Talkin Sox with Dan

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The Red Sox Right Field Quandary…and Why It Doesn’t Matter

The 2004 World Champion Boston Red Sox were a gang of mashers. They pumped out 949 runs, 52 more than the offensively stout Yankees. They had guys at every position who could hit the cover off of the ball. Seven years later, the Yankees once again finished second to the Red Sox in runs. In 2011, the Sox banged out 875 runs, and more importantly, led baseball with a .810 OPS (on base percentage + slugging percentage). The same Red Sox team that wet the bed in September knew, better than any club in baseball, how to get on first base and ensure that that runner crossed home. 

Without getting too bogged down in statistics, let’s examine, by position, whether we can expect an increase, a decrease, or a push based on 2011’s performance. Obviously, health is assumed. Lets go.

Catcher—Increase. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Jason Varitek, and Ryan Lavarnway combined to get on-base at a .291 clip. Not good. Alex Avila, the 24 year old catcher for the Detroit Tigers, had an OBP of .389. Smooth. It is not unreasonable to think that Salty can build on a year where he fatigued down the stretch. Kelly Shoppach, a guy who wears out lefties, will be peppered in the lineup throughout the season, and Lavarnway will be waiting in Pawtucket as he continues to develop defensively. Expect an offensive uptick from the catcher position.

First Base—Increase. With a surgically repaired shoulder, Adrian Gonzalez sported an impressive .409 OBP, collected 45 doubles, and deposited 27 balls into the stands for homeruns. I’m not going to sit here and say that Gonzalez is going to post a Ted Williamsian .500-plus OBP in 2012, but I am ready to say that AG will finish with 32-37 homeruns. Oh, consider age, contract, and projected performance and force me to choose between Gonzalez and Albert Pujols: I’ll take Gonzo eight days a week. Bank on a few more jacks from Gonzalez as he continues to build a Hall of Fame résumé.

Second Base—Push. In my circle of friends and fellow Sox enthusiasts, I possess a well-documented crush on Dustin Pedroia. In fantasy drafts, I avoid him—just to save myself from the impending ridicule. I may be manifesting that same feeling in this blog. Pedroia’s performance in 2012 may very well increase. He is coming off a year where he hit 21 homeruns, four more than he accrued in his MVP campaign. Pedroia is not a burner, but he is an extremely intelligent base runner. He swiped 26 bags last season. The guy just had an overall solid year, arguably his best. Normally, I would tab DP as a player destined for a decline, but he will spend the majority of 2012 at the age of 28—he is steeped in the prime of his career.  Expect a similar output in 2012 but leave room for the possibility of improvement.

Shortstop—Push. Marco Scutaro and newly acquired backup, Nick Punto, are a combined 70 years old. It is obviously a stopgap year at shortstop for the Red Sox. They hope that Jose Iglesias rights the ship this year in Pawtucket (the guy is more than ready defensively but simply has not shown enough at the plate to be a candidate for the Major League job). Scutaro sets a proper example. During his time with the Red Sox, he has played through pain (pinched nerve in neck) and produced relatively well (.346 OBP in two years). I would expect more of the same consistent effort from Scutaro this year.

Third Base—Increase. Kevin Youkilis’ rehab from the sports hernia he suffered last season, according to all reports, has gone extremely well.  Youkilis is entering the final year of his contract (there is a 13 million dollar option for 2013. The Red Sox will likely pick that up.) and motivation should be at an all-time high for the soon-to-be 33 year old. He has fielded criticism this offseason regarding his attitude (see Jackie MacMullan’s piece in ESPN Boston from Sept. 30) and his inability to stay healthy. Everything points to a bounce back season for Youk. The guy is a total grinder. His lengthy at bats force pitchers to work hard, which ultimately helps the rest of the guys in the lineup. When Youkilis is right, he gets on base with the best of them. Expect a north of .400 OBP and a classic Youk season from the third baseman.

Left Field—Increase. If Carl Crawford cannot improve on every facet of his offensive game, the Red Sox may have similar—but far worse—Edgar Renteria situation on their hands.

Center Field—Decrease. Looking at Jacoby Ellsbury’s stats from 2011, I cannot find one thing to complain about. That’s a good indication that his production will come down a little bit this season. Despite Ellsbury’s unreal 32 homerun season, I firmly believe that his value is truly dependent upon his ability to consistently get on base, especially within the constructs of the Red Sox high octane offense. Get ‘em on, push ‘em through, and keep the line moving. His OBP in 2011 was a cool .376. I hope that Ellsbury aims to continue beefing up this statistic, instead of the long ball. Ellsbury is not a masher. He is a strong kid who knows how to get the fat part of the bat on the ball with regularity. Look for Ellsbury’s production to come down but not fall off.

Right Field—Increase. But it doesn’t matter. The Red Sox could have the same putrid platoon of unreliable, inconsistent players they used last season and not skip an offensive beat. Nevertheless, I’ll go ahead and assume whoever is out there in 2012 will improve upon the mess that was there the year before.

It is clear that the Red Sox offense is going to be excellent in 2012. It would not behoove Ben Cherington to financially overextend for a right fielder who may provide slightly better numbers than the options the Sox have in-house. Instead, sit back and wait for a cheap, right handed hitting option to emerge from the heap, even if the wait lasts until the trade deadline.

Thank you to baseballreference.com and espn.com for providing statistics used in this blog.

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6 thoughts on “The Red Sox Right Field Quandary…and Why It Doesn’t Matter

  1. Good Points all around.

    I disagree somewhat on C.C when compared to Renteria. If something that collosal did happen, Sox can’t exactly dump him as easy as they did Edgar. Look for Carl to improve in nearly every offense category (not that tough).

  2. Fair enough. I tried to give the “much worse” distinction there. I was trying to touch on if he had a repeat of last year, CC would have to be deemed as a player who simply can’t handle Boston as Renteria was as well. I agree that it makes sense for Crawford to improve across the board.

  3. I still think the Sox are after a RF.. Sure Aviles has spent Winter League down here in Puerto Rico getting a feel for the outfield, but with many intriguing options still left in the free agency such as Cody Ross, Ryan Ludwick, Rick Ankiel, I look for Cherington to platoon the RF with one of these options and Sweeney.

    Looking at the Cespedes video, the guy is a beast.. raw power, but Soler with 2 to 3 years in Pawtucket, could do wonders.. Kalish in my opinion is not ready to be our everyday outfielder, but is not a player that makes you cringe, like when wakefield stepped up to pitch.

    CP- There will be many arguments out there as to why the sox did not sign Ryan Madson, instead of Andrew Bailey. Many people might say they gave up 2 intriguing players, in the form of Reddick and Raul Alcantara(at 19, striking out almost 76 batters is just plain scary), but looking at the market today, Madson is still a free agent, with the angels (the most logical choice for him) not interested in signing him, Bailey is younger and when healthy, which I believe he is entering this season, is a proven closer in the Ameerican League. Look for Bobby to platoon the saves between him and Melancon.

    Finally SP. Two spots open, with a flury of free agents out there in the market available, yes some expensive, look for the sox to commit to bargains. Garza will be the ideal trade here, would be an unbelivable 4th starter in our rotation, but look for the sox to sign here Joe Saunders as a low cost decent option, move Bard to the rotation, and possible look into Jeff Francis. Carlos Silva? Not buying this whole “this years Bartolo Colon”..

    Thoughts?

  4. Jorge–Nice reply, a lot of good points. I’ll try to address as many as I can.

    -Rick Ankiel shouldn’t be an option as he is just another left handed hitter. I believe I have said in previous posts that Ludwick, Ross are good options. My overall point here is that, because the Red Sox offense is so good, they don’t need to go an get someone who is a huge upgrade from what they have. So far, they haven’t done that (example: Carlos Beltran ending up in St. Louis, not Boston).

    -I’m not sure why you’re down on Kalish–I’m assuming due to his injuries. In my opinion, the Red Sox viewed him as a guy who could play 130 games this year in RF. The Red Sox are high on him, and I don’t blame them. He is young and good. Let’s hope he gets over his recent rash of injuries and contributes to this team.

    -Signing Madson to a multiyear deal would have infuriated me. If they gave him anywhere close to 3+ years for 36+ million, I would not have been happy (after letting Papelbon walk). The Red Sox are not fond of giving out multiyear deals to closers, so I’m glad they stuck to their guns. Reddick is a fourth outfielder on the Red Sox (similar to David Murphy, now with Texas). His value is much greater on a team like Oakland–just like Jed Lowrie’s value is larger on Houston. They’re both good players, but I would rather have Melancon and Bailey. I’ve heard a bit about Alcantara. I mean the guy is in lower minor league levels. Could he be a good Major League starter someday? Sure. Is there a better chance he does not? Yup.

    -The free agent market for bottom of the rotation starters is interesting. Colon is out there. Saunders is apparently seeking a three year deal which the Red Sox will not participate in. Silva is a fine guy to sign. He doesn’t walk guys, and it adds depth.

  5. Why would we not want to improve in perhaps one of the worse RF spots in baseball over the last couple of years? Take your mind off the checkbook for a moment because as fan’s, we want the best players available to make our team better, and when there is a Ludwick or Ross (not Ankiel) available, that gives the your team (Sox) a chance to make their team better in their most glaring weakness offensively! Neither of which are going to break the bank if that is a concern to some. I personally think Ludwick is a better fit, Ross racks up the K’s. Both would give you virtually the same AVG however.

  6. Ignoring the checkbook isn’t a smart idea. The Red Sox lacked financial mobility at the last trade deadline. I like the idea of being able to address needs at the deadline, when the team has taken shape. Whether the Red Sox make a boatload of dough or not, they have expressed a desire to not exceed the luxury tax threshold of 178 million. As fans, we can assume the Red Sox will just spend, spend, spend–but that’s not the reality.

    But I don’t disagree with you. If the Red Sox can acquire a right handed hitter to play right field as part of a platoon, I’m all for it. However, I would not pay someone to play right field if it comes at the expense of the starting rotation. What cost the Red Sox a playoff spot: Starting pitching or right field production?

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