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Playing Pepper 2012: Boston Red Sox

Posted on February 23, 2012 at 11:30 AM
Filed Under: Boston Red Sox | Playing Pepper
In 2009, I decided to get a feel for other teams around baseball by asking bloggers for those teams some questions about their squad.  Not only has this series been very popular, but it spawned the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  With camps opening up again and spring training getting into gear, it's time once again to play a little pepper.

Boston Red Sox
90-72, third in the AL East

Just a couple of days ago, we took a look at the Braves and talked about how they went into September absolutely assured of a playoff slot, only to miss out on the last day.  However, their collapse was overshadowed somewhat by one happening in the middle of the media focus of the world.

Boston started off 2011 terribly, then roared to life.  Going into September they had a 9.5 game lead over Tampa Bay.  Then, as Tampa Bay started to win, everything went wrong for the Red Sox, culminating in a walk-off loss to Baltimore on the last day of the season, moments before Evan Longoria sent the Rays into October.

The turmult wasn't over after the last pitch.  A scathing article was written about the clubhouse atmosphere, resulting in the most times "fried chicken" and "Red Sox" have been in the same sentence since Wade Boggs retired.  Terry Francona was fired and Theo Epstein left to see if he could get the Cubs into the World Series (and assure himself of a Hall of Fame slot if so).

Which means that there's been a lot for our panel of Red Sox bloggers, all of whom are members of the BBA, to ponder the last few months.  Thankfully, they were willing to share it with us.

Cyn Donnelly writes for Toeing The Rubber on a regular basis and can be found on Twitter at, not surprisingly, toeingtherubber.  Ruben Lipszyc follows the BoSox from a foreign land and writes Red Sox Nation - Alberta.  He's on Twitter at RSN_Alberta.  Finally, Allan Wood is the original BBAer (after myself) with his blog The Joy of Sox, also written from a Canadian locale.

Read on to talk about last year's collapse and what to expect from a member of the starting rotation.

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C70: What was your opinion of the team's offseason?

TTR: The off-season began with the most beloved (and successful) manager in Red Sox history resigning (read: being pushed out of town without officially getting fired), followed by the team losing the most beloved (and successful) general manager in Red Sox history to the Chicago Cubs, followed by the most beloved (and successful) closer in Red Sox history going to the Philadelphia Phillies...are you sensing a pattern here? The Red Sox lost a lot more than they gained this off-season and, in all honesty, I tried to ignore most of it because I knew it would only annoy me. This is definitely not the worst off-season in the history of the team, but it's the one where I blogged the least, and it's because it frustrated me more than anything other off-season since I started blogging and I really didn't have anything to say about it.

RSNA: I may be the only Red Sox fan to say I was pleasantly surprised. They did not panic and overcommit money to players that they don't or won't need. This year's team isn't vastly different from last year and they didn't mortgage the future with deals that would handcuff them in future years. After "THE COLLAPSE" ® it's easy to forget that for 4½ months this was by far the best team in all of baseball. 

The top 3 pitchers in the rotation are back, and Buchholz didn't pitch after the middle of June, so the top of the rotation can potentially improve. There's been a lot of talk about not addressing the #4 and 5 slots. Despite many rumours, Boston did not sign Oswalt, Kuroda or Edwin Jackson or make a bid on Yu Darvish, or trade for John Danks. But last year Lackey pitched all season with an ERA well above 6. DiceK while healthy contributed an ERA over 5. Wakefield had the 4th most starts on the team, and his ERA was North of 5 as well. Andrew Miller started 12 games and had an even higher ERA. And please don't get me started on Kyle Weiland who would have made any of the above look like Cy Young in comparison. That's a total of 75 games started by pitchers with a combined ERA of approximately 5.80. I believe that Bard, Aceves and any others that need to fill in due to the inevitable injuries such as Cook, Padilla, Duckworth, Silva, Ohlendorf etc, can'd do any worse. I really see the starting rotation as being a large improvement over last year. Replacing Papelbon with Bailey and Melancon was a very smart move. On the field it may be a slight downgrade, but it never makes sense to overpay for relievers - particularly closers. 

On the other side of the ball, the biggest change has been in right field and shortstop. Boston's rightfielders offensively were the worst in baseball. They lost JD Drew and Reddick who were a major part of the position that hit a combined .233. Rumors of signing Carlos Beltran (thankfully) didn't materialize. Instead we now have some combination of Ryan Sweeney, Cody Ross and Darnell McDonald. DMac is an excellent platoon player, who hit .260 against lefties while being on pace to knock 25 balls out of park, if he faced southpaws every day. Hopefully he'll have an opportunity to be used more, at least against wronghanders. Again, I can't envision any scenario where this position will be worse than last year. At shortstop, we lost Jed Lowrie, who had some early season heroics and was at least a good platoon hitter (a .214 career average against righties isn't going to win you a lot of starting jobs at any position). But he had some defensive "challenges" at short. Losing Marco Scutaro was slightly more troublesome. I hope Mike Aviles can handle the position. I really don't want to see Nick Punto starting any more than necessary. However, this team scored the most runs in the majors last year, out pacing the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals by over 100 runs. If Jose Iglesias turns out to be the only player than can field a ground ball at the position, he can go 0-500 on the season, and this team can still win. 

In summary, they didn't need to do much, and they didn't.

JOS: I'm undoubtedly in the minority, but they did a decent job. No big names, but Cody Ross and Nick Punto can each play a variety of positions. New GM Ben Cherington has stockpiled a bunch of arms for the bullpen and the back of the rotation. And as much as I love and will miss Terry Francona, I have warmed up to the idea of Bobby Valentine as manager.

C70: Josh Beckett seems to alternate good years and bad years.  Are you worried 2012 will be a down year for him?

TTR: Not in the sense of "Oh this is his alternate year, he was so good last year it'll be horrible" because I'm not convinced of the legitimacy of the pattern. But my worries are in how he'll respond to Bobby Valentine as well as the piling on from the press about how the 2011 season ended. (Regardless of all the "It's time to stop making fried chicken and beer jokes" articles and tweets, I feel certain if he starts off the season slowly the ghosts of 2011 will be following him.) But to answer the original question, if this does turn into his alternate year, I don't have much faith in the rest of the pitching staff being able to pick up the slack.

RSNA: No. I do not believe in the "odd-year" Beckett phenomenon. I think that's just statistical 'noise' with no reason to believe it will repeat itself. Having said that, I don't think he will have a season as good as 2011, simply due to "regression to mean". 

In Beckett's case, he has a career ERA of 3.84. Last year it was 2.89. I don't think he'll duplicate that, but I don't think he will have an ERA approaching 6 as he did in 2010. I suspect he'll end up somewhere between what he had last year, and 4. A lot of people may call that a down year, as it will be worse than 2011, but it will be in line with his career average.

JOS: No. See #3.

C70: Will the collapse of 2011 play any role in the 2012 season?

TTR: I don't think the team is going to bring it with them. Heck, the comments of those who've spoken publicly about it make it seem like it's already buried deep within their memories. The only role it will play is in how the fans and media perceive the team if they start off the way they did in 2011.

RSNA: In the media? ABSOLUTELY. Every time we lose a game, or an individual underperforms there will be veiled (or not) references to fried chicken and beer. No matter what lead we have, writers will be talking about no lead being safe, and referencing 2011 instead of 1978. 

On the field? NO!

JOS: September 2011 is a distant dot in my rearview mirror, but I know many fans are still angry. The media will giddily stoke those emotions if the team gets off to anything other than a great start. The players, especially Beckett and Jon Lester, should be extremely motivated to atone for their pitching performances in the final month and the beer and chicken stories that came out in October. The collapse should have only a positive effect in 2012.

C70: Is there a prospect that will make an impact on the team this season?

TTR: I think this might be Ryan Lavarnway's year. That's probably me projecting because the only two people I want to see in the dugout in catcher's gear this season are Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway.

RSNA: Not a major impact. Wil Middlebrooks and/or Ryan Lavarnway may step in mid-season, but they'll have auxiliary roles, not main ones. If there are injuries and these guys need to start,I expect that they'll hold their own, and not hurt the team too much, but will not have a Pedroia (or Ellsbury) 2007 type impact. The big wildcard here is Jose Iglesias. He's a defensive whiz, with an average bat... for a pitcher! If Boston is scoring lots of runs, but infield defense becomes a problem, he could be called up early to solidify the shortstop position.

JOS: I don't think so. Both third baseman Will Middlebrooks and shortstop Jose Iglesias need another year in Pawtucket.

C70: Where will the team finish in their division and what are you most excited about for 2012?

TTR: Even with all the drama, I still think this team has the makeup to give the playoffs a good run. I see them in second place, making it in on the Wild Card. As far as what excites me about the season, just the fact that I'll get real baseball very soon is exciting enough for me. The rest of it is up to them. I'll be more exciting when the season begins.

RSNA: I expect them to win 96 games and surprise everyone by winning their division (mainly due to the reasons indicated in the first question). I am most excited about the lack of expectations. After the previous off-season spending spree, it almost felt like anything short of winning the World Series would be a failure. Everyone had them pencilled in as AL pennant winners, the only question was would they beat Philly in the Fall Classic or not. It's a lot more fun cheering for an underdog.

JOS: If the Red Sox don't improve on last year's 90 wins, I'll be shocked. I say 95 wins and first place (by a whisker) in the East. One poster at Sons of Sam Horn recently said, "The underestimation of this team is staggering." And I agree. 

At worst, this team has simply moved sideways from 2011, when it began September on track for 100 wins. And it seemed like everyone and his grandmother had picked the 2011 Red Sox to go all the way. They will be in the thick of it all year. Boston had the worst hitting RFers in the AL last year; Ross and Ryan Sweeney should absolutely improve on that. The LFers were (believe it or not) middle of the pack to a bit better than average (5th in avg, 7th in obp, 3rd in slg), and Carl Crawford (whose OBP never topped .300 last year) has got to be more productive this year. Crawford's improvement should offset any decline from Jacoby Ellsbury. Marco Scutaro was a tick above average at shortstop and even if Mike Aviles cannot match Scutaro's production, the lineup is still one of baseball's best. Lester and Beckett return, a healthy Clay Buchholz replaces John Lackey, who had one of the worst seasons of all-time last year. 

I am most excited to see what Daniel Bard can do in the rotation and I'm extremely curious what Daisuke Matsuzaka will give the team when he returns in late June (or so). This off-season has dragged and dragged - and I am ready for baseball!

My great appreciation to Cyn, Ruben and Allan for their insights into the mindset of the Red Sox fan.  There's little doubt that they'll be right back in the hunt all season long.

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