Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A Look Ahead at the 2006 Season for BOS, Keeping in Mind the Results of 2005

This is how I think the Red Sox will be in 2006. I thought I would go major position by position, comparing the two years and looking at overall expectations for pitching and hitting.

Catcher: Hate his inconsistent at-bats if you want, but Varitek was the 3rd best hitter on our team in 2005, this despite an almost impossibly bad slump for the last 4-6 weeks of the season, while playing top 5 defensive catcher in baseball. Sadly there's nowhere to go but down from here, as he's passed the old "threshold" for catchers at 33 now. He has good training so will remain an above average catcher for the foreseeable future. I expect a slight dropoff from his overall 2005 numbers offensively, with a more significant dropoff possible unless Francona A) keeps him hidden in the lineup instead of moving him up to bat 5 (which probably will happen more now) or B) limits his catching to 120 games pre-playoffs. This combined with a backup catcher inferior to Mirabelli will mean a definite dropoff at catcher offensively and defensively for 2006.

1st base: 2005 at-bats went to Olerud and Millar mostly. 2006 at-bats will go to Youkilis and J. T. Snow with a possible 3rd guy in there. It's too complicated to get into player by player, but in my opinion 2006 production will be about the same as 2005 production. J.T. Snow is worth less than Olerud and Youkilis and worth more than Millar. It was a disappointment to not improve 1st base in the offseason but what can you do.

2nd base: I still can't figure out who played 2nd for us in 2005, but Loretta will easily surpass them all offensively in 2006 (despite his slowing bat speed) if he's healthy, a big if. If not, we could end up with Cora/Gonzalez in the infield at times, a huge void of offense. Loretta can't move very well out there but what he gets to he fields well (like Todd Walker). Unlike Walker , he also turns the double play well and positions himself well. Loretta will get a good many at-bats next year batting 2nd and will put up a better OBP than Renteria did batting there but will not run the bases as well, so there shouldn't be much of a dropoff of RBI opportunities for Ortiz/Ramirez.

3rd base: Bill Mueller will be sorely missed for his working of pitchers and OBP. Lowell had a horrible year last year where most scouts were questioning his physical condition. If it was more than a slump, then we are in trouble in the infield. My guess is it was part physical condition and part a mental problem, and he should rebound to a player that is somewhat of a dropoff from Mueller; he should hit close to 20 homers with a .340 obp, more power than Mueller but much less plate discipline. His defense at 3rd is almost unparalleled so no dropoff there.

4th base (also called shortstop by baseball purists): Alex Gonzalez will actually not be as much of a dropoff of Renteria as people think since Renteria sucked last year, and he'll be batting 9th instead of 2nd, so his lack of offense won't be a problem. His defense is excellent and combined with Renteria's amazingly bad 2005 defense, there actually might be a positive change in our 2006 W-L based on better defense. Defense usually doesn't matter very much but we should be much better in 2006 mainly because of improved infield defense.

Left field: Manny seems like he's due for an injury, but barring that, he'll keep pounding the ball, with possibly more RBI opportunities.

Center field: Aside from a weird discrepancy in batting average, Damon and Crisp are essentially the same hitter. Crisp will in fact be a better producer in the next several years than Damon. Damon's defense is questionable at times but pretty good, while Crisp's defense is just not very good. It shouldn't matter though, pretty much everything fell in the gaps last year too, and it didn't kill us.

Right field: Nixon's last year under contract and his last two have been large disappointments. I expect him to up his production this year and finally be healthy, but he is dangerously close to falling off a cliff as a baseball player unless he watches himself a little more physically.

DH: Big Papi.

2006 Offense compared to 2005 Offense: If you take the aggregate 2005 numbers for the Red Sox and then assume no decrease from the returning players and add the 2005 numbers of players we have acquired and assume no drop in production, we should be about the same team offensively in 2006 as 2005. That's assuming no bounce back year from Lowell and no drop offensively from Crisp who had a better-than-average 2005, but taking into account Ortiz+Manny+Tek probably dropping slightly, we should be about the same. What's worrisome is that we haven't had major injuries to Ortiz and Manny lately, one of those would spell huge problems for the offense.


Starting rotation: This is how I would make the starting rotation. Wells and Arroyo I see as filler starters at this point. Clement is too, it seems, but he has much more possibility for improvement so I'd like to see him in there:

  1. Beckett: He's the best pitcher on our team. Hopefully he is over his blister problems. Like most of our pitchers, he is a large question mark, with a good possibility of contributing greatly. If history means anything, he'll most likely start about 25 games and put up 2004 schilling numbers.
  2. Schilling: He was hurt, unlucky, and terrible in 2005. He'll never be like he used to be, but he can probably manage to be our #2 pitcher for the year and start 25-30 games, with an era around 4.00 or so. Schilling and Beckett achieving this numbers instantly makes our rotation better from last year, when no pitcher was this good.
  3. Wakefield: 15 wins, ERA near 4.5, year in and year out, I expect no difference even with a new catcher, except this year he will be our #3 pitcher again instead of #1 like last year.
  4. Clement: Again, in 2005 Clement managed to be good for about half a season before inexplicably falling apart. One of these years Clement is going to turn into Derek Lowe in a good year and I don't see why it shouldn't be 2006, since his 2005 first half was probably the best of his career.
  5. Papelbon(?): Papelbon looks like the real deal. He could win 10 with a sub-4 era this very year, or he could be a bullpen dominator. Either way, we are lucky to have him on the pitching staff. Or this spot could go to Wells/Arroyo, two guys most teams would love to have pitching 5th for them.

Our rotation looks very good with outstanding depth. There should be no weak spot, and it could be a year where 5 guys near 15 wins. We also have the arms to be very scary in a short series, so we look primed for postseason success if we can get there. The rotation should be better in 2006 than in 2005, which should make up for less hitting.


The 2006 bullpen is looking like a slam-dunk huge improvement.

Schilling/Gonzalez/Foulke/Halama/Harville/Remlinger in 2005 contributed pathetic pitching numbers that shouldn't soon be replicated by any group of relievers on any team not playing in Texas or Colorado. These were guys pitching important innings as well, since the only trustworthy guy was Timlin, who wouldn't be good enough to close on 75% of major league teams. The 2006 bullpen is completely redone and stocked with major power arms, and all the specialists have been removed. If Papelbon is in the bullpen, then I think we have one of the top 2 or 3 bullpens in the American league. If he starts, then our bullpen should still be very good. Additions have been Rudy Seanez (setup guy who dominated last year and should still be very solid for us), Tavarez (solid setup guy aside from emotional problems), David Riske (nothing special, but compared to 2006 guys should be an improvement, even as a setup guy). These FA additions along with the progress of Craig Hansen, Delcarmen, and DiNardo will spell a fearsome bullpen by themselves for 2006. Foulke is the wildcard between us having a great bullpen and an elite one. I expect more of a bounceback from Foulke than Schilling. I'm hoping for a good year from Foulke, as he recovers from surgery and mental issues, and he should have to pitch less stressful innings in 2006 as well.

Overall pitching: Definite improvement over 2005. Only Toronto looks to have better pitching in the AL EAST.

Overall expectation: We're going to be better but we're going to be more unlucky and in a tougher division, so we're going to win about the same number of games.

AL EAST positioning:

The Yankees treaded water with their roster in the 2005 offseason, allowing themselves to get older, but unfortunately they had such awful pitching in 2005 that it should rebound just by default in 2006. They should remain a 95-win threat, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed for some major injuries to their aging offensive core (Giambi, Matsui, Sheffield, Jeter, Posada). That would allow us to finally pass them in the division.

Toronto: Toronto was so good in 2005 that they would have been a threat to the 2006 AL East title without improving their roster at all, but instead they added important pieces they were missing. They should stay right with the Yankees and Red Sox in 2006, probably missing the playoffs again since their players are so injury-prone, but with a full season from Halladay, look out. I expect 90 wins easy, closer to 95 if a lot of things go right, which haven't for them the last couple of years.

Baltimore and the D-Rays will be terrible as always.

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