Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

2013 MLB Team Previews: Boston Red Sox


Boston Red Sox

2013 in Review

In 2013, fortitude was on display in Fenway Park. A year after finishing 69-93, the Boston Red Sox bulldozed into 2013 with a new look and demeanor. Led by new skipper John Farrell, the Red Sox would accrue victories like they accrued facial hair. After finishing the regular season 97-65, the American League East champs would roll through the postseason and capture their third World Series championship in ten seasons.

Adversity was overcome early on. They would open the season with the like’s of Daniel Nava, not Adrian Gonzalez. With just a little more than two weeks into play, the city would be struck by the horror of the Boston Marathon bombings. Then, they would shuffle from Joel Hanrahan to Andrew Bailey to Koji Uehara in the ninth inning.

Veteran leadership coupled with maturity and a distinguished trust in the players themselves helped forge a bond that would not be penetrable. David Ortiz showed at 37 years old, he still had the valor to command this caravan straight into October. John Lackey returned after a year hiatus to pitch better than expected. Closer Uehara, determined to split-finger his way to three outs when the team needed them most, did just that and then some. Together, the Red Sox captivated the country with their grisly yet entertaining style of play, all while bringing home Major League Baseball’s Commissioner’s Trophy.

2014 Preview

Key Departures: CF Jacoby Ellsbury, RHP Ryan Dempster, SS Stephen Drew, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, LHP Franklin Morales, RHP Andrew Bailey, LHP Matt Thornton

Key Additions: C A.J. Pierzynski, LHP Chris Capuano, RHP Edward Mujica, OF Grady Sizemore, IF Jonathan Herrera, RHP Burke Badenhop

Offense

The number one question is, when will David Ortiz start slowing down? Now 38 years old, Ortiz isn’t showing any signs of diminishing production. He returned to the 30-home run mark a year ago for the first time since 2010. Chances of the slugger doing so again in 2014 remain viable, but a return closer to his five-year average of 28.5 HR is more likely.

Despite playing through most of 2013 with a hamstring injury, Shane Victorino still posted respectable numbers. He should be expected to sharpen his production and contribute even more, barring his health. Meanwhile, second baseman Dustin Pedroia should continue to put on a laser show with his hitting.

First baseman Mike Napoli should produce at a similar clip in 2014. Expectations of 25 HR and 95 RBI are not too far-fetched. Left fielder Daniel Nava should also continue to hit near or above .300, providing glue in the lineup for the power Boston beholds.

Rookie shortstop Xander Bogaerts will be essential to the success of the Red Sox lineup. His numbers weren’t eye-popping in limited at-bat’s late last season. If his production normalizes to the production we can expect, he will look more like Troy Tulowitzki than Zack Cozart.

Third baseman Will Middlebrooks suffered through a sophomore slump. While he exhibited signs of power with 17 HR, the rest of his tangibles fell through the floor. If he can bounce back and improve on his deficiencies, he is likely to emerge as one of the game’s more prolific hitting third baseman. Consider his upside to that of Pedro Alvarez.

Jackie Bradley Jr. will be called upon to replace Jacoby Ellsbury in center field. He made his rookie debut with the Red Sox on Opening Day 2013 but his bat couldn’t stick. He returned to the minors and tallied a .275 AVG to coincide with 10 HR. He will need to enhance his ability in the batter’s box if he wants to be mentioned in the same breath as Ellsbury. If not, the Red Sox will lose considerable bearing at the plate from the center field position.

The Red Sox will see decreased production at the catcher position as they switch from Jarrod Saltalamacchia to A.J. Pierzynski. Pierzynski posted comparable numbers with Texas last season, but he is another year closer to 40 and his production has to start regressing at some point.

On the bench, catcher David Ross offers very little at the plate. Outfielder Johnny Gomes and utilityman Mike Carp will give a boost when necessary. Infield utilityman Jonathan Herrera is making a move from Colorado. He can post a respectable average but comes with little pop in his bat.

Defense

Defensively, the Red Sox have fared pretty well. Last season, they finished among the top ten in Major League Baseball in errors and fielding percentage.

Second baseman Dustin Pedroia is a primary driver of this success. He consistently produces a net gain in Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR). Right fielder Shane Victorino does too. As defensive magnates at their respective positions, Pedroia and Victorino continue to save runs defensively with Gold Glove-caliber play.

The transition from catcher to first base boded well for Mike Napoli too. His defense improved dramatically, leading him to being one of the best at the position. With a 9.7 UZR in 2013, more of the same can be expected moving forward.

The sample size on Bogaerts is too small to mitigate. With no data to go off of in the minor leagues, one has to predict he will turn out to be a solid shortstop defensively. Despite his size, he has good range and should be a formidable half of a tremendous double-play duo with Pedroia.

Daniel Nava, Will Middlebrooks and David Ortiz (when in the field), leave a lot to be desired. The competency of the rest of the roster makes up for their lack of defensive tools. Therefore, one has to suspect that Red Sox will be good once again from this aspect of the game. While they may not be equipped with enough talent to be the best defensive club in MLB, they will be within the upper half of rankings.

Rotation and Bullpen

Despite coming off of a World Series championship, there are many questions concerning the Red Sox pitching staff. The rotation is chock full of quality arms but none of them standout as elite aces. Jon Lester has apparently rediscovered his mojo. A prominent arm with top-notch qualities, Lester should once again lead the rotation. The lefty is more than capable of finishing 2014 with a sub-4.00 earned run average for the sixth time in the last seven years.

Whether or not Jake Peavy is up to the task of remaining healthy for an entire season is yet to be seen. He once was considered one of the best in the game, even racking up a National League Cy Young Award. Soon to be 33 years old, one has to wonder if he can manage to eclipse the 200 innings pitched mark again. He has done so just once since 2009. Getting him to work his way throughout the duration of the season will work wonders for Boston.

John Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubrount round out the rotation. All three have their issues. Dependency upon any of the trio to have a star-studded campaign in the coming year is near-sighted. After all, each of the three have shown the ability to be good arms on the mound. Then again, they have also been known to blow up out there too.

Closer Koji Uehara leads the bullpen. He posted elite numbers after taking the job from Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey last year. With a strikeout rate that ballooned, one has to wonder if it can continue. More questions emerge when one considers his velocity. It isn’t that great and sooner or later hitters have to figure out his split-fingered fastball, right?

Edward Mujica and Junichi Tazawa will pose as the set-up men. Both have the capability to get the job done. Should Uehara falter, either one of them could step in and close as well. Andrew Miller, Craig Breslow and Burke Badenhop will cement the middle relief.

Recently acquired Chris Capuano is a wild card. He has the ability to be a good no. four or five starting pitcher. The lefty is likely to begin the season in the bullpen though. With question marks in the rotation, it is only a matter of time before Capuano sees the starting rotation.

Projected Starting Lineup

  1. RF Shane Victorino
  2. LF Daniel Nava
  3. 2B Dustin Pedroia
  4. DH David Ortiz
  5. 1B Mike Napoli
  6. SS Xander Bogaerts
  7. C A.J. Pierzynski
  8. 3B Will Middlebrooks
  9. CF Jackie Bradley Jr.

Projected Starting Rotation

  1. Jon Lester
  2. John Lackey
  3. Jake Peavy
  4. Clay Buchholz
  5. Felix Doubront

Prospect to Watch

Simply put, Xander Bogaerts has to replace Jacoby Ellsbury’s production in the lineup. While he will start Opening Day as the everyday shortstop, don’t expect him to tally stolen bases like Ellsbury did. Rather, Bogaerts hits for power and enough average to supplement the offense with enough might in the absence of Ellsbury. If the Red Sox come around to bringing Stephen Drew back, Bogaerts will slide to third base, relegating Will Middlebrooks to a bench role. Regardless, Bogaerts figures to factor heavy into Boston’s plans. They will either sink or swim with him.

Best Case Scenario

The make-up of the Red Sox roster has been tweaked somewhat. The new additions need to produce at a capable level. If Pierzynski, Bradley Jr. and Bogaerts do produce, the Red Sox will be in the running for the AL East crown again. The pitching has to continue to suffice. Additionally, closer Uehara must navigate carefully as his eye-popping metrics from a year ago are set to stabilize. If Middlebrooks emerges with 20-plus HRs and Bogaerts leads the way into AL Rookie of the Year voting, the cast will be set for the Red Sox to play late into October.

Worst Case Scenario

Setbacks from Lackey, Buchholz and Uehara would have fatal consequences for the Red Sox. Their lineup can’t take a jolt of disappoint from Middlebrooks, Pierzynski and Bogaerts either. If either of these two things happen, the Red Sox will lose their edge in the hotly contested AL East. Peavy could meet the disabled list, as he usually does at some point too. In this case, it isn’t hard to imagine the Red Sox taking a step backwards in 2014.

Prediction

88-74 (3rd in AL East)

Tags: Featured Philadelphia Phillies Popular