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.