2009 Boston Red Sox: No Longer Chasing The Yankees

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Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
Takashi Saito RP
Rocco Baldelli OF
Brad Penny SP
John Smoltz SP
Brad Wilkerson OF
Departed Pos.
Curt Schilling SP
Bartolo Colon SP
Paul Byrd SP
David Ross C
Kevin Cash C
Alex Cora IF
Mike Timlin RP
Sean Casey 1B

For years, the Red Sox have been known for their innovative and efficient front office. In 2003, they were on the cusp of catching the Yankees, and now they have recently blown right past them. This offseason, the Red Sox responded to the Yankees’ spending spree by signing a trio of low-risk, moderately high-reward arms. Those arms were Brad Penny, John Smoltz, and Takashi Saito. All three are coming off injury plagued seasons. Smoltz is coming off shoulder surgery that will most likely sideline him until June, while Penny and Saito will be ready to contribute come April.

If there is a downside coming into 2009, it is that a handful of players had career years in 2008, such as Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Jon Lester, and it will be hard for them to replicate those years.

This has been the third time I have written a Red Sox season preview, and I essentially say the same thing about the Red Sox’ catcher ever year: he is a decent defender while his offense has been hanging by a thread. Last season, however, appeared to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Captain Varitek batted .220/.313/.359, each of which were career lows. That is entering Jose Molina territory, and Varitek is certainly not the defender that Molina is. The Red Sox made the decision to re-sign him with their heart, and not with their minds.

Last year Youkilis showed unprecedented power, hitting 29 long balls and slugging .569, which was 100 points higher than his previous career high. The first baseman changed his game by taking fewer walks and swinging for the fences more, which is indicated by an almost 7% increase in his HF/FB ratio. The Greek God of Walks had suddenly turned into Zeus overnight. It is possible that the change in Youkilis’ game is here to stay, however, a slugging percentage approaching .600 is not likely.
Pos '08 '09
C Varitek Varitek
1B Youkilis Youkilis
2B Pedroia Pedroia
3B Lowell Lowell
SS Lugo/Lowrie Lugo/Lowrie
LF Manny/Bay Bay
CF Crisp/Ellsbury Ellsbury
RF Drew Drew
DH Ortiz Ortiz/Carter

Like Youkilis, Pedroia took a big step forward last season. Unlike his teammate, however,  Pedroia’s year was less “fluky.” Dustin’s BABIP went up by only two points and his LD% went up by almost 3%, indicating that his batting average is as real as it gets. Pedroia is also roughly 4 ½ years younger than Youkilis, so a sharp increase in power at his age is not as uncommon as it is in Youkilis’ case. Pedroia also stepped it up in the field, by saving 7 more runs in ‘08 than he did in ’07, according to Ultimate Zone Rating. Even though it is likely he will regress some in 2009, Pedroia has very quickly become one of the best second basemen in all of baseball.

Manning third base for the third consecutive year will be Mike Lowell, who recently turned 35 and is coming off hip surgery. With Lowell, you basically know what you’re going to get: .275/.340/.460 coupled with excellent glove work. Age might slow his bat down a bit, but he should still be a valuable commodity in 2009.

Due to arthroscopic surgery, Lugo will be handing over the shortstop job over to Jed Lowrie for approximately the first three to four weeks of the season. Offensively, Lowrie leaves a bit to be desired. He has shown good plate discipline throughout his professional career. Other than that, he still has to prove himself. He has consistently relied on extraordinarily high BABIP to keep his batting average afloat, and despite a .342 BABIP last season, he only hit .258. Defensively, however, he does have good range to compensate for his very mediocre bat.

Red Sox Team Capsule

A wrist injury caused designated hitter David Ortiz to miss about six weeks last year, which shaved down his batting average considerably. Ortiz did report yesterday that his wrist is pain-free and he is worry-free. Ortiz is still 33 and doesn’t spend too much time in the field, so a return to his 40 HR form is the plausible.

Julio Lugo and David Ortiz
Wherever Jacoby Ellsbury played in the outfield last season, he seemingly had no problem pocketing fly balls left and right. With Coco Crisp now on the Royals, Ellsbury will be the mainstay in centerfield for the upcoming season. Offensively, when Ellsbury got on base, he was a threat to run. He stole 50 bases last year at 82% success rate. Unfortunately for Ellsbury, getting on base was a problem. In the minors, he had no trouble drawing walks, but in 178 career games in the bigs, he has drawn a walk at just a shade below 7% of the time. Patience usually comes with age, and if you combine that with more playing time, he will be a threat to steal at least 75 bags in the near future.

Jason Bay last year proved to us to 2007 was a fluke, and in the process helped Red Sox fans forget Man-Ram. Bay is still in the prime of his career, and will probably perform just as well as Ramirez considering their price tags.

J.D. Drew was solid offensively in 2008, but injuries held him to only 109 games. Realizing that there is a better chance of lighting striking twice than Drew playing a full season, the Red Sox went out and picked up Baldelli to spell Drew. However, Baldelli has had an injury filled past himself. If both right fielders wind up injured, it is possible that we will see the Sox call up Jonathan Van Every.
Pos '08 '09
SP Matsuzaka Matsuzaka
SP Beckett Beckett
SP Lester Lester
SP Wakefield Wakefield
SP Buchholz/Byrd Buchholz/Penny
SP Colon/Masterson Smoltz
CL Papelbon Papelbon
LP Lopez Lopez
LP Okajima Okajima
RP Masterson Masterson
RP Timlin Saito
RP Aardsma R Ramirez
RP Delcarmen Delcarmen

Josh Beckett will anchor the rotation for a third straight year, and if healthy, is primed for success. Beckett posted excellent peripherals last season that equated to a 3.24 FIP. Unfortunately, lady luck was not on his side, and he posted an ERA of 4.03. Speaking of peripherals, Matsuzaka’s BB/9 went through the roof and his K/9 declined just a tad. What goes up, must come down. Unless Matsuzaka fixes his control issues, there is no way he keeps his ERA below four.

To be honest, I’m quite surprised that no one has mentioned that Lester increased his major league workload by 140+ innings. This could cause fatigue problems for him mid-season. Nonetheless, Lester got his control together in 2008, which had always been a problem for him.

Rounding out the rotation will be Tim Wakefield, Penny, and possibly Smoltz for the second half of the season. Wakefield will most likely be Wakefield, and the Red Sox should hope that Smoltz will start when he returns. Going from a moderate pitcher’s park in the NL to one of the best hitter’s parks in the AL is not a good look for Penny.

The Red Sox may very well have the best bullpen in all of baseball. To compliment one of the game’s best closers, they have the solid Hideki Okajima, fireballer Manny Delcaremen, and the newly acquired Saito. Very often, the Red Sox will be playing six and seven inning games.

Final Word

The Red Sox’ core players are probably going to suffer from slight regression, however it won’t be enough to knock them out of contention for the AL East crown. The more often they have a lead after six innings, they better off they’ll be.

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