2012 Outlook: Boston Red Sox

The 2012 Boston Red Sox are looking forward to Opening Day more than any other team this year.  Unlike the Braves, the Red Sox have completely cleaned house after their September collapse, with a new GM, new manager, and long-time veterans gone.  However, three of the 15 best position players last year made their home at Fenway, so there is plenty of talent to recover.  The pitching is depleted, but there is a good core to compliment the great offense.

Jacoby Ellsbury busted out a 150 wRC+, combining a great line drive rate with 32 home runs, almost twice as many as he hit in his career before last year.  While I wouldn’t expect that many HR again, 20 would be a good projection.  He also is unlikely to be a +15 defender in CF again, but +5 defense with a 135 wRC+ is a 6 WAR season.  There is a much less rosy picture surrounding Ellsbury.  Carl Crawford tries to rebound from a replacement-level season, barely walking 4% of his PA and striking out nearly 20%.  His defense also rated below average, probably due to playing half his games in a park where LF is not very big.  If his plate discipline numbers revert back towards his normal rates, he should provide 3-4 WAR.  Right field could see a Ryan Sweeney/Cody Ross platoon.  Sweeney has had trouble staying healthy, and when he plays, he is a low-power, good defense player.  Ross looks to receive a boost in power playing in Fenway, but has declined the last two years, making it unlikely he provides more than average production.  Darnell McDonald and Ryan Kalish are also likely to be up with Boston throughout the season.

Adrian Gonzalez did not struggle his first season in Boston, posting a 153 wRC+ and +10 defense at first base.  However, his .380 BABIP and lack of ISO increase are not encouraging signs.  Moving from PETCO to Fenway should boost power, but Gonzalez also hit more groundballs than ever, contributing to the stagnant power.  He is a 5-6 WAR player, which will always do the job.  Kevin Youkilis was on pace for 5 WAR before his season ended due to injury.  It was his worst offensive season since ’07, but his BABIP was 30 points lower than his previous career low, and there were not any signs of decline.  If he can stay healthy, he’s another 5 WAR player in this lineup.

Dustin Pedroia had a very overlooked season, combining a 134 wRC+ and +15 defense at second base to approach 8 WAR.  He’s a true 6-7 WAR player, the best second baseman in the majors.  Shortstop is much less talented, with Mike Aviles and Nick Punto fighting for playing time after the departures of Marco Scutaro and Jed Lowrie.  Aviles won’t walk or hit for power, but he has good contact skills and plays average defense.  Punto missed much of last season, though he put up offensive numbers never seen from him, an above average wRC+ and an above .100 ISO.  He will walk a good amount and play good defense, but the power will likely be gone.

David Ortiz regained his ’03-’07 form, dramatically cutting his K rate and squaring up the ball more often.  He should provide 3-4 WAR again this year at DH if he can retain most of the improvement from 2011.  Jarrod Saltalamacchia will likely get most of the time behind the plate, hoping to improve on his horrible plate discipline that held his OBP under .300.  Kelly Shoppach will likely be a platoon backup, with Ryan Lavarnway trying to use his bat to get playing time.

The starting rotation was the main cause for the September collapse, and now there will be more question marks after the top three.  Josh Beckett lowered his walks and homers, rebounding from his poor 2010 season.  His 2.89 ERA was a little lucky, with his FIP and SIERA around 3.50.  If he regresses to that point and can pitch 180 innings, he’ll be worth 4 WAR.  Jon Lester is the other great arm, though he struggled with walks again and had a bit of poor luck on HR.  He should put up similar numbers to Beckett, but with more walks and groundballs.  Clay Buchholz missed half the 2011 season with back issues.  He was showing the same peripherals from his lucky 2010 season, so expect average walk and K rates with an above-average groundball rate, which is good for a 4.20 ERA and 2 WAR over 170 innings.

The back end is a mess, with John Lackey to miss the entire season and Daisuke Matsuzaka missing half of it due to Tommy John surgery, while Tim Wakefield retired.  Daniel Bard will attempt to make the conversion to starting, after spending the past two seasons blowing away hitters in the late innings.  His stuff is not a problem, but he will have to learn to pitch at 94 instead of 97 and use his changeup more than 7% of the time.  Non-roster invites Vicente Padilla and Aaron Cook are in line for the fifth spot.  Neither one will be much above replacement level, but just hope to stay healthy until Dice-K is ready.  Alfredo Aceves could also get a shot in the rotation.

The bullpen is completely overhauled, with Papelbon in Philadelphia and Bard in the rotation.  Andrew Bailey was acquired from Oakland to close out games, though he hasn’t surpassed 50 IP the past two seasons.  Mark Melancon comes from Houston, likely to setup and close if Bailey gets hurt again.  Aceves will be the other late-inning option, while Bobby Jenks slowly recovers from a back injury.

The amount of talent on the offensive side of this team can be matched by very few, if any, but the remaining pitching will have to stay healthy to stay competitive in this division.  I think another 90-92 win season is coming, which may not be enough for a playoff spot.

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