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2015 AL East Preview: Boston Red Sox

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Many people seem to like the Red Sox to return to prominence in 2015. What kind of competition can the Orioles expect from this division rival?

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

A theme of the Red Sox this offseason has crept up, so I'll go ahead and get it out of the way now:

Year

Record

2011

90-72

2012

69-93

2013

97-65

2014

71-91

See the pattern? In 2011 they finished 3rd in the division despite 90 wins, but then went from worst to first to worst. It would be a stretch to say its because of this a lot of people are expecting them to finish first again, but, well:




You get the idea. Those are just the few Google search results that came up for me. Google it yourself, you'll see.

Anyway, with that done, what do I think of the 2015 Red Sox? I'll start by looking at their projections, courtesy of Fangraphs:

Win/Loss Record: 87-75, 1st in the AL East

Top Five Players by WAR:

1. Dustin Pedroia - 4.1
2. Mookie Betts - 3.4
3. Pablo Sandoval - 3.1
4. Hanley Ramirez - 3.0
5. David Ortiz - 2.9

Part of the reason the projections like them to get so much better this year is because of two of the names on that list: Sandoval and Ramirez, neither of whom were on the team last year. The Red Sox struggled on offense last year and they addressed it. Ortiz is a factor in the team's offense every year, and figures to have another big year again if he can stay healthy. Betts is an interesting name on this list - he was a rookie last year and played well, but he's only 22 and only spent a couple years in the minors before being called up. Add that to to only seeing 213 plate appearances last year, and it seems like a leap to me that he could be their 2nd most productive player already.

Finally there's Pedroia. Pedroia is a very good player. I remember watching an Orioles/Red Sox game in the final weeks of 2013, clinging to some hope the O's could sneak into the playoffs, and in a tight game late, Pedroia came to the plate and I just shook my head and sighed. I knew he was going to get a hit and give the Red Sox the lead, because that's just what he does. Sure enough, he did and the Orioles went on to lose. Of course, if he accumulates 4.1 WAR it would be his worst year since 2010. So maybe he's peaked and starting to regress. Also, have you ever noticed...well, I'm just going to point you to the title of this fan's Facebook page.

But let's focus on the new guys that are going to make the difference...

Key Losses and Additions:

A lot of stuff happened around and after last year's trade deadline for this team. The biggest thing I'll note that will have an impact on this year's team was the signing of Rusney Castillo. But their trade deadline moves were about moving players and acquiring prospects in return. The offseason was about replacing those guys with people who could compete now:

Added Pablo Sandoval in Free Agency
Added Hanley Ramirez in Free Agency
Added Wade Miley via trade with Arizona
Added Rick Porcello via trade with Detroit (lost Yoenis Cespedes)
Added Justin Masterson via Free Agency
Lost Will Middlebrooks via trade with San Diego
Added Alexi Ogando via Free Agency
Added Sandy Leon via trade with Washington

That's a lot of moves. I'll discuss some of the bigger pieces below:

- Rusney Castillo defected from Cuba a couple years ago and last year signed a $72.5M contract with the Red Sox that lasts through 2020. He appeared in only 10 games last year, but still managed 2 home runs, 6 RBIs, and 3 stolen bases. Not bad for his first MLB action, and he certainly has the potential to due some damage this year if he can find playing time in a crowded outfield.

- Pablo Sandoval came over from the SF Giants via free agency. He was there when the Giants were winning three World Series titles in five years. He was a very good player, especially in 2011. The Red Sox acquired him for his bat, he's not known for his defensive skills. Of course, he's been an above average hitter (average wRC+ of 115 the last three years) and that was in AT&T park, which last year ranked near the bottom in park factors favoring hitters...Fenway Park ranked near the top.

- Hanley Ramirez is a former Rookie of the Year (2006) who had a great career with the Marlins before going to the Dodgers. He had a couple down years in 2011 and 2012, but bounced back in 2013 and 2014. He isn't projected to be quite as good this year, but still above average. The Red Sox signed him to a 4 year deal even though he just turned 31, so clearly they're hoping to get everything out of him they can this year and maybe next. He's not a great defender, so this is another case of them trying to improve their offense.

You'll also notice a lot of pitchers in there, about that...

Projected Starters

This may be the most overhauled rotation in baseball:

2014 Opening Day Rotation

2015 Opening Day Rotation

Jon Lester

Rick Porcello

John Lackey

Clay Buchholz

Felix Doubront

Wade Miley

Jake Peavy

Justin Masterson

Clay Buchholz

Joe Kelly

Of course, after dealing Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Jake Peavy they didn't have much of a choice. There are definitely questions about how well its going to work out, but it seems to me a workable staff. Porcello and Miley pitcher 200+ innings last year and Buchholz pitched 170+. Masterson didn't have a great 2014, but he was a very good pitcher for the Indians not too long ago, and Joe Kelly is young and put up decent numbers in the minors. All together, they're projected to accumulate 7 fWAR (per Fangraphs). For comparison, the Orioles starting five are projected for 5.7 fWAR. I'd say things could be worse.

Looking at the lineup:

Position

Player (projected)

C

Ryan Hanigan

1B

Mike Napoli

2B

Dustin Pedroia

SS

Xander Bogaerts

3B

Pablo Sandoval

LF

Hanley Ramirez

CF

Mookie Betts

RF

Rusney Castillo

DH

David Ortiz


Several notes about this:

- Ryan Hanigan was supposed to be splitting duties with Christian Vazquez, but Vazquez looks likely headed for Tommy John surgery. The Red Sox just picked up Sandy Leon from the Nationals to fill in rather than call-up one of their top prospects Blake Swihart. This is probably a good move since Swihart has limited minor league experience, but I wouldn't be surprised if this is a temporary move.

- I mentioned above how Ramirez was brought over for his offense. This is especially true when you consider they're putting him in Left Field, even though he's never played the position.

- Xander Bogaerts is still young and has yet to prove himself at Shortstop

- I don't think anyone really knows what's going on in the outfield. Aside from the guys listed here, they've also got Shane Victorino, Allen Craig, and Jackie Bradley, Jr.

So where do you think that leaves the Boston team? Another odd year worst-to-first, like the San Francisco Giants in reverse? Or do they have too much to overcome to ascend back to the top?