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.
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.