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2006 Team Preview: Boston Red Sox, Positional Players

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Before I get going with this post, make sure to read Cy Morong's latest that I pushed further down the front page with this overdue review.

1,000 pardons for the delay in between these team reviews, but seriously, I'm burnt out from the amount of midterms/papers/work I had all scheduled at once for this week. Things are solid from here on out though, since I have survived my manager's vacation and the aforementioned week from hell at school, and I don't feel like passing out anymore. Moving on...

The 2006 Red Sox look like an interesting team. They upgraded at a few positions, while possibly downgrading at others, but they have enough young, major-league-ready prospects that the end of the year might bring a successful playoff drive. A few players were let go, and a few new players came in.

  • Acquired
  • John Flaherty
  • Alex Gonzalez
  • J.T. Snow
  • Coco Crisp
  • Josh Bard
  • Mike Lowell
  • Dustan Mohr
  • Traded Away/Released
  • Johnny Damon
  • Adam Hyzdu
  • Kevin Millar
  • Bill Mueller
  • Shawn Wooten
  • Edgar Renteria
  • Hanley Ramirez
Many familiar faces, like Millar, Damon and Mueller, will all be in different uniforms in 2006, but the Red Sox seemingly did a good job of replacing that lost talent through various trades and signings. Let's analyze their starting nine, position by position.

The rules are the same as last time. I'm using Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA Cards in order to assess the projected AVG/OBP/SLG of the new players. I am also calculating positionally adjusted Net Runs Above Average. If you've read any of the previous team reviews posted here, or already are full of wonderful NRAA (and pNRAA) knowledge, feel free to skip down to the section labeled Catcher

NRAA of course measures offensive and defensive value together in rate or cumulative form, depending on whether or not I leave it in per 100 game form, or if it is adjusted for games played. The idea behind pNRAA is -- you guessed it -- to adjust for positional differences. My favorite example so far is Darin Erstad. Using the raw figures for Net Runs Above Average, Erstad is an above average combination of offense and defense. In fact, he is considered to be worth 2.51 NRAA per 100 games (which from now on, will not have a per 100 games after it; NRAA is in the per 100 game form). Using the positional adjustment, Erstad's value drops all the way to -9.90; first base was the position with the most offensive contribution in 2005, and Erstad's adjusted numbers suffer for that. In fact, if Erstad was a league average defensive player rather than 9 runs above average per 100 games, his pNRAA would be -18.90, which is to say in my Boston speak, "wicked awful". With results like this for various players, I really enjoy what pNRAA brings to the table analysis wise.

AVG/OBP/SLG will be used along with pNRAA (remember, per 100 game form) and pNRAA/GP (Games Played).

Catcher
2005: Jason Varitek .281/.366/.489; +21.19 pNRAA; +28.19 pNRAA/GP

2006: Jason Varitek .271/.361/.477; +22.32 pNRAA; +25.00 pNRAA/GP

Varitek's AVG/OBP/SLG is expected to drop slightly, and his defensive game is expected to drop a tad as well (mostly due to age of a catcher I'm assuming), yet his pNRAA appears to be on the rise slightly. This is due to what appears to be an expected drop of offense by PECOTA in 2006. I have noticed that the majority of the lines I have looked through are lower than 2005's, yet have a higher EqA. This could be caused by various issues, but I think that it is registering a drop in league-wide offensive output. Anyways, Varitek should be able to match his projected output in 2006; besides his freak elbow injury a few years back, he has been very healthy and given regular rest, not to mention he took over a job as a starting catcher sort of late in his career. The Sox have had no issues at catcher for a few years with the Vtek/Mirabelli combination; it will be interesting to see how the first year without Belli Bombs goes for Boston behind the plate, especially for Tim Wakefield, who struggled without Mirabelli as his catcher in 2005. I had the exact figures somewhere, but I can't seem to find them. I'll link to them on edit if I do.

First Base
2005: Kevin Millar .272/.355/.399; +1.40 pNRAA; +1.87 pNRAA/GP
2005: John Olerud .289/.344/.451; +6.39 pNRAA; +5.56 pNRAA/GP

2006: Kevin Youkilis .258/.368/.421; +3.00 pNRAA; +2.79 pNRAA/GP
2006: J.T. Snow .270/.336/.413; -8.74 pNRAA; -6.20 pNRAA/GP

That Olerud figure for pNRAA/GP looked a tad high to me, and I realized it is because he came in as a defensive replacement a large portion of the time, which would skew the numbers and make it seem as provided more than he really did. To adjust for that, I used Adjusted Games rather than Games, which measures the estimated number of full, nine inning games one plays in. Using that, his pNRAA/GP looks more like +1.76...meaning that if Youkilis gets the majority of the playing time, and J.T. Snow takes over the role of defensive replacement rather than as an occasional starter at first, the Sox will improve their production, although only slightly. I trust Youkilis to match his projection, with possibly even a slightly higher batting average, which would cause his OBP/SLG to go up as well. Interesting note: according to PECOTA, Youkilis may be the better defensive of the two at this point. We'll see of course.

Second Base
2005: Mark Bellhorn .216/.328/.360; -10.14 pNRAA; -8.62 pNRAA/GP
2005: Tony Graffanino .319/.355/.457; -0.81 pNRAA; -0.41 pNRAA/GP

2006: Mark Loretta .294/.355/.415; +8.33 pNRAA; +10.17 pNRAA/GP

In what was certainly one of the weirder trades of the offseason, the Red Sox acquired Mark Loretta seemingly out of nowhere for backup catcher Doug Mirabelli. The Red Sox improved over incumbent Tony Graffanino (who, to the team's surprise, accepted arbitration and is now on the trade block) and even acquired a very good doubles hitter* who may thrive in Fenway and stunt his decline somewhat. By the way, Graffanino is not a .319/.355/.457 hitter by any stretch of the imagination:

  • Boston (188 AB)
  • Fenway: .355/.408/.570
  • Road: .284/.299/.347
He also hit .270/.350/.358 with Kansas City. Graffanino is a useful player, but he's not the answer the Red Sox are seeking at second base when Loretta is a viable option. Otherwise, he'd be the go to guy.

Third Base
2005: Bill Mueller .295/.369/.430; +7.72 pNRAA; 11.58 pNRAA/GP

2006: Mike Lowell .270/.332/.457; +8.16 pNRAA; 9.95 pNRAA/GP

I think this projection may be a tad optimistic for Lowell. I say this only because PECOTA uses three-year weighted averages to help determine its projections, and Lowell's fall was fast and far. Here is his modified OPS by month for 2004-2005:

Looking at that chart, I expect his 25th percentile projection (.244/.300/.400/.816 mOPS) more than his weighted mean (mOPS of .917). We could then expect his pNRAA figures to look more like -6.03 per 100 games, a far cry from the +8 runs above average figure in the projection above. I think this may be the one position they are going to struggle at in comparison to 2005. Luckily for Boston, it appears they have gained enough elsewhere to offset that.

Shortstop
2005: Edgar Renteria .276/.335/.385; -19.30 pNRAA; -29.53 pNRAA/GP

2006: Alex Gonzalez .264/.308/.437; -0.02 pNRAA; -0.02 pNRAA/GP

The Rate defensive statistic is one of the few systems that denies Alex Gonzalez the mantle of excellent defensive shortstop, so this projection may be low. Using another system, such as David Gassko's Defensive Runs Above Average or David Pinto's Probabilistic Model of Range, you may find that Gonzalez is even more of an upgrade for Boston at short. Regardless of whether he is excellent or average defensively, he presents a massive upgrade essentially equal to Manny Ramirez's overall production over Edgar Renteria per 100 games played. That in itself is a huge deal; nevermind if Dustin Pedroia (projected pNRAA of +18.86) takes over at short sometime over the summer. If Pedroia's projection was correct, the straight upgrade of Pedroia over Renteria using pNRAA would be +38.16 pNRAA per 100 games; or for context's sake, a few runs shy of Derrek Lee's 2005 season rate. Renteria was that bad, and Pedroia may be that good.

Manny Ramirez
2005: Manny Ramirez .292/.388/.594; +14.78 pNRAA; +22.46 pNRAA

2006: Manny Ramirez .296/.386/.570; +21.37 pNRAA; +31.41 pNRAA/GP

If PECOTA isn't worried about Manny Ramirez's production falling due to age, I'm not worried about Manny Ramirez's production falling due to age. In fact, if he bests that line, I would not be surprised.

  • Manny First Half versus Second Half
  • .275/.362/.553 (April-July 9)
  • .313/.418/.643 (July 10-October 2)
That second half looks a lot more like what would be Ramirez's 80-85 percentile projection for 2006.

Centerfield
2005: Johnny Damon .316/.366/.439; +6.66 pNRAA; +9.86 pNRAA/GP

2006: Covelli Crisp .302/.353/.460; +14.10 pNRAA; +21.58 pNRAA/GP

Coco Crisp should be able to outperform Johnny Damon (at a much lower price tag) in 2006 and beyond (for less money). Crisp's projection assumes he is in Cleveland, so expect a tad more offense than what is shown, although there are questions surrounding his ability to play defense in centerfield, meaning his pNRAA may not be affected too much by the team switch overall. Giving up Andy Marte via trade may not be something the Sox are proud of, especially with the aforementioned Mike Lowell on the roster at third instead of Marte, but they needed a centerfielder, not two third basemen.

Rightfield
2005: Trot Nixon .275/.357/.446; +7.43 pNRAA; +9.21 pNRAA/GP

2006: Trot Nixon .284/.369/.482; +12.61 pNRAA; +11.98 pNRAA/GP
2006: Dustan Mohr .264/.343/.493; -4.42 pNRAA; -2.43 pNRAA/GP

Mohr was considered one of the better right fielder's in the game by David Pinto's aforementioned PMR defensive rankings. David Gassko had him at +9.7 in his RAA system, although he warns that due to the lower innings total for Mohr that it should be taken with a grain of salt. That said, their regular lines don't matter. This is all that matters for the Sox:

  • Nixon L/R Splits 2003-2005
  • Versus LHP: .214/.305/.327
  • Versus RHP: .314/.395/.560
  • Mohr L/R Splits 2003-2005
  • Versus LHP: .260/.344/.468
  • Versus RHP: .237/.320/.407
Folks, we have ourselves a beautiful platoon situation that the Sox most likely will take full advantage of. I love platoons.

Designated Hitter
2005: David Ortiz .300/.397/.604; +25.08 pNRAA; +39.87 pNRAA/GP

2006: David Ortiz .292/.384/.578; +25.38 pNRAA; +40.86 pNRAA/GP

The older Ortiz gets, the more I would watch his projections and statistics, because he is quite a large man, and that worries me for the second half of his career (see: Thomas, Frank and Vaughn, Mo). I don't expect Ortiz to have to deal with any of these issues for a time, or if at all, but it is something to watch out for. Moving to DH full time has certainly helped him avoid the injury problems that plagued his early years in Minnesota. Like Manny, expect more of the same, although now he will most likely have to face Mike Myers, former teammate and lefty killer (well...sometimes).

Looking at the projections for the position players, I've come to one conclusion. The rest of the league needs to watch out if the Red Sox pitching ends up performing well. That may be a large if, considering some of the question marks, but it is a possibility, one the rest of the AL East might not want to deal with. Let's take a look at their lineup using David Pinto's Lineup Analysis tool. Note: I used my idea of Mike Lowell's projection, with the lower mOPS for this lineup.

  1. Red Sox Lineup Analysis
  2. Youkilis
  3. Ortiz
  4. Varitek
  5. Ramirez
  6. Nixon
  7. Lowell
  8. Crisp
  9. Gonzalez
  10. Loretta
In a lineup based off the idea that your worst hitter is in the #8 hole and your #3 hitter is most likely your fourth or fifth best overall, it is somewhat scary to me that Jason Varitek is in the #3 position. This lineup is projected to score 926 runs over the course of the season, while the lineup the Sox have presented for real is projected to amass 909. That difference is potentially two offensive wins in a vacuum, which could be a huge deal in the AL East this year, considering Toronto's improvements and the ever-present Yankees.

*"The other thing about doubles is that there?s really no such thing as a doubles hitter. Of the six 'major' types of batting events--singles, doubles, triples, home runs, walks, and strikeouts--doubles are by far the least stable from season to season." - Nate Silver

Information was used from Baseball Musings' Day by Day Database, as well as Baseball Prospectus PECOTA and Davenport Translation cards.