pablo

This preview pains me to write more than any other team because as a Jays fan I loathe the Boston Red Sox. But here we go… the Chowda loving Baaaaaaaaaaaaaston Red Sox are going to probably have another good season and repeat as American League East champs. Now that I got that painful sentence out of the way I can continue on with my life.

The Players

The Red Sox batting line up is absolutely flush with young and promising talent as well as a few over paid vets who will find ways to contribute in 2017.

On the left side of the infield Xander Bogaerts will hope to build on a solid 2016 season where he played average defense and put up some great offensive numbers at shortstop. If it weren’t for the year of every single 20-25 year old short stop in the league having break out years, Bogaerts would be talked about so much more. Bogaerts did stumble offensively in the second half of the season, but ultimately had the best offensive season of his young career. In 2016 his batting average fell from .320 to .294, which was expected, but luckily for the Sox he managed to walk at a better clip. I would expect his home run totals to take a slight step backwards, but his average and run production should hold steady. On the defensive side he needs to improve a bit, but it’s unexpected that he will develop into a gold glove winning shortstop anyway. In Fenway that’s alright because he does a bit of everything fairly well otherwise. At 24 years old there’s plenty of time and room for improvement and Bogaerts will continue being a solid top to middle of the order batting threat for the Red Sox.

Pablo Sandoval will enter his third season as a Red Sox and will continue to make some big coin while being either injured or useless. He did however break a belt while attempting to hit a ball against the Blue Jays early in 2016, otherwise his season was completely forgettable as he only played in parts of three baseball games in April.

The man they call Panda, is in the midst of a 95 million/5 year contract with a team option in 2020 that will either pay him an additional 17 million or a 5 million dollar buy out. The Panda was a solid player in San Francisco but never really a true star. The Giants wisely let him hit free agency after winning the World Series again in 2014 and the Panda was a dumpster fire disaster in his first season in Boston where he posted a -2.0 WAR. In 2015, his defense was outright awful and his ability to hit the ball hard fell off. Panda was never known for being a power hitter but his average power numbers were declining year after year prior to hitting free agency. He was more of a slap hitter who managed to hit a lot of balls in play during his successful seasons, but he saw his hard hit contact fall in 2015 and hence the average and production dipped as a result.

During his career he has only posted two positive defensive seasons and only in 2011 would he have been considered an above average third basemen. Now 30 years old he’s being written off and perhaps rightfully so. With that said, I don’ believe Pablo Sandoval is completely done and neither do the Red Sox, otherwise they wouldn’t have shipped off Travis Shaw to Milwaukee this off season. The issue is moreso going to be health and playing time as The Red Sox do have Brock Holt for if/when Panda falters.

Brock Holt, has been an average to slightly above average utility player for the Red Sox but Manager, John Farrell seems to love him because he can plug him into many spots in the lineup. Holt really doesn’t do anything particularly well but will fight for playing time as Pablo’s expense and will provide other starters with days off where needed. Ultimately, third base is the Red Sox weakest position on the team but they don’t have a lot of other glaring weaknesses in 2017.

On the righ side of the infield Dustin Pedroia will continue to gut it out at second base. Known as a heart and soul player for the Sox, Pedroia had a bit of a resurgence in 2016 where he was healthy and posted his best season since 2013. Pedroia’s defense has always been outstanding and in 2016 he managed to save 12 defensive runs at second base.

What was particularly interesting about Pedroia’s 2016 season was a power surge he saw early in the season that saw him hit 7 of his 15 home runs before the end of May. His batting average was near the top of the league and the best mark since his 2008 MVP season, but this isn’t likely sustainable. As with most outliers , his batting average for balls in play was at a career high and will drop in 2017. So don’t expect a 0.321 bating average from Dusty, he will likely be in the 0.285 range this year.

As Pedroia enters his age 33 season it’s likely he still has some very solid ball left in him but his ceiling has been set. His decline years are on the way, but in 2017 he will likely be able to provide well above average defense at second base and be a great lead off to second slot hitter for the Red Sox. The power will likely return to his 2013-2015 numbers, but he will continue to score a lot of runs in a loaded Red Sox lineup.

At first base Hanley Ramirez managed to put a dreadful 2015 behind him and posted his best power numbers since 2008. Hanaram has had an interesting progression over the past four years. For most of his career he was a shortstop, albeit a bad one. With the Marlins in 2012 he was shifted to third base to make room for another bad defensive shortstop, Jose Reyes. After being traded to the Dodgers he got to play shortstop again, but when he arrived in Boston he was immediately asked to play outfield since Xander Bogaerts was the team’s shortstop of the future and David Ortiz was still mashing at DH.

With all that said, Hanaram has never been a good defensive player but he is passable enough at first base. When he was patrolling left field in front of the Green Monster it was pretty funny. Do yourself a favour and search for some of those highlights and you’ll thank me later. It’s possible the stresses of playing am embarrassing outfield defense impacted his bat as his power and batting average disappeared as well. However, at first base things settled down and his bat returned. Hanaram is back to his kicking ass and taking no shit.

The one thing I would caution about Hanley Ramirez is his history of injuries. Last season was his first healthy season since 2012. As a betting man I’d wager that the 33 year old won’t be as lucky this year and will continue his career trend of having wonky hamstrings and hitting the DL. His power will continue to play well in Fenway where anyone can hit a home run down the lines, but don’t expect an improvement on his 2016 numbers.

The biggest question the Red Sox faced heading into the 2016 off season was David Ortiz’ replacement at DH. It will likely be Hanley Ramirez as the Red Sox brought in free agent lefty slugger Mitch Moreland to play first base or at least platoon at first base. Moreland has always been a guy that you wanted more out of and at 31 years old he’s now likely what he is.

As it seems with many players, Moreland has the chance to put up some decent numbers as a pull hitting lefty at Fenway. His defense at first base is better then Hanley Ramirez so that alone will get him into many games. Moreland is on a one year 5.5 million dollar contract so he will have incentive to to play well and the Red sox won’t have incentive to play him anymore then he deserves. This will be an interesting situation to monitor heading into spring training/ April.

In the Outfield the Red Sox are flush with talent. Mookie Betts was an absolute stud in 2016 and he ended up slashing his way to a .318/.363/.534 batting line. His power spiked in his second full season in the MLB and he hit 31 bombs in 2016. If his power regresses his floor is going to remain pretty solid at 20-25 home runs and that is a nice realistic fallback. What impressed me most about Betts was his steady improvement in play in right field where he was responsible for 32 runs saved in 2016 compared to only 10 in 2015. Needless to say with his tool set he is going to be an elite righ fielder for years to come and MVP contender.

In centre field, Jackie Bradley Jr. also broke out in a big way. As the season progressed, Bradley Jr. quietly put together an awesome season. Similar to Bogaertz he did fade down the stretch but ultimately slashed his way to a .267/.349/.486 batting line. He added 26 home runs, 94 RBI’s and chipped in 9 steals for good measure. His home runs were fairly evenly distributed between the first half and second half of the season but his average was 0.299 during the season’s first half while he hit only 0.233 in the final half as the Red Sox sputtered out of the playoffs in the first round to the eventual AL Champion Cleveland Indians.

Nonetheless, Bradley Jr. played above average in centre field and was a very solid bat for the Red Sox in the bottom half of the order. Bradley Jr. was a highly touted prospect for many years and it simply took a little bit of time for his tools to come together and also opportunity played a role in his eventual rise. In the past the outfield was very crowded in Boston, but eventually the cream rises from the crop. I expect Jackie Bradley to perhaps not hit 26 home runs this year but should be able to hit 0.265 and if he is in the heart of the order add 80 RBI’s and 80 runs.

One of the most interesting players the Red Sox are likely counting on this season is rookie Andrew Benintendi. It’s expected he will be the team’s every day left fielder. During his brief 2016 call up, Benintendi hit .295/.359/.476 and managed to put up a reasonable strike out and walk rate. His power isn’t as developed as some of the other players discussed here, but in a strong Red Sox line up it’s not needed. The kid is only 22 years old but has the tools to become a legit star. He has the makings of Mookie Betts in him which is frighting since Betts will be on the same field. He may not start every day especially early in the year because veteran Chris Young will fight for playing time, but as I mentioned with Bradley Jr. he does a lot of things pretty good and the cream tends to rise from the crop… ooooo ya.

At catcher the Red Sox will likely have a tandem of Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez. Neither player brings a lot of offense to the party so I would think the 9 hole will be pegged “catcher” for most of the season. Both young catchers are average to slightly above average defensively… as long as they develop rapport with the Red Sox staff, the brass will be pleased.

Starting Pitching

David Price and Chris Sale are both Red Sox starters… shit. That’s quite the formidable lefty duo.

Chris Sale was traded by the White Sox this off season to the Red Sox to acquire one of the best prospects in baseball, Yoan Moncada. This trade will be interesting to gauge years from now but presently the Red Sox are a much better team because of it.

Chris Sale has been filthy in his young career. His fastball, change up and slider are all well above average pitches that allow Sale to mow down batters at ease. Last season Sale was in Cy Young running as he threw a career high 222 innings and posted a 5.2 WAR. The frightening thing is that he does this every year. What you see is what you get with Sale. Unless he gets hurt and his arm falls off (very possible by the way but I’ll save that for another time) he will be an ace for the Red Sox. I’m not sure if pitching in Fenway will even be a hindrance to his effectiveness. In his six career starts at Fenway he didn’t appear to post any terrible numbers and didn’t even yield a single home run. Needless to say, The AL East is petrified.

After a miserable 2015 season, The Red Sox brass made it clear they needed better pitching so they went out and naturally over paid for bonifide lefty ace, David Price who had his best regular season in 2015 split between the Tigers and Jays. After signing a 217 million dollar/7 year contract (with an opt out in 2018), Price got off to a rough start in April but settled into his usual dominating ways as the season progressed. But as per tradition, Price stunk it up in the playoffs. The man who was going to bring Boston back to the ship sucked, big surprise. In his 9 career playoff starts he’s really only been good in 2 or 3 of those. In his one start against the Indians in 2016, he allowed 5 runs in just over 3 innings before getting the hook and taking a loss as the Indians swept the Sox in the divisional series.

The 2017 season doesn’t start in an October playoff game though, so David Price will probably be back to normal for the next six months. In 2016 his home run rate jumped up a bit but I would expect it to drop back to his career norms as Mr. Reliable will probably have a 3.50 Era, 14-15 wins and throw over 200 innings pitched yet again. Scary stuff for the AL East.

2016 AL Cy Young winner, Rick Porcello, came out of nowhere and put together quite a solid season. He is by no means the best pitcher in the American League, but in 2016 the stars aligned for an amazing season for a pitcher with mediocre stuff. Porcello was always a solid pitcher with the Tigers but in his debut with the Red Sox in 2015 his home run rate took a hit which is never a good thing for a pitcher. His change up and fastball which were slightly above average pitches became less than ordinary pitches and baboom meatball sandwiches were served.

In 2016, Porcello refined his once reliable fastball and change up which helped him be effective but the biggest thing was an inflated BABIP and strand rate. Compared to his career norms it’s not a repeatable performance and his ERA will likely inflate back to 4.00 but credit is due as his walk rate was phenomenal as he walked only 32 batters all season long. As the number three starter on the Red Sox a little bit of regression will not harm the team because once again, Sale and Price are Red Sox starters. Fuck.

To round out the rotation the Sox will have former Oakland A, Drew Pomeranz and young lefty Edwardo Rodriguez. Pomeranz had his best season of his career last year after developing a nice little cutter and he continued to increase his strike out rate. Pomeranz is another pitcher who likely will regress a bit but he should be a reliable innings eater for the Sox. With knuckleballer Steven Wright likely to miss the start of the season with his shoulder injury, Pomeranz and Rodriguez will have some leash to prove their success in 2016 was for real. When Wright returns to health, he will be in the mix for starts, and this could result in one of Pomeranz or Rodriguez headed to the bullpen. This is the kind of first world pitching problems depth creates.

The Bullpen

The Red Sox pen is solidified by hard throwing closer, Craig Kimbrel. The former long time Atlanta Brave had a decent first season in Boston. Besides one trip to the DL with a knee injury, he was pretty goo and struck out the world when needed. With that said, Kimbrel did have the worst season of his career as he had command issues and he had an ugly career high walk rate of 5.09 walks per 9 innings. Over his past two seasons he posted his highest home run rates which is concerning. Kimbrel is still among the elite but clearly human.

Making 13 million dollars in 2017 and a team option that pays him the same in 2018, Kimbrel remains an expensive but effective weapon for the Red Sox. With that said, if his walk issues continue and his home run allowance does not improve he could be at risk of losing his job. I wouldn’t worry too much about it, but the risk is indeed there if he has a few bad outings in a row or injury strikes.

Hence why the Red Sox felt the need to trade Travis Shaw for reliever Tyler Thornburg. Although Thornburn doesn’t throw quite as hard as Kimbrel he has dominant strike out stuff. In 2015 he was still starting games for the Brewers AAA squad but was converted to relief and eventually closed games for the lowly Brewers in 2016. His strand rate was way too high in 2016 so regression is due but he will still be a difficult 8th inning reliever for AL opponents and is waiting in the wings in case Kimbrel falters.

One other bullpen option to set up or close out games could be Carson Smith. The former Mariners closer essentially missed all of 2016 with an elbow injury and only pitched in 3 games. Smith was brought in to be the set up man for Kimbrel after 2015 (where everyone tried to emulate the Kansas City Royals Championship bullpen bullshit). The 27 year old reliever will be coming back from Tommy John surgery so who knows how he will perform but he did manage to put up a 2.31 ERA and record 92 strikeouts in just over 70 innings with the Mariners in 2015. As the third arm out of the pen this could be a welcome and nasty addition for the Sox.

To round out the bullpen the Sox have a collection of failed starters in Joe Kelly and Robbie Ross and career relievers Fernando Abad and Matt Barnes. Meh next.

Outlook

The strength of the Red Sox young positional core is that they do so many different things well. They should be able to continue to produce runs and play solid defense at most positions. The starting pitching and bullpen if healthy should be good enough to keep the Sox in games and shut the lid on tight leads. I fully expect the Red Sox to take first place in the AL East with 91 wins, but deep down I hope some of their young players regress so that the Jays have a chance. One can always dream…

The Red Sox will not be content with only winning the division this team is built to win it all and anything less than a championship will be seen as a huge disappointment. I expect the Red Sox to make moves at the trade deadline to bolster their roster where needed and to ensure that their bats don’t dry up come playoff time again.

Fantasy Stud

Mookie Betts – The kid can do it all. He won’t hit as many home runs as last year but as I mentioned 25 is realistic as well as over 100 RBI’s, 100 runs plus 25-30 steals. This makes him a sure fire first round pick in your pool. His average is for real so he will put up some juicy numbers. I’ve heard rumblings that some people would take him over Mike Trout (don’t be that idiot) but he’s a damn good pick somewhere in the middle of the first round after the other power bats are off the board.

Fantasy Dud

Rick Porcello – The 2016 AL Cy Young winner is very unlikely to repeat his performance again. 22 wins is completely out the window and I expect his ratios to drop. Porcello’s adjustments are very real but he will not be able to pretend to be an ace again. Do not invest a high draft pick on him unless you want another Dallas Keuchel situation on your hands. (For the uneducated Keuchel won the Cy Young in 2015 and was a disaster in 2016). I would roster Porcello on my squad but not drafted as a top 20 pitcher.

Sleeper

Andrew Benintendi – If you play in a keeper league this kid is a must have. I don’t think he will storm out of the gate because he will likely hit near the bottom of the order. But as the season progresses he may get the opportunity to move up. Ultimately I would expect him to hit .278/.341/.446 and add 13 home runs, 70 runs, 65 RBI’s and a dozen steals. As a late round pick that’s some pretty good production.