April 14, 2006
Red Sox, Devil Rays
A lot can change in a week. The Red Sox went from having Coco Crisp in center and Trot Nixon in right to an outfield that now consists of some combination of Adam Stern, Wily Mo Pena, and Dustan Mohr, depending on the handedness of the opposing starter. Granted, two of those three have been starting outfielders for major league teams, and the other is nicknamed "The Canadian Babe Ruth," but Crisp and Nixon are the ideal combination, and outside of the World Baseball Classic, Stern has not shown himself to be more than a fourth outfielder, albeit a potentially talented one.
It still is not known exactly how long Crisp--recently signed to a three-year extension for $15.5 million carrying him through his arbitration eligible years--will be out of the Sox lineup, as estimates range anywhere from the minimum disabled list stint to a month. Will Carroll says that the injury should not cause Crisp any significant issues, and that the Red Sox are simply being conservative with their newly acquired center fielder.
Now that the oft-injured Nixon has also tweaked his groin, and knowing his history, as well as how groin injuries tend to heal, the Sox cannot necessarily depend on having him back in the lineup right away. What can the Red Sox expect in place of their Opening Day starters?
Player AVG/OBP/SLG EqA Rate ----------------------------------------- Trot Nixon .284/.369/.482 .298 100 Coco Crisp .302/.353/.460 .287 101 Wily Mo Pena .282/.345/.558 .292 97 Dustan Mohr .264/.343/.493 .261 102 Adam Stern .267/.321/.389 .257 100The drop off in production from Nixon to Pena is not all that severe according to PECOTA, although arguments could be made in regards to the defensive value, shown by Rate. For example, John Dewan's Fielding Bible shows Trot Nixon to be the top right fielder in the league in 2005 in Plus/Minus (second best overall from 2003-2005), while Pena is terrible according to David Pinto's Probabilistic Model of Range and Mitchel Lichtman's Ultimate Zone Rating (which is very similar to Dewan's system).
On the other hand, Mohr is considered a league average or better fielder in every defensive system checked, and can hold his own against lefthanders, posting a .260/.344/.468 line in 346 AB from 2003-2005. The strength of both players offensively is their ability to hit lefties, so unless one plays in center and one plays in right (as they did in the first game with both Nixon and Crisp absent from the lineup) Stern is going to see some playing time.
Adam Stern's PECOTA projection comes in below average for centerfield, posting a .257 EqA with league average defense. However, he has held his own so far with a .300/.333/.444 line, and his arm is considered to be one of the best in the Red Sox system. His 75th percentile projection is much more favorable, with a realistic line of .285/.341/.422. He has to stay on the roster until he has completed his time as a Rule 5 pick, so this is a chance for the Red Sox to see what Stern is capable of, at least against righties. If Stern is only capable of his weighted mean projection, and Crisp is out for 25 games or so, the Sox can expect to lose roughly three runs above average offensively and defensively; obviously, that is not that considerably significant number, although over the course of the season the gap would certainly grow to a point where the Sox might lose a great deal of value. If Stern can play at his 75th percentile level, the difference shrinks to just under two runs above average.
If you run the same exercise for Pena and Nixon, the difference is roughly one and a half runs difference in Nixon's favor; if Pena continues to struggle and hits around his 25th percentile projection (.245/.306/.458; .254 EqA), the difference is most likely over a full win, at almost nine runs above average. Of course, that is assuming that Nixon eventually makes a DL trip, which as of now, isn't the situation.
Overall, the Red Sox should not lose that much if Crisp is out for a month and the Stern/Mohr combination continues to do what it is meant to do. Nixon may be more problematic if Pena doesn't start to pick up his bat speed or look passable defensively, but he is not expected to miss anywhere near as much time as Crisp. The best thing that can come out of this situation is that Pena gets some of the playing time he desperately needs, considering his complete lack of minor league options, and the Red Sox may get to see if Adam Stern has improved at all from 2005's dreadful offensive display of .133/.188/.333.
Part of the issue with the 2005 Red Sox was that the bench was not particularly strong. When injuries to their outfielders occurred, Kevin Millar and Gabe Kapler had to make the majority of the starts in place of Trot Nixon and Adam Stern (initially a backup outfielder, but one who also broke down). At the end of the season, the bench and starting lineup was too battered for Johnny Damon to rest very often, and he suffered through various physical issues as the season wore down, bringing what was an otherwise fine season to a mediocre finish.
This is not the case with the 2006 squad; two starting outfielders go down with injuries early on, and the Red Sox simply shift Pena to right, put Stern to center, and call Dustan Mohr up from the minors to fill in at either position when necessary. When Hee Seop Choi returns from the disabled list and Dustin Pedroia's shoulder heals up, the infield will have the same sort of depth.
Oakland has received a great deal of press for its tremendous depth in the outfield, infield, and rotation, but the Red Sox seem to be doing much of the same back in the east, thanks to some late spring wheeling and dealing by General Manager Theo Epstein. Now, if the team could stop testing the limits of this depth for a few weeks, Red Sox Nation might be able to breathe a little easier.