March 27, 2013
These Questions Three: The Cautiously Optimistic
In the week leading up to Opening Day, we're asking and answering three questions about each team in a five-part series ordered by descending Playoff Pct from the Playoff Odds Report. Today, we continue with a look at the group of six teams with the third-highest odds of winning at least a Wild Card. As a reminder, you can find links to our preview podcasts for each team here.
Playoff Pct: 34.1 %
PECOTA Team Projections
Team WARP: 34.7
Team TAv: .268
Runs Scored: 802
Runs Allowed: 768
Team FRAA: -10.5
1. Can Jon Lester get back to being the near-ace he was in his mid-20s?
Paul Sporer: I think so. The environment in Boston last year couldn’t have been more toxic, and that seemed to impact the entire team. Lester’s decline in strikeout rate of nearly three percentage points is concerning, but he also reduced his walk rate a bit from 9.4 to 7.8 percent. More importantly, his groundball rate and fastball velocity saw negligible drops, so it’s not like his skills imploded en route to the 4.82 ERA and 1.38 WHIP last season. He is a 29-year-old who is still among the hardest-throwing lefties in the game, so I’m betting on him to bounce back.
Matthew Kory: Yes, he can. [long pause] Fine. He will. Three things lead me to say so. The first is the return of John Farrell to the organization. Farrell was instrumental in turning Lester into the pitcher he was supposed to be the last two years but wasn’t. Already the two have been working on fixing Lester’s mechanics (that’s the second thing). The third thing is probably a stupid thing to look at, but Lester has dominated this spring. He’s given up two runs in 20 innings while striking out 16 and walking four. He’s got the downward plane back, his slider is crisp, and he’s throwing his curve effectively. It’s only spring, but considering the mechanical changes and the vast difference in the way he looks compared to last year, I’ll believe it. In two months someone is going to quote this back to me in effort to make me cry. It will work.
2. Should Jackie Bradley break camp as the starting left fielder, and if so, can he really stick there all season after just 61 games at Double-A?
PS: There is actually a legitimate spot for Bradley Jr. to play, unlike Yasiel Puig in Los Angeles, so this talk of him sticking has some merit. But it’s still a big question mark, considering that his spot has been opened by an injury. Once David Ortiz returns, he will take the DH spot, leaving Jonny Gomes without a home. Though Gomes looks like a platoon player (with multi-year TAv splits of .259 vs. righties and .336 against southpaws), they seem set on playing him daily. They can’t afford to turn Bradley into a platoon guy at this stage of his development, so unless he’s just tearing the cover off the ball when Ortiz returns, he will have to head to Pawtucket.