2010 Boston Red Sox: Pitching and Defense Wins Championships . . .

BaseballEvolution.com 2010 Spring Preview
by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
March 13, 2010

Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
John Lackey SP
Adrian Beltre 3B
Mike Cameron CF
Jeremy Hermida OF
Marco Scutaro SS
Ramon A Ramirez RP
Boof Bonser SP
Bill Hall 3B
Departed Pos.
Jason Bay LF
Takashi Saito RP
Billy Wagner RP
Javier Lopez RP
Rocco Baldelli OF
Casey Kotchman 1B
Paul Byrd SP

The Boston Red Sox have had an interesting offseason, to say the least.  They lost perhaps their best hitter to free agency only to sign the best starting pitcher on the market.  That pitcher happened to be the longtime ace of the Sox' recent postseason nemesis, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  The Sox defeated the Angels in three ALDS between 2004 and 2008 before the Angels struck back in 2009, with Lackey throwing 7.1 shutout innings in Game One.  In perhaps their best Yankee imitation to date, Boston found a good player who gave them trouble and solved the problem by throwing money at him.

The difference is that the Yankees are generally able to acquire top free agents without losing any of their own stars.  In Jason Bay, the Red Sox lost their leader in home runs, RBI, and walks from a year ago.  Can the Bayless BoSox score enough runs for the acquisition of Lackey to matter?

Pos '09 '10
C Varitek V Martinez
1B Youkilis Youkilis
2B Ellsbury Ellsbury
3B Lowell Beltre
SS Green/AGotM Scutaro
LF Bay Ellsbury
CF Ellsbury Cameron
RF Drew Drew
OF Baldelli Hermida
DH Ortiz Ortiz
Mike Cameron, a 37-year old who had a .235 average and .734 OPS after May last year, replaces Bay in the Red Sox outfield.  Even if you think that Cameron will benefit from hitting at Fenway Park, this is about as big of an offensive downgrade as you'll see from a team with the second-highest payroll in baseball.

Helpfully, the Sox do get a full season of Victor Martinez to help offset the deficit.  Unfortunately, V-Mart is 31, was inconsistent last year, was injured and terrible in 2008, and would have a hard time throwing out Pat Burrell if The Bat got a decent jump off first base.  He is an upgrade over Cap Varitek in every way except clubhouse leadership (apparently), but he will be a disappointment if the Sox are expecting him to replace Bay's production in the middle of the lineup.

80 Stolen Bases Candidate
Jacoby Ellsbury
The Sox will need to manufacture runs this year, so Ellsbury could be the first to 80 steals since 1988
Breakout Candidate
Jeremy Hermida
A change of scenery may be just what this former 1st-round pick needed

The Sox' other key acquisitions on offense were Adrian Beltre, Marco Scutaro, and Jeremy Hermida.  Beltre had a .683 OPS last year, and clearly the Sox are hoping that Fenway Park can do for him what it did for Mike Lowell in 2006.  Scutaro is 34 and coming off the only good offensive season of his career.  Hermida is just 26, and could actually be just what the aging Sox need.  If he re-discovers his stroke from 2007, the Sox' offensive dropoff may not be that severe, although it's unclear how much playing time Hermida will get with Lowell still unaccounted for on the team's depth chart.

Most of Boston's position player acquisitions were designed more to aid the defense than the offense.  Beltre has saved more runs than any third baseman not named Ryan Zimmerman over the past three years.  He replaces Mike Lowell, who cost the Sox 18 runs at third last year despite playing fewer than 900 defensive innings there.  Scutaro saved a dozen runs last year, and will surely prove to be a defensive upgrade over last season's three-headed monster.  Once a Gold Glove centerfielder, Cameron is just average defensively at this stage in his career.  Jacoby Ellsbury somehow cost his team nine runs in center last year after being an above average defender the year before.  Although Cameron in center and Ellsbury in left is a superior alignment to Ellsbury in center and Bay in left, Fenway's cramped left field seems like the worst place to stick an all-legs, no-arm outfielder.  Martinez is a terrible defensive catcher, but doesn't figure to be a downgrade from the Cap'n.

Red Sox Team Capsule

John Lackey plus this huge defensive upgrade turns an already solid starting rotation into easily the best in baseball.  Although Lackey has battled some minor injuries the past two seasons, he hasn't posted an ERA over 4.00 since the Anaheim Angels became the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim prior to the 2005 season.  John Lester has been among the best southpaws in baseball over the past two years and is only 26 years old.   Over the past three seasons, Josh Beckett has fanned 565 batters and walked just 129.  With all due respect to the Yankees, Braves, and White Sox, it is the Red Sox who boast the best front three in all of baseball.

Victor Martinez

The depth ain't bad, either.  Diasuke Matsusaka is just one year removed from a season in which he went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA.  Clay Buchholz, 25, has shown flashes of brilliance, even posting a 2.37 ERA over a 10-start stretch last year.  Just in case one of those two disappoints, Boston can turn to Sixth Starter Extraordinaire Tim Wakefield.  You know exactly what you will get from this knuckleballer over the course of a season, and any team would love to have him as their fifth starter.

Pos '09 '10
SP Lester Lester
SP Beckett Beckett
SP Penny Lackey
SP Buchholz Buchholz
SP Matsuzaka Matsuzaka
SP Wakefield Wakefield
CL Papelbon Papelbon
LP Okajima Okajima
LP Wagner/Lopez Richardson?
RP Bard Bard
RP Delcarmen Delcarmen
RP Ramirez Ramirez
RP Masterson RA Ramirez??
RP Saito Bonser???

Unfortunately, the Sox may need the versatile Wakefield in their bullpen more than they do in their rotation.  This is hard to believe, as Boston had the second best bullpen ERA in the American League last year.  In absurd fashion, they lost Takashi Saito, Justin Masterson, Billy Wagner, and Javier Lopez from last season's pen and did not replace them with anyone of note.  No bullpen can absorb that kind of hit to its depth and come out unscathed the next year. 

Things are so bad that Yahoo! Sports lists Scott Atchison on their bullpen depth chart for the Sox.  The 34-year old Atchison is a former 49th-round pick who hasn't pitched in the majors since 2007.  You can't make stuff like that up.  What happens if Josh Bard reverts to the control issues he battled in the minors and Ramon S Ramirez repeats his 1.6 K/BB ratio from a year ago?  Suddenly Manny Delcarmen - the weakest link from last year's bullpen - becomes Jonathan Papelbon's primary setup man.  Hideki Okajima figures to be used as a lefty specialist, as Dustin Richardson and his 4.11 career minor league ERA are Boston's second best left-handed option.     

Final Word

The Red Sox have changed their identity from a slugging team with a rotation just good enough to turn the lead over to a dominant bullpen into a team with a dominant rotation that will mask its deficiencies on offense and in the bullpen.  This should still be a very good team, but will it be good enough to best both the Yankees and the Rays, neither of whom seem to have suffered the obvious downgrades that the Red Sox accepted this offseason?

No, it won't.  While Boston still has some talent on offense, everybody but Ellsbury, Hermida, and Dustin Pedroia is on the wrong side of 30, and some of them are in a startling decline.  The Red Sox are used to having several major league ready prospects available to fill in for age, injuries, and ineffectiveness, but there is a gap in the talent train this season.  Ultimately, the Sox do not have the Yankees' star talent nor the Rays' depth of youth, and there's no reason to believe that the American League Wild Card won't come out of the AL West, baseball's strongest division last year.

While I am predicting that the Red Sox miss the postseason for only the second time in the past eight years despite having the best starting rotation in baseball, if they do luck out on the injury front and squeak into the postseason, this is going to be a hard team to defeat.  Bullpen depth isn't that important in October, and Ellsbury and Pedroia should be able to manufacture enough runs for the stellar rotation to excel.  Pitching and defense can win championships... but they have to make it to the postseason first.

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