I hate this time of the year because I am forced to put words to paper. When someone talks as much as I do, I can always claim that something I said was misinterpreted, but when I write it, it’s there, forever and ever.
Now, while I do claim to watch and read and learn and study and talk about baseball all year long, I don’t claim to be a good prognosticator. I do, in fact, have taken some pride at my inability to foretell the future, that way I can cover my bases, if I get a prediction right, I can be modest, and when I get predictions wrong I can brag about being ineffective.
The American League East is a nightmare for prophets, but I am ready to draw my first line in the sand. I have to tell you, despite being based a mere 2 miles or so from Fenway, I don’t think the Red Sox are postseasonbound and here are nine reasons why:
- Last year as a first baseman, Victor Martinez in 255 at bats hit .329 with 13 homers and 51 RBI and had an OPS of .947. Last year as a catcher, Victor Martinez in 317 at bats hit .281 with 8 homers and 50 RBI and had an OPS of .783. Fluke? Maybe. But in Martinez’ career as a first baseman he has had 454 at bats and has hit .313 with 17 homers and 81 RBI and had an OPS of .876. And, in his career as a catcher, he has had 2664 at bats he has hit .297 with 88 homers and 448 RBI and had an OPS of .828. The reality is that Martinez hits better as a first baseman and he is in the Sox lineup because they need his bat. With all the additions the Sox have made to improve their defense, when catching for the Sox, V-Mart threw out 11% of the runners attempting to steal (overall the Sox allowed 151 stolen bases more than any other team and caught only 13% fewer than any other team) and Sox pitchers had an ERA of 5.22 when he was behind the plate, over three-quarters of a run higher than the league average. Now while part of that can be attributed to unfamiliarity, his CERA when he left the Indians was 5.76 again three-quarters of a run higher than his replacement Kelly Shoppach.
- There is no denying that J.D. Drew, in his three years in Boston, has had an impressive OPS of .875. The question is what has that produced for the Sox in terms of RBI? In looking at batters with at least 1700 At Bats over the last three seasons and their ability to drive runners home, I found an offensively alarming stat: from 2007 to 2009, for batters with at least 1200 at bats and an OPS of .850+ no one has driven in fewer runs that J.D. Drew who has 196 RBI. In addition, last season he hit .213 with runners in scoring position and only 10 of his 24 homers came with at least one runner on base.
- Jacoby Ellsbury had a magnificent season last year joining an elite group of 21 players who stole 70+ bases (Ellsbury stole 70) and hit over .300 (Ellsbury hit .301). Of the 21, only six scored fewer than 100 runs (Ellsbury scored 94). Ellsbury scored 75 runs as the Sox leadoff batter (he started 117 games there). Overall, the Red Sox scored 99 more runs than the Indians last year, but only eight more from the leadoff slot was a reflection of the run scoring problems of this team.
- Everybody loves David Ortiz, and now, that even includes pitchers. From 2005 to 2007, Big Papi was physically (age-wise and health-wise) in his prime, and with Manny B Manny hitting behind him, he was among the most dangerous batters in baseball. Over that three period he hit .306 and had an OPS of 1.038. In the 2008-2009 seasons, he hit .250 with an OPS of .830. Ortiz has moved down from Albert Pujols-like number to Marlon Byrd-like numbers. In fact, over the last seasons, Ortiz has 957 at bats, 51 homers, 188 RBI, a .250 batting average and an .830 OPS. Over the last seasons, Byrd has 950 at bats, 30 homers, 142 RBI, a .289 batting average and an .823 OPS. And, Byrd is a great defensive outfielder and DH Ortiz will sit out against NL opponents in interleague games. Ortiz’ batting average of .212 last year against lefties, .221 in 2008 and .3-8 in 2007, .278 in 2006, and .302 in 2005 begins to show a trend that is most concerning.
- Despite all their problems last year, the Red Sox scored an MLB third-best 872 runs, were fourth in homers with 212, and third in RBI with 822. Even allowing that Marco Scutaro will exceed last year’s Red Sox shortstop total of .235/12/61 (he hit .280/12/60) and that Adrian Beltre will improve his .265/8/44 after an injury plagued season and having half his games in the more hitting friendly Fenway Park, the Red Sox will miss the home run and RBI consistency of Jason Bay. Scutaro and Beltre combined did not equal Bay’s 36 homers and 119 RBI. In essence, Mike Cameron is the replacement for Bay who was the replacement for Manny B Manny. Beltre and Cameron (last season .250/24/70) combined did not equal Bay’s numbers either. Over the last four seasons, Cameron has averaged .251/23/75, Bay has averaged .272/31/103, and Ramirez has averaged .312/28/94.
- With Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholtz and Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield, the Red Sox have one the best, and most definitely deepest, group of starters in baseball. I don’t mean to be totally glass-half-full here, but despite their reputations and their success, 2007 was the only season in which Beckett or Lackey have ever received Cy Young votes. And injuries are not foreign to either of these guys. As for Buchholtz, he’s never made more than 17 big league starts in a season and while he shows many moments of greatness, there were also four of 16 starts last year in which gave up at least six or seven runs. Everybody loves Tim Wakefield, me too. But 2002 was the last year he had an ERA under 4.09, and he is work to catch, injury prone and in August will be 44. I am not a Dice-K fan, he reminds me of a pitching J.D. Drew. Even in his incredible 2008 season, he seems constantly in trouble, he throws a lot of pitches, he always makes his bullpen work, and, on top of it, he shows sign of being a head case. That leaves Jon Lester. On a team, arguably with three #1’s, he is uno de uno, the number one of the three number ones. He has that ability, like the Patriots’ Tom Brady, to know how to win.
- I think Terry Francona is one of the best managers in baseball and he has always creatively used his deep bullpen. This season with the addition of John Lackey, the Sox, if their starters are healthy, will probably go to the pen less frequently. As it is, they were the only AL team who had fewer than 100 games in which their relief pitcher completed more than three outs (the Sox had 90 games). The Sox, as always, have made changes in the pen in their lead up to closer Jonathan Papelbon, after having lost Takashi Saito and Billy Wagner to the Braves this coming season. The mindset of a closer is almost as important as his arm. Last year, Papelbon had a very good season, but it was the closest he has yet to come to an off-season. While his ERA was down from the previous year, 2.34 to 1.85, his WHIP was up 0.952 to 1.147. Most shockingly, his walk count went from eight in 69.1 innings in 2008 to 24 in 68 innings in 2009. All reports seemed to support that he became enamored with his fastball and less inclined to use his splitter and batters seemed to be sitting on the fastball. As a result of all the walks, after four seasons averaging 35 potential double play situations, last year Papelbon had 55 DP situations and yet produced none. It will be interesting to see how Papelbon, who obsessed over the off-season over his postseason difficulties will respond this year.
- In the AL East, the Rays and the Yankees have better offense, almost equal pitching, fewer weaknesses and more upsides.
- It’s not just the AL East battling this year for the Wild Card slots, there are nine teams: Sox, Yanks, Rays, Twins, ChiSox, Tigers, Angels, Mariners, and Rangers who are looking to grab one of the four postseason slots (hey, and don’t forget the A’s). While the three AL East teams may each win 93 games or more, on the other hand they could really beat each other up and one of them may fall below the second place team in another division and one of them will definitely finish behind the other two. I say that team will be the Red Sox.
On the other hand …