Next up, the pitching which, in my opinion, will make or break this season.