Photo: Wikimedia Commons
As winter draws to a close, temperatures rise—Ann Arbor aside—and Spring Training gets underway it can only mean one thing: Baseball is (almost) here! Welcome back to M-SABR’s Season Preview 30 Teams in 30 Days series, where our staff writers share their insights on what to expect from your favorite team and players in 2018 and get you ready for that very first first pitch. Today Griffin Murphy takes on the Boston Red Sox. Enjoy!
by Griffin Murphy
Boston Red Sox
2017 Record: 93-69 (1st AL East, lost 3-1 in ALDS to Astros)
2017 Payroll: $222,552,008 (3rd)
Projected 2018 Lineup:
All player projections for 2018 from Steamer
- RF Mookie Betts, .299 AVG/.370 OBP/.517 SLG, 5.6 WAR
- LF Andrew Benintendi, .286 AVG/.360 OBP/.464 SLG, 2.9 WAR
- SS Xander Bogaerts, .289 AVG/.353 OBP/.445 SLG, 3.4 WAR
- DH J.D. Martinez, .286 AVG/.356 OBP/.554 SLG, 2.4 WAR
- 1B Mitch Moreland, .258 AVG/.328 OBP/.458 SLG, .9 WAR
- 3B Rafael Devers, .286 AVG/.338 OBP/.483 SLG, 2.5 WAR
- CF Jackie Bradley, .259 AVG/.335 OBP/.446 SLG, 2.9 WAR
- C Christian Vazquez, .264 AVG/.317 OBP/.381 SLG, 1.3 WAR
- 2B Eduardo Nunez, .295 AVG/.332 OBP/.444 SLG, 1.0 WAR
Projected 2018 Rotation:
- Chris Sale, 192.0 IP/3.13 ERA/1.03 WHIP, 5.4 WAR
- David Price, 180.0 IP/3.75 ERA/1.19 WHIP, 3.4 WAR
- Rick Porcello, 182.0 IP/4.40 ERA/1.26 WHIP, 2.4 WAR
- Drew Pomeranz, 163.0 IP/4.22 ERA/1.34 WHIP, 2.1 WAR
- Steven Wright, 113.0 IP/4.89 ERA/1.42 WHIP, 0.7 WAR
The Red Sox, as expected, made one of the biggest splashes of the offseason in signing J.D. Martinez. What’s even better for the Sox is the contract is only worth $110 million through five seasons, even though there were rumors of Boras demanding a $200 million deal for his client. That being said, the deal is front-loaded, paying out $50 million in the first two seasons, and also has an opt-out clause after two seasons. Other notable signings include 2017’s starting first baseman Mitch Moreland who was signed to a two year deal in December, and Eduardo Nuñez, who should fill in at second base until Pedroia returns. The Sox didn’t lose anyone major but did lose some smaller pieces in the surprisingly decent Doug Fister (1.4 WAR), Addison Reed (1 WAR for Sox/Mets), and Chris Young (-0.2 WAR), who struggled last year but had his moments with the club. The last move which cannot be ignored is the signing of Alex Cora to be the team’s new manager. This is significant for a number of reasons. First, a recent report emerged in which Bogaerts and Betts both described the tension in the clubhouse last year on top of the Price-Eckersley bonanza. Additionally, former manager John Farrell was reasonably a subject of criticism as the team has underperformed in the postseason each of the past two years. Cora should bring a new, revitalized energy to the clubhouse in 2018.
Heading into 2018 Red Sox fans have a lot to be excited for. The team is more or less the same as last year except they are bringing back a (hopefully) healthy David Price, and J.D. Martinez, who hit 45 bombs in 119 games last year. For those wondering, that would extrapolate out to 61 homers over a full season–not too shabby. If that doesn’t get you excited, just look at the guy he is replacing. Last season Hanley’s WRC+ was a meager 93 while Martinez’s was 166, only behind Mike Trout and some other guy who obviously got lucky last year and is gonna crash down to earth this year, no doubt about it *nervously laughs*. All jokes aside, imagining the Red Sox 2017 offense (10th in the league) with a hitter comparable to Mike Trout or Aaron Judge in the four hole is something out of a dream. The protection that Martinez will offer Bogaerts, Benintendi, and Betts will force pitchers to throw strikes, unlike last year when they’d pitch around the Sox young studs to get to Ramirez or Moreland. While Martinez has historically struggled with health, hopefully hitting in the DH slot and having Hanley behind him for the occasional rest will do the trick.
Even without adding one of the best bats in the league, the Sox offense was poised to improve as the former youth movement is now in the full-on development stage. Atop the lineup is none other than Mookie Betts, entering his age 25 season. After finishing just behind Trout in MVP voting in 2016, 2017 was supposed to be the year for Mook. Unfortunately for Boston fans, this was not the case, as all of his average, home runs, runs, and RBI dropped from their 2016 levels. But is there reason for concern? Will he bounce back to MVP type production this year? One good sign for Betts is his BABIP fell from .322 in 16’ to .268 in 17’ suggesting he’ll experience some positive regression this year (Steamer has his BABIP projected to be .303). Another good sign for his long-term prospects is that his walk rate jumped from 6.7% to 10.8% last year. An important question to ask is whether this drop in BABIP, HRs, and average along with an increased walk rate was a result of him seeing worse pitches to hit without Big Papi there to keep them true. Regardless, expect major improvements to Betts’s 2018 totals, especially now that a Papi-like bat is back in the lineup.
Behind Betts, we have Benintendi who had a solid, ROY worthy performance (if not for that guy who I mentioned earlier) in 2017, and should build on this success in 2018. As per Ian Browne of MLB.com, “Benintendi arrived at spring training noticeably more bulked up”, so look for Beni to exceed the 20 homers he hit in 2017 (@ Steamer). Not much else to say about this young stud except he’s got the best hair in the MLB. Yeah, you heard that, Bryce.
Coming in at the three hole and at the ripe age of 25 is the Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts. There might be reason to be concerned about Bogaerts for the club as he has seen his average fall from .320 to .294 from 15’ to 16’, and down to a so-so .273 in 17’. Simultaneously he has seen his K rate rise from 15.4% to 17.1% to 18.3%. While his walk rate has risen by 1% (4.9% to 8.8%) more than his K rate over the past two years, this still has to be worrying for fans as his ‘17 BABIP was in line with career norms at .327. On top of this, Bogaerts’ home runs fell from 21 to 10 from 16’ to 17’. While this might seem like me sounding the alarms, it is not. The good news for Sox fans is that Bogaerts was playing through injury for the whole second half of the season after getting beaned on July 6th in Tampa Bay. Before said date, Xander was hitting .318 with a .818 OPS. After said date? An ugly .205 with a .580 OPS. Were you scared for Xander? I know I was until I found that little tidbit. Look for the rising shortstop to come much closer to his 2016 line of .294/.356/.446 than his 2017 line of .273/.343/.403 in the coming season.
As for the rest of the lineup (outside Martinez who has been discussed), there is nothing too enticing outside of sophomore Rafael Devers. Devers came storming onto the scene in 2017 as he provided a much-needed spark to a dead Red Sox offense. As one of, if not the youngest starter in the league (21 and a half on opening day), expect Devers to go through his ups and downs throughout the season, but expect him to have a good time while doing it. This kid has a true baby face and is always smiling (especially when he hits a game-tying home run in the top of the 9th in his first career AB against Aroldis Chapman). The reason to expect some regression from Devers is his high 2017 BABIP of .342, though with Steamer projecting his 2018 BABIP to be .331 it should not be significant. The only major concern for Devers is his defense as he posted an ugly 14 errors in 56 games, committing 5 in a 5 game stretch at one point. Luckily defense is easier to fix than offense, and with a bat like the one that Devers wields, he’ll be a mainstay in the Sox lineup for years to come. Aside from Devers, there are Nuñez, Moreland, Bradley, and Vazquez/Leon. Nuñez should be solid out of the nine-hole while Bradley, Moreland, and Vazquez/Leon should bring their value defensively, finishing 9th, 11th, and 10th/13th respectively among starters at their positions in Fangraphs’ Defense rating.
All in all, it is a good year to be a Red Sox fan. Unfortunately, there is that creeping nervousness among Sox fans now that the Yankees are World Series favorites, but as any Sox fan knows playing underdog to the Yankees is more rewarding than, well, just about anything. Plus if you’re a Boston fan and you don’t feel nostalgia for the peak of the rivalry when every game was must-watch TV–Manny and Papi vs. A-Rod and Jeter–then you’re just lying to yourself.
Predicted Record: 95-67
Player to Watch: Mookie Betts
Before last season there were a lot of people ready to put Betts in the same tier as Mike Trout. Yes, I was one of them. Was it premature? Sure, but just watch the guy play, watch the guy swing, and tell me you disagree. Pure beauty. Oh, you still disagree? Okay, Mookie is not Mike Trout. He’s probably never going to eclipse 40 homers. But the guy is still an absolute joy to watch. He puts in 100% effort at the plate, in the field (3rd highest on Fangraphs’ Def rating), and on the basepaths (26 SB last year). He is elite in every sense of the word. Since his first full year in 2015 Mookie is 6th in the majors in WAR at 18.2, sandwiched between Jose Altuve and Bryce Harper, even with a “down” year in 2017. The Red Sox should enjoy his cheap arbitration years because come 2021 Mookie will enjoy a nice payday.
Player to Watch: Rafael Devers
Picking Devers as a player to watch was the easiest choice I’ve made all day. Watching any young guys play is always a blast as you get to see them learn on the fly. You see their mistakes, their frustrations, their DINGERS. I can’t say I’m looking forward to him figuring out third base as he’ll probably cost us a game or two this season with errors, but if that’s the price we have to pay for a rising star, then I won’t be complaining. If it weren’t for Devers I’d be writing about Michael Chavis–a 22-year-old 3B prospect who launched 31 bombs between High A and AA in 2017 in 127 games. Since Devers is, in fact, a year younger than Chavis at the same position, look for the Red Sox to move Chavis, who has crept into most top 100 prospect lists, during the season for a starter or reliever.
Player to Watch: David Price
The pressure is finally off Price, or at least as much as it will ever be. He isn’t the ace. He isn’t the new guy in town. He’s “completely healthy” (I’ll believe it when I see it). At 32 and a half, former Cy Young winner has severely underperformed for Boston, accruing only 5.9 WAR in the past two seasons after posting +6 WAR seasons in 2014 and 2015. While much of this failure can reasonably be blamed on injury, it doesn’t make it an easier pill to swallow. The bottom line is that if the Red Sox want to be contenders, they need some form of the old David Price to show up as their number two, because the baseball God knows Rick Porcello is not the Cy Young level pitcher that he was made out to be in 2016, especially against the likes of Judge and Stanton. If Price shows up in 2018 the Sox will be in great shape to shake up the Yankees’ and Astros’ title hopes. That is a big “if”, though.