2008 Boston Red Sox
Ready to Defend their Championship

BaseballEvolution.com 2008 Spring Preview
by Tony Aubry, BaseballEvolution.com
March 24, 2008

It has certainly been fun to be a Boston sports fan in the past few years. The Red Sox are the defending champions for the second time in four seasons and the defending AL East champions for the first time in thirteen seasons. The Patriots have one of (if not the most) dominant dynasties in recent memory despite being upset by the Giants just a few months ago, and the Boston Celtics have the best record in the NBA.

Aside from Curt Schlling starting the season on the 60 day DL and Clay Buchholz being forced to start the season in the majors rather than in Triple-A as they may have wished, like the Yankees, Boston has not made any major changes from last year, which gives them a good chance to repeat as World Series champions.

Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
Bartolo Colon RHP
Sean Casey 1B
David Aardsma RHP
Departed Pos.
Eric Gagne RHP
Matt Clement RHP
Eric Hinske 1B/OF
2007 Starter    Jason Varitek
Projected 2008 Starter   Jason Varitek

After a miserable 2006 campaign, Varirtek, despite his poor batting average, had somewhat of comeback season. 17 HR and an OPS+ of 103 for a 35-year-old catcher is definitely respectable. Varitek is another year older, however, and the chances of his production being parallel to league average are slim. Despite what some Red Sox fans might tell you, Varitek’s days as a valuable commodity may soon be over.

First Base
2007 Starter   Kevin Youkilis
Projected 2008 Starter   Kevin Youkilis

I think Youkilis is a very similar player to Todd Helton (without Coors Field, of course). Both have a great eye, are solid defenders, and run slow, but Helton, even with a ballpark adjustment, has a little more power, as Youkilis only has a career SLG of .434. Youklis is relatively old for someone who has only played two full seasons (29), and most people believe that a player’s prime seasons are from 27-30. That being said, I still think Youkilis will have a lot of value this year. His first half line of 2007 will probably not be approachable, since he posted a .352 BABIP then, but a .300/.400/.450 is a definite possibility.

Second Base
2007 Starter   Dustin Pedroia
Projected 2008 Starter   Dustin Pedroia

Dustin reminds me of one of those mosquitoes that you couldn’t swat all summer that bit you every night: annoying and persistent. Pedroia is a solid offensive player who gets everything he can out of each at bat, which negates his somewhat limited range in the field. Expect to see some of his doubles turn into homers (especially in Fenway) in the near future as he matures and gains strength.

David Ortiz
Third Base
2007 Starter   Mike Lowell
Projected 2008 Starter   Mike Lowell

OK, look. I’m not going to sit here and tell you the whole story about how Lowell was a throw-in in the Beckett deal and then turned out to be great in 2007, because I’ve heard it so many times and it’s been quite irritating. To be blunt about, it there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that Lowell duplicates that output or even comes near it in 2008. His .337 BABIP was a career high, and his career BABIP is .293, which is actually below the league average. However, Lowell will still be a good player in 2008. He is a solid defender as his +/- score of 6 would indicate, and he will continue to be aided by Fenway Park.

2007 Starter   Julio Lugo
Projected 2008 Starter   Julio Lugo

Surprise Candidate
Manny Delcarmen
Disappointment Candidate
Mike Lowell
Cy Young Candidate
Josh Beckett
ROY Candidate
Clay Buchholz
In my 2007 Red Sox Preview, I foolishly predicted that Lugo would excel in 2007 due to his lofty OPS of .880 in Fenway for his career. Lugo failed miserably in 2007 with a line of .237/.294./.349. He did enjoy a much-improved second half, however, posting an OPS of .728 compared to his .568 mark in the first half. A .700 OPS with 35 swipes and average defense is not out of the question in 2008.

2007 Starters Manny Ramirez, Coco Crisp, J.D Drew
Projected 2008 Starters Manny Ramirez, Jacoby Ellsbury, J.D Drew

I think Manny will have a bounce back year. I was actually surprised that he failed to slug .500 for the first time in a full season. There were many reports about how he was taking Spring Training seriously and looked to be in great shape. You can bank on a .900 OPS and 30 HR this year.

Just like I was in favor of the Lugo deal, I was also in favor of the Drew deal, and Drew had a poor year. He failed to log 500 AB for the third straight year, his .373 OBP was his lowest since 2002, and he hit a career low 11 HR. Drew recently turned 32, which is when players start to decline. The fact that Drew has been healthy for two, maybe three seasons in his career doesn’t help his case.

In an aging outfield, the 24-year old, baby-faced centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury burst onto the scene last year by hitting .353, and .438 in the World Series against Colorado. To expect a full season of what he did in 2007 would be quite silly. He will, however, be a huge upgrade in the leadoff role, getting on-base at a clip of 35-36% and stealing 30 bases while playing solid defense in center.

Red Sox Fun Fact
The BoSox hit just 166 homers as a team last year, their lowest output since the strike-shortened 1994 season
Designated Hitter
2007 Starter David Ortiz
Projected 2008 Starter David Ortiz

Not much to say here. Ortiz is among the top three or four hitters in the game. I don’t think you will see him hit .332 or post a Barry Bonds-esque OBP of .445 again, but with a healthy knee, he should be able to crank 45 homers.

2007 Crew Alex Cora, Eric Hinske, Wily Mo Pena, Doug Mirabelli
Projected 2008 Bench Sean Casey, Coco Crisp, Alex Cora, Kevin Cash

The Red Sox lost Mirabelli, so Tim Wakefield will have to get used to Cash, but aside from that, they have a very serviceable bench. Sean Casey may not be worth anything if he plays 145 games a year, but playing 1-2 per week with a few pinch hit appearances is fine. Crisp can play any outfield position well and come off the bench to steal a base late in the game.

Starting Pitchers
2007 Starters Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling, Tim Wakefield, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Julian Taverez, Jon Lester
Projected 2008 Starters Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Bartolo Colon

Tim Wakefield
You can take this with a grain of salt, or even a mountain from that matter, since this is coming from a Yankee fan, but I think this rotation is overrated. For one, Schilling is probably done for the season, as well as his career. Beckett also has had health problems with his back recently that caused him to miss the trip to Japan, but Boston has said he will be ready for his next start, so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

However, the problem is with the rest of the rotation. It is plain as day that the AL made an adjustment when facing Matsuzaka. In the second half of the season, his terrible K/BB ratio and eye popping HR rate caused his ERA to balloon to 5.19 after the All-Star break, while he won only five games.

Wakefield hasn’t had a good season since 2003, and has been merely average ever since. A healthy Wakefield will give you a 4.75 ERA and hopefully eat innings, which is all you can really ask from your third starter who turns 42 this year.

The back of the rotation is sealed by two rookies; one of them is promising, the other, not so much. I felt great for Lester and his family last year when he was able to take the mound after a long battle with cancer. However, in the major leagues, Lester has not been good at all. In 144 IP, he has a K/BB ratio a hair over one and has surrendered 17 HR. Another alarming stat is how he fares against lefties, which is a very big deal because of the Yankees’ lineup being filled with them, and Lester could very well be facing them 3-4 times this year. Lefties hit him to the tune of .309/.373/.537, a line that is very reminiscent of Bobby Abreu with a little more power.

Buchholz, on the other hand, made a huge splash last year. In 22 IP, Buchholz had an ERA of 1.59, did not allow a single HR, and oh yeah, he pitched a no-hitter. Clay has dominated at every level, and has very similar numbers to Yankee fireballer Joba Chamberlain. Buchholz won’t dominate like he has in his minor-league career, but he will definitely be a very valuable pitcher coming out of the 4th or 5th spot.

Relief Pitchers
2007 Relievers Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima, Mike Timlin, Manny Delcarmen, Javier Lopez, Kyle Snyder
Projected 2008 Relievers Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima, Mike Timlin, Manny Delcarmen, Javier Lopez, Julian Tavarez, David Aardsma

While the Red Sox’ rotation is filled with question marks, the opposite is true for their bullpen. Papelbon is one of, if not the best, closers in baseball. Okajima was almost un-hittable last year, despite having a rough second half, and should serve as solid setup man. One reliever I think will have a breakout year next season is Manny Delcarmen. Last year, in 44 IP, Delcarmen had a stellar K/BB ratio of 41/17 to go with a 2.05 ERA. The more he pitches this year, the more value he will have.

Outlook for the Season

Right now, the Red Sox have to be the favorite to win their division. They arguably have the best bullpen in the AL and the best 3-4 hitters in baseball. Ellsbury leading off this year instead of Lugo and his sub-.300 OBP portends improvement. While their rotation could be shaky, they have a legitimate ace in Beckett, a claim the Yankees cannot make.

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