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October 12, 2009

Kiss'Em Goodbye

Boston Red Sox

by Baseball Prospectus

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Baseball Prospectus' Pre-season Projection: 95-67, second place
Actual record: 95-67, second place

Rough day for Boston on October 11: Patriots lose, Red Sox get eliminated, New York Giants and Yankees win big.

Buster Olney of ESPN.com's Take

What went wrong: The Red Sox had an offensive powerhouse for years in the middle of their lineup, but now that Manny Ramirez is gone and David Ortiz is regressing, Boston's attack has eroded, and the problem was illuminated in the series loss to the Angels, when the Red Sox needed 76 at-bats before they hit their first home run. And now Boston has an awkward collection of older sluggers whose defensive skills are diminishing, from third baseman Mike Lowell to right fielder J.D. Drew to catcher Jason Varitek. The Red Sox pitching should be set up well in 2010, with depth in the bullpen and the rotation.

Biggest puzzler on the drawing board: The Red Sox will want to upgrade their offense, but that won't be easy to do. The presumption among many general managers is that Boston is going to wind up with one of the two premier corner outfielders on the free agent market, Jason Bay or Matt Holliday. But the Red Sox are on the hook for a lot of money with Lowell and Ortiz, without really knowing how much either will contribute. And they are looking for a shortstop-yet again-because they don't know if Jed Lowrie can hold down the position. Everything that happened in 2009 underscored how crucial the signing of Mark Teixeira could have been for Boston, because the Red Sox need everything that Teixeira would have provided: youth, strong defense, and a worthy heir to the Ortiz/Ramirez legacy in the middle of the lineup. But the Yankees have him for years to come, and the Red Sox won't.

The Baseball Prospectus Take

A first-round exit against the Angels makes their status as the Team of the Decade iffier, but a 95-win season and the AL Wild Card is nothing to be ashamed of. In a way it's hard to believe the team was this successful-the Sox had major holes in the lineup and loads of pitching injuries and ineffectiveness to deal with-but dominance at home (a 56-25 record) pushed them over the top, as well as a 16-2 showing against Baltimore that buoyed both their record and their run differential (+62 against the O's, +74 against the rest of the league combined). Their pitching staff was second in the AL in strikeouts, which helped them overcome Fenway's hitter-friendly park factor, and they ranked sixth in the AL in walks allowed while they gave up the third-fewest homers. The offense was the star at home though, with a collective .284/.365/.498-this was accomplished despite having Julio Lugo, Nick Green, Casey Kotchman, Varitek and others generating little productivity. Some players, like Lowell, did all of their damage at home (.307/.344/.588 at Fenway, .276/.331/.382 elsewhere), so it's no wonder the team was under .500 on the road where they hit .257/.340/.414 as a unit.-Marc Normandin, Baseball Prospectus

Key stat: .679

That's Boston's Defensive Efficiency for 2009, a reflection of the fact that Red Sox defense was three shades of awful.They ranked alongside the likes of the leagues' worst in terms of Defensive Efficiency (converting just under 68 percent of balls in play into outs); this hurt them outside of Fenway, where their bats could not make up for this handicap by bludgeoning their opponents into submission. Lowell's hip surgery restricted his movement to one side, cutting into his once-impressive range. Bay hasn't moved well in the outfield since knee surgery a few years ago. Jacoby Ellsbury is fast and makes some impressive-looking plays, but he takes awful routes and plays deep because he can't go back on the ball well -- with Vladimir Guerrrero's game-winning hit on Sunday a prime example. The biggest disaster may have been shortstop, simply because the Sox tried to fix it repeatedly. If you pieced together a Franken-shortstop from parts of Lugo, Lowrie and Green, the creature's glove would still be its most horrifying aspect.-Marc Normandin, Baseball Prospectus

ESPN.com Rumor Central

Trades: Despite his Game Three meltdown, Jonathan Papelbon is a compelling closer, and this is an area where the Sox have plenty of system depth. Theo Epstein could dangle Papelbon and consider letting Daniel Bard try to nail down the job in the spring.

Free Agency: The Sox could very well offer identical deals to Matt Holliday and Jason Bay and see who faxes back a signature first. But they're also going to have to consider other bats, and at prominent positions. Forget that Lowell and Ortiz both come off the books in 2010-what about a dark horse at, say, shortstop? Epstein could get Miguel Tejada on a "win now" discount deal to play short and spell Lowell at third. Why Tejada? Well, short is a hole for the Sox, as usual, and aside from Marco Scutaro, he's the only serious free-agent bat at the position.

Who 2 Watch 4: Clay Buchholz, RHP

The Boston minor league system is in a bit of a transitional period. The Red Sox have an impressive array of talent at the lower levels, but those are players who are still multiple years away. Those who are close are back-of-the-rotation types like Junichi Tazawa and Michael Bowden, or outfielder Josh Reddick, who doesn't really have anywhere to play. The good news is that many scouts believe that 2010 is the year that Buchholz becomes the star people have thought he'd become for more than two years. The Red Sox won nine of his last 10 regular season starts, as Buchholz found the confidence to trust his stuff, throw more strikes and not depend solely on his fastball alone. Josh Beckett and Jon Lester gave the Red Sox a good one-two punch in 2009, and next year, Buchholz could make it one-two-three.-Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

Draft recap
Signed: 26 of 50
Spent: Around $6.5 million
Hits: Reymond Fuentes, CF (28th overall) and potentially Madison Younginer, RHP (228th overall): Fuentes is a potential difference-maker at the plate, on the bases and in the field and Younginer touched 98 mph this spring in high school.
Miss: David Renfroe, SS (107th overall): Renfroe received $1.4 million and could end up on the mound if his bat doesn't develop, which would certainly delay any arrival in the big leagues.-Jason A. Churchill, ESPN.com

The Bottom Line

What started as a clear bid at contending morphed into a transition year. The Red Sox acquired Victor Martinez to help answer their needs at DH, first base, and catcher; he has a club option for 2010 that will likely be picked up. Lowell has one year left on his deal, but the Sox have been worried about his hip, so a dip into the free-agent market for a first or third baseman would not be surprising. Bay's contract is up this year-if the Sox let the popular slugger walk to find a better-fielding corner outfielder (or switch Ellsbury to left to find someone for center), then you know they are taking improving the defense seriously. The pitching staff could use that assist, but at least it looks like Buchholz has earned himself a spot in the rotation for good, giving the Sox four strong starters. The Sox can compete in 2010 even without everything in place-2009 proved that-but given the talent coming up in the AL East and West, they'll need to shore things up to be the best team in the majors again anytime soon.-Marc Normandin, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

34 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Dan

Signing 26 out of 50 draftees is really low, isn't it? Can this sort of thing create organizational depth problems down the road?

Oct 12, 2009 11:24 AM
rating: 0
 
judyblum

I think you have Buchholz backwards, he's had a tendency to shy away from his fastball, not to rely on it too much.

Oct 12, 2009 12:25 PM
rating: 1
 
Bill N

Yes ESPN, Matt Holliday and Jason Bay are clones of each other...

Oct 12, 2009 12:32 PM
rating: 0
 
Matt Kory

And not to pile on ESPN (it's so easy!) but Boston's "eroded attack" was scored the 3rd most runs in all of baseball and the second most in the AL behind NY. The truth is that the Lackey and Weaver both pitched excellent games and the Sox hitters got cold at the same time.

Or maybe the Sox offense eroded. Stuff like this pisses me off, and trying to get away from it is why I came to BP in the first place.

Oct 12, 2009 12:47 PM
rating: 0
 
CRP13

I'd be interested to see the splits before Boston picked up Martinez and after and the impact he had. You can't argue that Lowell, Ortiz, and Varitek's production were way down. Bottom line that wasn't spelled out: The Red Sox are getting old, and they will get worse, not better, unless there is a change. So yes, the offense has eroded. Jason Bay and Victor Martinez have done a nice job of glossing it over.

Oct 12, 2009 13:37 PM
rating: 1
 
Rob_in_CT

Also, even if you ignore the bit about erosion of the Sox offense (and there is a grain of truth in there), he then talks about "getting" Jason Bay. Um, Jason Bay was part of the supposedly eroded offense this year. Getting him doesn't solve that issue (if it's an issue at all). Getting Holliday to replace Bay wouldn't upgrade the offense much if at all, but it would help something Buster apparently is unaware of: the defense.

Oct 12, 2009 13:40 PM
rating: 1
 
Matt Kory

David Renfroe is a "miss"? He's 18 and to my knowledge has yet to pitch to a batter or step into the batters box as a professional.

Oct 12, 2009 12:32 PM
rating: 3
 
DGBL

Yeah, seriously. How can you declare "hits" and "misses" in a draft that happened 4 months ago? 4 years from now, sure, but those kind of declarations are grossly premature right now. Just a waste of text.

Oct 12, 2009 15:38 PM
rating: 0
 
amazin_mess

ESPN is crap.

Oct 12, 2009 13:18 PM
rating: -1
 
HeadHam
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

"A first-round exit against the Angels makes their status as the Team of the Decade iffier..."

Iffier? As if it's in any iffy? No, it's a lock. The Boston Red Sox are the Team of the Decade*. Sorry, NY media, but it's so.

And DisneySports is the main reason I don't subscribe to cable. Always makes me a little sad when I'm reminded that BP has thrown their lot in with 'em.

* Provided that becomes a real award at some point.

Oct 12, 2009 14:14 PM
rating: -6
 
Marc Normandin

Dude, really? NY media? I'm a Red Sox fan living in Massachusetts.

I'll break down my thought process for you. Yankees have multiple World Series appearances and one victory, plus the best record of any team this decade. Red Sox are up there too with the record, and have two World Series championships. The Cardinals have two appearances with a victory, and have done pretty well for themselves most of the decade.

If New York wins the World Series this year, they have more WS appearances, the same number of World Series banners, and a better record for the decade. If Boston had stuck around to beat them, then they would have cemented their spot. If NY loses then you could say Boston is because they have more rings. See where I'm going with this? It's not cut and dry when the process isn't over.

Oct 13, 2009 07:49 AM
rating: 0
 
cpaddock

"Jacoby Ellsbury is fast and makes some impressive-looking plays, but he takes awful routes and plays deep because he can't go back on the ball well -- with Vladimir Guerrrero's game-winning hit on Sunday a prime example."

Would love to see a scout's take on this, seeing that this observation is contrary to pretty much any other printed opinion of Ellsbury's defensive skills.

Please let the professionals make these types of judgements. Otherwise, we may as all be sitting on bar stools.

Oct 12, 2009 14:22 PM
rating: 0
 
Cory Schwartz

Well, according to Fangraphs.com, Ellsbury ranked 25th in UZR among the 26 players with 800 or more innings in CF this season. That's only one measure but it's an objective measure to support the statement.

Oct 13, 2009 10:11 AM
rating: 1
 
Marc Normandin

For another measure, Davenport's defensive numbers have him at -17 for the year, which is around the same level of bleh UZR had him for. He cost the Red Sox a lot in the field, despite flashy plays that say otherwise.

Oct 13, 2009 10:54 AM
rating: 0
 
yankee

I don't have the background in Sabremetrics to comment on your data, but I have been watching Ellsbury for two years. When I first saw him play center, I thought he was having trouble picking up the ball after the hitter made contact. After a while I began to watch where Ellsbury positioned himself and he seemed fine. But he does take the wrong route on too many fly balls. Some of Ellsbury's most spectacular catches have been on fly balls he either got a bad jump on or he turned the wrong way. The good news is that with some work these flaws can be corrected. For the moment, his speed saves him, but in the long run he has his work cut out for him.
Best Regards
Paul Dunn

Oct 13, 2009 12:34 PM
rating: 0
 
Drew Miller

Man. I finally understand the experience Yankees fans had with Jeter--neither player gets to a lot of balls, but boy do they sure look good when they do.

I really hope Theo trades Ells.

Oct 13, 2009 12:55 PM
rating: 1
 
cpaddock

"The Red Sox had an offensive powerhouse for years in the middle of their lineup, but now that Manny Ramirez is gone and David Ortiz is regressing, Boston's attack has eroded, and the problem was illuminated in the series loss to the Angels, when the Red Sox needed 76 at-bats before they hit their first home run."

Team rankings for all of MLB in 2009:
3rd in Runs
2nd in Doubles
4th in Home Runs
2nd in OBP
2nd in OPS

It was one series, and the Sox did not come to play against an excellent opponent. This lineup is plenty capable of scoring runs, there's no reason to think they needed Manny or Teixeira in the middle just to score a few runs in the postseason. They've got plenty more power than the Angels, but it obviously did not show up. Hats off to LA. Let's not pretend this is a larger problem than it actually is. Most teams would take the same lineup going into next year, give or take the health of Lowell and the resigning of Bay.

Oct 12, 2009 14:46 PM
rating: 0
 
Evan
(47)

You might want to park-adjust those numbers before waving them around so defiantly.

Oct 13, 2009 10:32 AM
rating: 2
 
judyblum

Why? The original comparison was made to previous Red Sox offenses, who played their home games in the same park. The Red Sox were one of the top offensive teams in the AL in '09 by the same standard that previous Red Sox offenses have been for most of the last 6-7 years. They scored more runs in '09 than they had in any season since '05 and hit more HRs than they had in any season since '04.

Oct 13, 2009 14:20 PM
rating: 0
 
ttomae8833

Headham, you stated:

"A first-round exit against the Angels makes their status as the Team of the Decade iffier..."

Iffier? As if it's in any iffy? No, it's a lock. The Boston Red Sox are the Team of the Decade*. Sorry, NY media, but it's so."

Disagree wholeheartedly with that statement. If NY wins the Series this year, that gives them two Series wins (2000 and 2009*) and four Series appearances (2000, 2001, 2003, 2009*), along with playoff trips in nine of the 10 years in the 'aughts. The Sox have gone to the playoffs a grand total of four times, with two Series victories (2004 & 2007).

Of course a lot of that is taking into account a Yankees series victory this year. But even with a loss in the series, an argument can still be made that the Yankees are the best team of the decade.

We can also look at total wins in the decade, NY's 965 to Boston's 920. Lastly, NY took home 8 AL East Division crowns to Boston's 1. If that doesn't spell dominance over an opponent, I'm not sure what does.

So to state definitively that Boston is team of the decade, when they missed the playoffs six possible times, were outclassed by the Yankees in their own division eight times, and won 40 less games over the same time frame is absolutely absurd.

The fact they went two-for-two in their Series visits lends creedence to this thinking, but two-out of four, with nine playoff trips, and 8 division titles has to trump that thinking, IMO.

I would tend to think your better argument would be to say that the Sox are a better team in the 2000's than the Angels are, because that's a more lucid and accurate argument. But if Anaheim wins it all this year (for their second Series victory of the decade), wouldn't one can certainly make an argument for them as team of the decade, but if you factor in all of the above, the coin would still have to land on the Yankees.

Just one man's thoughts...


Oct 12, 2009 15:29 PM
rating: 1
 
nblascak

Boston has been to the playoffs six times (2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, and 2009), not four times...

Oct 12, 2009 21:09 PM
rating: 2
 
HeadHam
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Not absurd. Accurate. One just has to be open to the experience.

Also, like the millennium and century, the decade didn't really begin until 2001, negating the last season NY did anything of lasting value with a baseball season. While Boston made six (not a 'grand total of four', but six) playoff appearances and two WS titles. Compared to none in NY. 2>0.

And the 2004 season alone, what with coming back from an 0-3 deficit in the ALCS to upset NY, win the pennant and sweep the WS from STL, makes Boston the team of the decade pretty much all by itself.

Have a nice day.

Oct 13, 2009 01:02 AM
rating: -10
 
TADontAsk

This is like the "Who had the most hits in the 90's" list. It's an arbitrary, meaningless period of time.

Oct 13, 2009 06:26 AM
rating: 3
 
jlefty

according to wikipedia (which is obviously never, ever wrong): "The term usually refers to a period of ten years starting at a multiple of ten. For example, "the 1950s" refers to 1950 through to 1959 (inclusive)." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decade)

also: "The 2000s is the decade that started on January 1, 2000 and will end on December 31, 2009. It is the current decade." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2000-2009)

Leaving us with ttomae's solid argument that shows that at the very least it is far from a lock and very much dependent on what happens in the rest of 2009.

I'm not going to argue with you either way because it is obviously very close (and pointless, imaginary, etc.) and two opposing fans will never concede to their rival.

Oct 13, 2009 06:43 AM
rating: 0
 
asbasb

Ellsbury is a good example of how hard it is to subjective evaluate defense. He's very fast, rarely makes an error, and frequently makes highlight reel catches; nevertheless his range factor is among the lowest of all center fielders. Two possible explanations for this are
1) he doesn't read the ball off the bat quickly and/or takes awful routes to the ball,
2) he was unlucky; an unusually large fraction of the balls hit in his "zone" were line drives that no one could have gotten to.
I find it ironic that three of the Red Sox best players contributed to their game 3 collapse. Papelbon's terrible pitching would not have resulted in a loss if Youkilis and Pedroia had played better defense in the 8th. (Youkilis misplayed Abreu's leadoff bouncer over first base into a freak ground rule double, and three batters later Pedroia bobbled Morales's grounder, costing him a chance to start an inning ending double play.) Give a team five outs in an inning and they're much more likely to score.

Oct 12, 2009 15:28 PM
rating: 1
 
GMAN29

I was taken aback by Buster's comment on diminishing defensive abilities. Lumping J.D Drew in with Lowell's repaired hip and Varitek's inability to throw out runners, has more to do with his age than any defensive deficiency.

This when I have issues with analysts/writers that don't look at statistics. They talk in generalities or utilise single events or incidents to draw conclusions. People should remember small sample sized analogies lead to mistakes.

While he is providing analysis for Baseball Prospectus he might do well to read some of the articles, it will most definitely improve some of the comments he makes.

Drew was one of only a few starting Red Sox players to put up positive values for defense; He put up a UZR of +9.7 and a Plus/Minus of +11. I'll leave this statement of Christina Kahrl to sum it up for me " J.D. Drew's been an asset in how well he covers the expansive right-field pasturage in Fenway."

Oct 12, 2009 17:24 PM
rating: 1
 
Drew Miller

I believe Ellsbury gets traded in the next two years. He's speedy, hits for average, and makes the highlight reels, which are three of the most overrated skills by traditionalists. Theo surely knows he has a good but highly overvalued commodity on his hands. Trade him with prospects to the Reds for Joey Votto, or some similar deal.

Oct 12, 2009 22:45 PM
rating: 0
 
cordially
(917)

Such dreaming by the nation of course presupposes Jocketty is an idiot.

Oct 13, 2009 00:06 AM
rating: 0
 
judyblum

It's not as if he doesn't give anyone a reason to wonder, considering he did sign Willy Taveras to a multi-year contract.

Oct 13, 2009 05:38 AM
rating: 2
 
Drew Miller

He *did* just give up Encarnacion and two other guys to add aging, injury-prone Rolen to a team that wasn't going anywhere.

Nevertheless, I didn't mean that that deal should be the one that happens. It was merely the first idea that popped up as an example of what the Sox should do with Ellsbury. Ignoring the merit of my post in favor of picking on such an example is what I'd expect out of an ESPN poster, not a BP one.

Oct 13, 2009 11:23 AM
rating: 0
 
harderj

Option on Alex Gonzalez is about $6mm, and he seems to have solidified shortstop defense at least, albeit with his perennial low on base percentage. Found it strange that he wasn't even mentioned in the article. What would Tejada cost, and isn't he kind of past his prime (especially defensively)?

Oct 13, 2009 08:27 AM
rating: 0
 
Drew Miller

The option is $6M? Crap--that seems like too much to pay Gonzalez. Just because they've overpaid for mediocrity at short for seemingly the past decade doesn't mean they should continue to do so.

Oct 13, 2009 11:25 AM
rating: 0
 
Nacho999

Hey ttomae8833 - Great analysis, save the six vs four dyslexia, but I would also add that I believe Boston has won the season series outright vs NY just once (I think they tied twice including this year and 2005, which technically was awarded to the Yankees anyway) in this decade and trails the head to head matchup as a result to bolster your argument. I'd absolutely have to double check these alleged facts before I'd swear to it in court, but I'm pretty sure I remember reading something to that effect in The Sporting News awhile back. Funny, but until you put it in writing, the way the whole world hates the Yankees and considers them an abject failure in this decade (the way the organization itself does), I was all set to let that "iffy" comment pass. And I hadn't even considered the Angels. Now there is a team that has handled the Yankees over the years albeit in half the number of games. In full disclosure I am a Yankee fan living in Boston (for over 30 years!), but I'm not easily swayed by either city's media hype and reverse hatred. IF New York can get by Anaheim (yeah, I said it), and that's a big IF, and go on to win it all I'm going to buy into your argument a bit more. I know I'll catch flak for saying as much, but I feel like the Yankees left titles on the table in '01, '03 & '04 as well. We'll have to see how this plays out I guess.

Oct 13, 2009 13:17 PM
rating: -1
 
yankee

Nacho,
I'm also a Yankee fan and I've lived in Boston most of my life (saw my first game in May,1955-Herb Score led Cleveland to a 19-0 win)All I can say is thank God for Baseball Prospectus. The Media in both Boston and New York are way over the top. I really don't like the Yankees' against the Angels, but if the Angels can break the Red Sox curse maybe the Yankees can do the same with LA. Not exactly a statement derived from logic, but at my age it's the best I can offer.
Paul

Oct 15, 2009 12:14 PM
rating: -1
 
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