Five questions: Boston Red Sox

Can they stay healthy?

I’m going to start with this and come back to it a few times throughout the piece: the Boston Red Sox are still one of the top four teams in the American League. After the horrendous September collapse last year, many people have been sleeping on them for the upcoming season. However, a lot of the collapse had to do with injuries.

Kevin Youkilis, who’s an on-base machine, one of the team’s best hitters, and a fixture in the middle of the Sox lineup, only played in 120 games and was missing down the stretch. The team had to rely on Jed Lowrie and Mike Aviles. Obviously, Youk staying healthy is big because of the numbers he’ll put up, but also because of the hard-nosed leadership and fearlessness he brings to the table. That’s something they clearly missed during that awful run, even if you can’t objectively define it.

The Sox still had one of the best offenses without their third baseman as they led the MLB in runs scored, OBP, slugging percentage, and wOBA. The problem had to do more with the starting rotation. Clay Buchholz missed a lot of time with a back issue, and Daisuke Matsuzaka missed the latter half of the season with his elbow injury. Having Andrew Miller and Kyle Weiland starting games and getting killed made their lack of depth apparent. They won’t run into that problem this year as they’ve stacked on starting pitching depth and they have Matsuzaka coming back mid-season.

Will Carl Crawford rebound?

Coming off a season in which he posted .378 wOBA and a 140 wRC+, Carl Crawford set the bar high as he signed an eight year deal with the Sox. However, he faltered in his first season in Boston hitting to a .255/.289/.405 slash line. Yes, a sub .300 OBP. The most shocking thing of all is that this was his age 28 season. He’s supposed to be in his prime.

To me it just seemed like Crawford put a little too much pressure on himself. His walk rate (4.9%) and his strikeout rate (19.3%) were both big departures from years past and his strikeout rate was actually the highest of his career. I think he was being too anxious and chasing pitches that he didn’t usually chase.

At age 29, I would be shocked if Crawford didn’t bounce back to an extent (Bill James projects him to hit .286/.332/.436). The talent and athleticism are still there, he just needs to change his mind set. The wrist surgery obviously won’t help him, but he’s been able to swing and he could be back for Opening Day. Batting him a little lower in the lineup could definitely help until he gets back to where he was.

Can they get anything from the back-end of the rotation?

Like I said, maybe the biggest factor that contributed to Boston’s collapse was the faltering of the back of their rotation. Well, new General Manager Ben Cherington addressed this issue in a way similar to Brian Cashman last offseason. He signed a bunch of low risk guys to small contracts that could help the team.

Obviously, Aaron Cook and Vicente Padilla are not going to pitch like top tier guys, but no one should laugh at those signings. First, there’s almost no risk involved and not much can go horribly wrong. Also, look at what happened when the Yankees signed Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia off the scrap heap. They got solid seasons out of both of them. I’m not saying that Cook and Padilla will pitch like those two, but hopefully they can keep the team in games and eat some innings at least until July when some help can be acquired. And there’s always the possibility that Roy Oswalt will come around to the idea of playing for Boston.

Will the new bullpen hold up?

With Jonathan Papelbon leaving for free agency and Daniel Bard attempting to become a starter, the Sox had to put together a new bullpen. They started by trading for Astros closer Mark Melancon and then acquired A’s closer Andrew Bailey. Combining these two with a healthy Bobby Jenks could give them a nice short relief crew.

However, the problem with the bullpen last year was that Terry Francona only trusted three guys in September. He ran Matt Albers and Alfredo Aceves out there almost every night and it took a toll on them and the other guys. They still have Albers now, along with Franklin Morales and Felix Doubront in middle relief, which should give Bobby Valentine a few options.

Will Bobby Valentine make a difference?

One of the biggest stories coming from Boston this winter was the hiring of Bobby Valentine to be their new manager. It was clear that a change needed to be made since Terry Francona reportedly lost a lot of respect from some key guys in the clubhouse. I’m not sure how much of a difference Valentine will make, however.

The talent has obviously been there all along, but it’s just a matter of staying healthy and having the depth to be able to deal with injuries. Almost everything that could have gone wrong last year did go wrong, and all at once. I think that Bobby V will rule with more of iron fist and that’s good for a club with this much talent to make sure they stay focused on the ultimate goal. That said, I’m not sure how to quantify this so it’s tough to reason how important it is.

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Comments

  1. Mike Erickson said...

    Good analysis of the Red Sox problems of last year. The pitching depth killed them last year (as you mentioned). This fact was overshadowed by the late-season issues the local media in Boston incessantly harped on.

    The only question I would have added would be the big question mark at SS. Aviles has never played a full season there. Nick Punto is more of a utility-type player and therefore is unlikely to win the full-time gig at short. And, to me, the Sox haven’t fully explained the trade of Scutaro. I’m aware of his lack of range, but he was a solid, reliable guy. The slant on the trade was a salary dump, but he only made about 6 mil – not a huge salary in today’s MLB.

    I know you were limited to 5 questions, so you could have combined the “back end of the rotation” and “new bullpen” question in order to fit my question in. But solid analysis anyways.

  2. Terry said...

    What a surface analysis. Heck those 5 questions are asked about every team, just substituting names.

    “The talent has obviously been there all along, but it’s just a matter of staying healthy and having the depth to be able to deal with injuries.”

    Wow what in-depth, unique analysis.

    Disappointed.

  3. Jacob Rolling Rothberg said...

    Any chance of looking a little closer at the Sox rotation? The upside of guys like Cook and Padilla is league average 4-5 pitchers, but the more interesting question (I think) is what becomes of Bucholz and Matsuzaka. Both those guys have/had significant upside and neither has been anything but a back end guy so far. Do you see either of them turning it around?

  4. BostonDave said...

    Although the questions themselves lack imagination, the analysis provided on them is solid. As one other person mentioned, the short-stop position is huge
    right now.

    I understand moving Scutaro was a financial one, but for a team built like this one is, having a gaping hole at SS is not a good thing at all.

    Let’s hope Iglesias can make enough contact to allow his glove to play in the line-up every day. They have more than enough offense to make up the difference between the two.

    And let’s hope Crawford get’s his head straight or it’s going to be a long 6 years for him in Boston.

  5. Jeff Wise said...

    I really expect Crawford to have one of those huge rebound years.  I have no idea what happened last season.  He’s going to have a solid season in 2012.

  6. Mike said...

    Even if the Red Sox benefit from a whole season’s worth of “the hard-nosed leadership and fearlessness he (Youkilis)brings to the table”, will that make up for loss of the gritty, veteran leadership of Varitek or the loss of the wily veteran leadership of Wakeman?

  7. Dom D said...

    Thanks Matt – these are pretty good questions about the Sox.  Did you also consider what the effect will be on the pitching staff with Salty behind the plate for 60% or more of the games?  He led the league in passed balls with 26, by more than double the next person on the list (Arencibia, 12).  Granted, I can’t tell what the Wakefield Effect is on that number, but nonetheless the same guy led the league in errors by a 1B in 2007… in only 46 games. 

    Not only that, he isn’t exactly Mike Piazza with a bat in his hand.  Bobby V hasn’t managed a team with catchers of less-than-All Star caliber since before a 20-year old Pudge Rodriguez was leading his last Rangers squad.  I see this being a problem for the 2012 Sox, even with veteran pitchers like Cook and Padilla stepping in for the #4 and 5 spots.

  8. John C said...

    Buchholz has never been anything more than a back-end guy? I hope all the Boston back-enders pitch like him! He only won 17 games and had the best ERA+ in the league in 2010, and was following through with another strong season in 2011 before he got hurt.

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