Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Boston Red Sox 2008 Preview: Wicked Good Baseball Team

2007...the year that sucked/was groovy (pick one)
Well, the Red Sox won 96 games and their second World Series in four years, so I'd have to call it pretty groovy. Expected to be a leading contender, the Red Sox broke from the start well, held off a challenge from the Yankees, and pretty much flattened opposition in the postseason. Over this past winter the Red Sox chose to stand pat with what they have, as a strong farm system is producing the players they need to stay at the top of the heap without wasteful free agent spending.

They can put it on the board, yes!

The 2007 Red Sox were third in the league in runs scored, with 867. A .362 team on base percentage was the main reason, although a .444 team slugging average didn't hurt either. Even guys who had off years like Manny Ramirez and J. D. Drew still contributed to the parade of baserunners. This year should be more of the same:

CF Jacoby Ellsbury
2B Dustin Pedroia
1B Kevin Youklis
DH David Ortiz
LF Manny Ramirez
RF J. D. Drew
3B Mike Lowell
C Jason Varitek
SS Julio Lugo

Not much to fault there. Lugo was the weakest link in 2007, and even he racked up 46 extra base hits and stole 33 bases in 39 tries.

Pitchers or belly itchers?

Despite playing in a park that increased offense by about 10% in 2007, the Red Sox allowed the fewest runs by far of any AL team, 42 runs better than the next best team. The Red Sox defense is OK but hardly great, so a large proportion of the credit has to go to the pitching staff.

SP Josh Beckett
SP Daisuke Matsuzaka
SP Red Light Curt Schilling
SP Tim Wakefield
SP Jon Lester/Clay Bucholz

CL Jonathan Papplebon
RP Hidecki Okajima
RP Manny Delcarman

Let's see...this is a group that included the 2007 Cy Young runnerup, a guy who struck out 201 batters in 2007, a possible Hall of Fame pitcher who is still effective, the game's best pitching prospect, and a closer with a 1.62 career ERA. Tolerable, I'd say.

Witnesses for the defense

As mentioned earlier, the Red Sox defense is decent but not outstanding. They did finish second in the league in 2007 in defensive efficiency, with a rating of .712. That means that 71% of balls put into play against them in 2007 were turned into outs and yes, I am surprised. I would have to say that the total was greater than the sum of the parts, because no one in lineup is a particularly outstanding defender. But you can't argue with results. If anything, putting Ellsbury into center might make them just a bit better in 2008.

Farm aid

As if they need the help, the Red Sox have one of the best farm systems in the game. Ellsbury and Bucholz are the only two prospects ready to help right away, but this is the defending champions and (spoiler alert) heavy favorite for 2008, so how much more do they need? Jed Lowrie will be ready by the end of the year to push Lugo to the bench. Lars Anderson, Justin Masterson, Ryan Kalish, and several others are a year or more away, but would make very appealing prizes for a team looking to trade during the season.

The Red Sox also have a pretty decent shortstop prospect named Dent in the organization. What a bittersweet moment it would be for Red Sox fan if he should reach the Red Sox lineup.

Watch out for that tree!

There are a few guys to keep an eye on here. Lowell is popular and a WS hero; but he's 34 and it's unlikely he'll have another season as good as 2007. As great a hitter as Manny Ramirez is, he's 36 and coming off his worst season. Schilling should not be pushed past 25 starts or so. David Ortiz is still one of the best hitters in the game, but he's 32; guys similar to him in build and abilities (Mo Vaughn, Boog Powell) went over the cliff in a hurry right around that age. Manny or Big Papi suddenly hitting the skids is the biggest thing to be wary of this year for the Red Sox front office.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

I spoiled the surprise earlier, but it probably isn't much of a shock anyway. The 2008 Red Sox open spring training as my heavy favorite to win another world championship.

For 86 years, Red Sox nation moaned and cried about their cursed team. Their anguished love of their team gave us a cute movie, but became pretty damned annoying to the rest of us, who have had to endure really bad teams in our lifetimes. As it turned out, the only curse on the Red Sox was incompetent, racist management. The guys on this page deserve every bit of credit they can get; their enlightened, savvy management has made the Red Sox into the team of the 2000's.

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