This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.
Today we look at the Red Sox, who last season fell victim to the “championship hangover”, one of the enduring mysteries of the game. Can they reclaim their spot at the top?
Projected Lineup: CF Mookie Betts, 2B Dustin Pedroia, DH David Ortiz, LF Hanley Ramirez*, 3B Pablo Sandoval*, 1B Mike Napoli, RF Shane Victorino, SS Xander Bogaerts, C Christian Vazquez
Projected Rotation: RHP Clay Buchholz, RHP Rick Porcello*, LHP Wade Miley*, RHP Justin Masterson*, RHP Joe Kelly
* new additions
The champions of two years ago finished 71-91 last season, and without any major injuries to blame for the decline, we’re left to wonder why they choked.
No one knows. The front office couldn’t even figure it out. So their plan this offseason was basically to sign free agents at random in the hope that some of them work out.
That’s why they brought in Hanley Ramirez, about whom general manager Ben Cherington was super excited, until one of his annoying little office aides reminded him that the Red Sox already had a shortstop.
“Oops,” said Cherington, and thus it was decided that Ramirez would play left field.
It remains to be seen how Ramirez will fare defensively, but at the plate, he looks like a different guy. He bulked up over the winter—by his admission, he gained 25 pounds of muscle. He won’t steal as many bases this year, but the Red Sox aren’t paying him to steal. They just want him to hit dingers over the Green Monster, which he’ll do plenty.
The Sox also added Pablo Sandoval, a proven winner in October who is expected to bring veteran leadership and a bat that can go to all fields. He’ll do well hitting in Fenway Park’s funky dimensions.
There are a few concerns as well. One guy who needs who step up more is Dustin Pedroia. Thumb injuries have bothered him for the past two seasons, and the effect was noticeable: in those two years, Pedroia put up a collective .752 OPS with just 16 homers. He may not be the same player as when he won MVP as a 25-year-old, but as the catalyst in this lineup, he needs to be that guy that sparks rallies. This means more walks, more extra base hits, and more of just generally being a nuisance on the basepaths. You know, the things Pedey does best.
But the aspect that has most fans worried is the pitching.
First of all, the starting rotation lacks a true ace. In fact, it also lacks a #2 starter. That’s because the Red Sox rotation is somehow made up entirely of #3 starters.
In some ways, it’s not a bad thing. One benefit is that the rotation has depth, because even though they’re all just average pitchers, they’re Major League caliber average pitchers.
They’re also all experienced. The shortest-tenured member of the starting five, Joe Kelly, has still logged 327 Major League innings, which is more than four-fifths of the current A’s rotation.
And though some may call these guys veterans, they’re not old. Rick Porcello is still just 26, and coming off the best season of his career. Wade Miley is 28 and the portrait of health, never having spent a single day on the disabled list in his career.
And then there’s Clay Buchholz. The Red Sox are still trying to figure out what he is. He was by far the worst qualifying pitcher in baseball last year in terms of ERA, with a mark of 5.34. Yet some days, he was flat out unhittable, and he somehow found time to throw two complete game shutouts in the midst of his terrible season.
So is Buchholz great, or is he awful?
Looking deeper, it appears that the primary cause of his inflated ERA was his performance with runners in scoring position. In those situations, batters hit .363/.422/.510 against Buchholz, or to put it another way, batters (.932 OPS) basically turned into Mike Trout (.939 OPS). This is in sharp contrast to how Buchholz performed with the bases empty, when he was actually pretty good, allowing a slash line of just .236/.301/.382.
Something happens to Buchholz in those high-pressure situations that cause him to become a different pitcher. He needs to sort out whatever’s going on inside his head, because the Red Sox can’t afford to let him pitch if all he’s going to do is blow up in the most pivotal moments.
The bullpen is in rough shape to start the year, with closer Koji Uehara on the shelf with a strained hamstring. He should recover quickly enough, but he’ll also be 40 years old this season. As the guys on my co-ed softball team will tell you, injuries when you’re 40 take a bit longer to recover from.
His replacement in the ninth inning will be Edward Mujica, who has bounced around a lot in his career, but does have closing experience. This isn’t ideal for the long-term, as removing Mujica from his traditional role of set-up man thins out the rest of the ‘pen.
Another option for the Red Sox might be to not tell anyone that Uehara is hurt, sneak Junichi Tazawa in there in the ninth and hope no one notices the difference.
The Red Sox will hit this year, but the pitching won’t quite be enough to keep them in games. Look for this to be a year of growth as they give playing time to their many notable young prospects.
Projected Finish: 73-89, Fourth place in AL East