4.4 / 43 / -17: Respectively, those are the UZR/150, Defensive Runs Saved and Fan Scouting Report ratings for the Sox defense from last year. Basically, the Sox aren't passing the eye test but are doing just fine in terms of advanced metrics. Does this mean they're due for a regression in the field, or do they just happen to employ clumsy-looking but solid fielders? The outfield will have ample speed, but this pitching staff might need the infield to be equally as strong.
6.9%: This was the Red Sox BB% as a team, the second worst mark in the league and their lowest team mark since 1931. Gone are the OBP-happy teams of the Theo Epstein era, it seems, as just two regulars managed an OBP over .350 (David Ortiz and Daniel Nava, who together only combined for one season’s worth of plate appearances). I’m sure the Red Sox will aim to improve in this area, and Jonny Gomes should help. Still, they’ll need a stronger commitment to patience from Jacoby Ellsbury, Will Middlebrooks and company.
2012 Season in Review
You have to go back to 1965 to find the last time Boston had a winning percentage as low as .426, the rate their 69-93 record works out to. It’s also the first time since 1992 they finished at the bottom of the division, highlighting just how terrible an outlier last season was for them. Injuries were a plenty, all of their starting pitchers struggled a great deal, and a handful of players were shipped out to shed salary. 2013 almost can’t be any worse.
Key Offseason Moves
Acquired Joel Hanrahan: The Sox dealt Jerry Sands, Mark Melancon and others to Pittsburgh for Joel Hanrahan, looking to solidify a shaky bullpen. Unfortunately, Hanrahan may be due for a fall from grace, having posted a 4.45 FIP behind his 2.72 ERA last year, though his two seasons prior to that were much better.
Signed Jonny Gomes: Gomes fits the mold of a "Fenway left fielder" pretty well, as he’s a slugging righty who is likely to handle a small chunk of outfield capably. Gomes now looks to be the DH in the short-term, and while Fenway doesn’t boost home runs for right-handers, it’s a huge boon to doubles. Gomes could be in for a solid season and a nice return on his $5M salary.
Signed Mike Napoli: I’m still unclear on how the Sox grabbed Napoli on a one-year, $5M deal, but they did. He hasn’t had a season where he was worth less than that in his entire career, so even 2012’s significant drop in OBP and SLG weren’t a huge concern. With that said, his previous value came from behind the plate, and he’s now a first baseman, so his bat is going to have to play closer to its 2011 level for him to remain an elite hitter for his position.
Signed Shane Victorino: The Flying Hawaiian will make the move to right field for the first time in his career, which shouldn’t be an issue given he was an average center fielder and strong left fielder in seasons past. The bigger concern is whether his OBP decline is for real or a blip (he had a similar drop in 2010 but rebounded). At three years and $39M, and no longer in a premier defensive position, Victorino will need to hold his own at the plate to provide a sound return.
Signed Ryan Dempster: With 2012’s rotation a mess, the Sox threw $26.5M over two years Dempster’s way. It’s a fair price for what has become a very reliable starter over the past five years, averaging nearly 200 innings while never having an FIP about 4.00.
The Red Sox seem to have some stability around the diamond, but injuries to Stephen Drew and David Ortiz have created short-term openings. Jackie Bradley Jr. will man left in the interim, but he’s likely to head to Triple-A for some seasoning after Ortiz returns, while Jose Iglesias and Pedro Ciriaco will fill in at short for as long as Drew needs. Otherwise, the only real battle comes behind the plate, where Salty and David Ross will try to carve out roles beyond just platooning.
Boston won’t be worse. I’m confident in that. But too much has to break right to picture this squad returning to the playoff hunt – you’re banking on a couple of starters bouncing back in a serious way, the platoons to work out just fine, Victorino and Napoli to buck their poor 2012’s and Ellsbury to stay healthy. That’s asking a lot – if it all breaks right, this is a competitive team, but I think it’s more likely they finish over .500 but not enough so to compete for a playoff spot.
Jacoby Ellsbury nearly replicates his huge 2011 season, coming up short in the power category but providing solid defense, 30-plus steals and a .370-ish OBP. After the season, he comes very close to walking but instead signs a last-minute, five-year pact to remain The Handsome Face of Boston Baseball.