Previewing the AL East: Boston Red Sox

Now that spring training is underway for all 30 MLB teams, it’s that time of the year for projections and predictions for the upcoming season. Over the next couple days, I will be previewing what is arguably still the most competitive division in the game, the American League East, and what better place to start than with the reigning World Series Champions, the Boston Red Sox.

The Offseason:

Last offseason, the Red Sox focused on making multiple short-term, smaller-scale signings instead of going after any of the top free agents on the market, and, quite frankly, I think we can all say it worked out pretty well in the end.

Most of these signings, in fact, paid off with a direct impact on the team’s championship run. Shane Victorino smacked a go-ahead grand slam off of Jose Veras in Game 6 of the ALCS vs. the Tigers, Mike Napoli single-handedly won Game 3 of the ALCS for the team with a solo shot off of Justin Verlander, and Koji Uehara had a historic run as the team’s closer from June until the end of the season, closing out the teams third world series title in the last decade. This offseason, however, the team was much less active and there are questions surrounding the team as to whether it has enough to repeat in 2014.

Red_Sox_Pedroia_2014Some of the team’s notable transactions this offseason:

- Extended 2B Dustin Pedroia for 7 years, $100MM
- Resigned 1B Mike Napoli for 2 years, $32MM
- Signed C A.J. Pierzynski for 1 year, $8.25MM
- Signed RHP Edward Mujica for 2 years, $9MM
- Signed Grady Sizemore for 1 year, $750K
- Acquired RHP Burke Badenhop from MIL
- Acquired 2B/SS Jonathan Herrera from COL

As you can see, nothing too exciting has happened this offseason for Red Sox fans beyond the team resigning postseason hero, Mike Napoli, and extending the contract of Dustin Pedroia. Those were huge moves for the team in and of themselves, but I’m sure the fan base would of appreciated a little more action from Ben Cherington.

With the calendar offseason now complete, A.J. Pierzynski, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Xander Bogaerts will replace their counterparts at their positions from last season. There’s an outside chance that Grady Sizemore could earn an everyday role with the club, but even he has said he expects to struggle at the beginning of the season at he tries to get his timing in the batter’s box. There is also an outside show that the team brings back SS Stephen Drew, as Ryan Dempster has recently announced that he will not pitch in 2014 due to both personal and physical reasons.

If anything, the team appears to have gotten a year older and weaker, possibly. The team could have more overall talent on the field in 2014, but with that comes many unproven faces at cornerstone positions. However, as we learned last season, we should not count this team out. With that, how will John Farrel’s everyday lineup look in 2014? Let’s take a look…

ortiz-2013-ws-hrProjected Starting Lineup:
w/ 2013 statistics

1. RF Shane Victorino (.294AVG, 15HR’s, 61RBI’s)
2. 2B Dustin Pedroia (.301AVG, 9HR’s, 84RBI’s)
3. DH David Ortiz (.309AVG, 30HR’s, 103RBI’s)
4. 1B Mike Napoli (.259AVG, 23HR’s, 92RBI’s)
5.  C A.J. Pierzynski (.272AVG, 17HR;s, 70RBI’s)
6. LF Daniel Nava (.303AVG, 12HR’s, 66RBI’s)
7. SS Xander Bogaerts (.250AVG, 1HR, 5RBI’s)
8. 3B Will Middlebrooks (.227AVG, 17HR’s, 49RBI’s)
9. CF Jackie Bradley Jr. (.189AVG, 3HR’s, 10RBI’s)

The team still has a potent lineup, albeit a lineup that needs every player to perform the same or better than they did last season for the Red Sox to remain the number one run-scoring ball club again in 2014.

Starting at the top, Shane Victorino hit for a career best .294 AVG last season and should regress a bit towards his .277 career AVG in his age 33 season (not much of a regression, but still a regression). Dustin Pedroia actually had a bit of a down season, so it seems that we can expect an uptick in his performance this season.

David Ortiz continues to hit, despite the fact that he will be 37-years old this season. Mike Napoli drove in a career high 92 runs and Daniel Nava posted career highs across the board in his age-30 season, his first season of 100+ games, and both could also be due for regressions in 2014.

Also, the bottom third of the order is full of question marks. Xander Bogaerts performed exceedingly well in the postseason but we don’t know if he can translate that success into his first full season in the big leagues, Will Middlebrooks took a step backwards last season, and Jackie Bradley Jr. struggled in his limited time in the majors.

The lineup for this season definitely comes with a lot of suspicion, but how the lineup performs won’t mean anything if the team’s pitching isn’t at the top of its game. Let’s take a look at the teams projected rotation…

Red_Sox_Lester_2014Projected Pitching Rotation:
w/ 2013 statistics

SP LHP Jon Lester (15-8, 3.75 ERA)
SP RHP Clay Bucholz (12-1, 1.74 ERA)
SP RHP John Lackey (10-13, 3.52 ERA)
SP RHP Jake Peavy (4-1, 4.04 ERA w/ BOS)
SP LHP Felix Doubront (11-6, 4.32 ERA)
CP RHP Koji Uehara (21 saves, 1.09 ERA)

The rotation, just like the starting lineup, has its fair share of question marks. Lester appears to be the only one the team can depend on to come close to, if not repeat, his 2013 performance. Bucholz dealt with injuries towards the end of the season before returning to throw 20 2/3 innings of 4.35 ERA baseball in the postseason.

Lackey seemed to get his career back on track last season, but both he and Jake Peavy come with suspicion as to how they will perform this upcoming season, as Lackey struggled the previous three seasons and Peavy was not all that spectacular in his time with Boston. Lastly, although Felix Doubront seemed to take strides forward in the first half last season, he struggled to the tune of a 4.97 ERA in the second half.

The bullpen should continue to be a strength for the team despite losing RHP Andrew Bailey, LHP Matt Thornton, and LHP Franklin Morales. With the additions of RHP’s Burke Badenhop and Edward Mujica, John Farell will still have plenty of solid options to go to late in the games.

However, although Koji Uehara has been a great reliever throughout his career, it is crazy to expect him to have another season like lasts. He shouldn’t regress as much as Fernando Rodney did last season, after his historic 0.60 ERA season in 2012, but he should pitch more towards his 2.42 career ERA, which still isn’t too shabby.

Overall:

The 2014 Boston Red Sox should still be a competitive team, but with the Yankees spending big to improve their roster and the Rays bringing back an improved version of last years wildcard winning roster, they definitely have a lot to prove and are in no way locks to repeat as division champs.

There are some pretty solid teams in Baltimore and Toronto that figure to compete as well. If the team doesn’t hit the ground running, it might even struggle to take one of the two wildcard spots, as many other teams throughout the league have improved enough to be viable contenders this season. In fact, the only teams you can probably bet against making the postseason this year are the Astros and the Twins, so the reigning world champs definitely have some work ahead of them.

2014 PECOTA Projection: 89-73 (tied with TB for division lead)

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