Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Dream Job: Acquired!

I've been sitting on some pretty big news for a while now. About two weeks ago, I went to Secaucus, New Jersey for a job interview at MLB Network - and I was offered the job!

I couldn't be more excited to start - this is everything I worked for in graduate school, and everyone I met when I was down there as extremely friendly and welcoming.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the whole process (aside from the whole "gainful employment" thing), was that the interview was conducted in Chris Rose and Kevin Millar's office. Since the two of them often work from home, it was vacant for the day, and I sat in Kevin Millar's chair, trying to act like it was no big deal.

I discovered while covering the Nationals this summer that the awe of professional athletes wears off very quickly when you see them every day, but I'm still pretty pumped to get to work in the same building as Sean Casey, Mike Lowell, John Smoltz, Millar, and even old friend Heidi Watney, among others.

I'll be working behind the scenes (and that's how I prefer it), mostly cutting video teases to start. Tune in if you can, I'll be starting the second week in December!

2015 Bill James Projection: Pablo Sandoval

2011: 117 games, .315 BA, .357 OBP, .552 SLG, 23 HR, 70 RBI
2012 projection: 144 games, .311 BA, .363 OBP, .525 SLG, 24 HR, 86 RBI
2012: 108 games, .283 BA, .342 OBP, .447 SLG, 12 HR, 63 RBI
2013 projection: 150 games, .298 BA, .356 OBP, .498 SLG, 22 HR, 88 RBI
2013: 141 games, .278 BA, .341 OBP, .417 SLG, 14 HR, 79 RBI
2014 projection: 140 games, .292 BA, .354 OBP, .466 SLG, 18 HR, 81 RBI
2014: 157 games, .279 BA, .324 OBP, .415 SLG, 16 HR, 73 RBI
2015 projection: 151 games, .287 BA, .344 OBP, .447 SLG, 18 HR, 82 RBI

I don't know about any of you, but when I was watching the World Series this year, the idea that the Red Sox would go after - and then sign! - Pablo Sandoval never even crossed my mind. I took it as a matter of course that he would return to the Giants, but I'm thrilled to have been wrong.

The man they call Panda will be in Boston for the foreseeable future, as the deal has been reported at 5 years/$100 million. While I know there are people concerned about the length of the deal, I am not one of them: Sandoval is currently 28 years old, and will be just 33 at the end of this contract - well within the lifespan of an elite hitter.

There's plenty of speculation that Sandoval has been brought into the fold to take David Ortiz's place as a full time DH when the lefthanded legend calls it a career. Obviously, Red Sox fans will always have a special place in our hearts for Ortiz, but the comparison with Sandoval isn't too out there.

Panda is the kind of player who typically has good production during the regular season, but absolutely explodes when the pressure is on. Over three World Series, Sandoval batted .426 with 3 HR, 8 RBI, and a WS MVP Award. For comparison, Ortiz's line is .455 with 3 HR, 14 RBI, and 2 WS MVP Awards.

Personally, I can't wait to see the two of them sharing a lineup; as a guy who thrives in high-stakes situations, the pressure cooker of Boston should suit Sandoval nicely.

Monday, November 24, 2014

2015 Bill James Projections: Hanley Ramirez

2011: 92 games, .243 BA, .333 OBP, .379 SLG, 10 HR, 45 RBI, 20 SB
2012 projection: 136 games, .298 BA, .379 OBP, .489 SLG, 21 HR, 69 RBI, 28 SB
2012: 157 games, .257 BA, .322 OBP, .437 SLG, 24 HR, 92 RBI, 21 SB
2013 projection: 144 games, .281 BA, .356 OBP, .470 SLG, 22 HR, 75 RBI, 23 SB
2013: 86 games, .345 BA, .402 OBP, .638 SLG, 20 HR, 57 RBI, 10 SB
2014 projection: 151 games, .296 BA, .368 OBP, .505 SLG, 27 HR, 86 RBI, 23 SB
2014: 128 games, .283 BA, .369 OBP, .448 SLG, 13 HR, 71 RBI, 14 SB
2015 projection: 151 games, .290 BA, .367 OBP, .476 SLG, 23 HR, 85 RBI, 20 SB

The rumors would crop up almost every year between the time Hanley Ramirez went to Florida and this offseason: the one-time Red Sox prospect was coming back. It now seems there's an actual fire under all that smoke, and Ramirez, now a bona fide star, is on his way back to Boston.

But what can we expect from Ramirez this season? It's unclear where the soon-to-be 31-year-old will even play: the Red Sox seem content with Xander Bogaerts at shortstop (and pulling him from his natural position seemed to have consequences this season), and are reportedly among the finalists to sign free agent third baseman Pablo Sandoval.

There's talk that Ramirez could end up in left field if the Red Sox are the winners of the Sandoval sweepstakes, but he's never played a major league game in the outfield in his ten years of service time. One thing remains clear: no matter what we get from Ramirez defensively, his bat will add some much-needed pop to a Red Sox lineup that in 2014 could be accurately described as "lethargic."

Ramirez's average has hovered around .300 his entire career, and his power numbers are certainly well above what you would expect from a shortstop in the post-steroid era. Over the past few years, Bill James and his team have done a reliable job either underestimating Ramirez slightly, or hitting their projections almost exactly on the nose.

If Ramirez can live up to what James has projected for his 2015 in the midst of trading one big market (LA) for another (the admittedly much more baseball-crazed Boston), we should have an exciting season on our hands.

Welcome back to Boston, Hanley Ramirez: the expectations will be higher here, but the fans will show up before the third inning and stay until the end, and the reward, should you lead us all the way, will be that much sweeter.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

2015 Bill James Projections: Mike Napoli

2011: 113 games, .320 BA, .414 OBP, .631 SLG, 30 HR, 75 RBI
2012 projection: 131 games, .271 BA, .364 OBP, .537 SLG, 31 HR, 83 RBI
2012: 108 games, .227 BA, .343 OBP, .469 SLG, 24 HR, 56 RBI
2013 projection: 127 games, .248 BA, .350 OBP, .498 SLG, 29 HR, 75 RBI
2013: 139 games, .259 BA, .360 OBP, .482 SLG, 23 HR, 92 RBI
2014 projection: 137 games, .246 BA, .348 OBP, .471 SLG, 26 HR, 79 RBI
2014: 119 games, .248 BA, .370 OBP, .419 SLG, 17 HR, 55 RBI
2015 projection: 135 games, .246 BA, .355 OBP, .453 SLG, 23 HR, 72 RBI

The biggest discrepancy between Mike Napoli's 2013 season and his 2014 season is in the power numbers, primarily home runs and RBIs. Of course, there were fewer Red Sox on base for Nap to drive in this season than last, and he played twenty fewer games this season than last, all well dealing with assorted injuries.

Napoli is currently recovering from surgery to relieve his sleep apnea, a condition that restricts airways during sleep, causing loud snoring and a disruption in breathing. Sleep apnea sufferers often feel tired even after a full night's sleep, so if the surgery was successful it stands to reason Napoli will be better rested in 2015.

After last year's World Series, the Red Sox extended Nap to the tune of two years, and $32 million, so he's due $16 million in 2015, and will be a free agent at the conclusion of next season. If Napoli can perform up to Bill James' projections for him next season, it will be money well spent.

Mike Napoli has embraced the Red Sox and Boston in a way that few players can, and his current contract is exactly the kind of thing the team should pursue in the future: short in years, and perhaps a bit generous in annual value. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

2015 Bill James Projections: Xander Bogaerts

2013: 18 games, .250 BA, .320 OBP, .364 SLG, 1 HR, 5 RBI
2014 projection: 156 games, .283 BA, .357 OBP, .450 SLG, 19 HR, 84 RBI
2014: 144 games, .240 BA, .297 OBP, .362 SLG, 12 HR, 46 RBI
2015 projection: 156 games, .264 BA, .328 OBP, .407 SLG, 16 HR, 66 RBI

Xander Bogaerts didn't quite live up to his 2014 projections, but it was well within the margin of error, and well within an acceptable range for a major league shortstop.

Not to mention, Bogaerts is still just 22 - there's plenty of time for him to develop into the offensive and defensive wunderkind we're all hoping for - unlike some people I can think of (ahem, Clay Buchholz).

Once again in 2014, Bogaerts was asked to shift around the infield in deference to Stephen Drew, though he was allowed to return to his natural position at shortstop when Drew headed south at the trade deadline. 

The best two months of Bogaerts' 2014? May, before Drew came to town, and September, once Bogaerts readjusted to being a full time shortstop. Those also happen to be the two months in which he had the most plate appearances.

As a guy who seemingly performs best when he's playing in the field regularly, Xander Bogaerts will probably never be able to make a career transition to DH. But as the shortstop position should be his alone for 2015, it should be safe to expect improvement.

Monday, November 10, 2014

2015 Bill James Projections: Will Middlebrooks

2012: 75 games, .288 BA, .325 OBP, .509 SLG, 15 HR, 54 RBI
2013 projection: 153 games, .277 BA, .316 OBP, .490 SLG, 29 HR, 99 RBI
2013: 94 games, .227 BA, .271 OBP, .425 SLG, 17 HR, 49 RBI
2014 projection: 145 games, .266 BA, .310 OBP, .490 SLG, 32 HR, 102 RBI
2014: 63 games, .191 BA, .256 OBP, .265 SLG, 2 HR, 19 RBI
2015 projection: 127 games, .244 BA, .292 OBP, .418 SLG, 19 HR, 70 RBI

Will Middlebrooks has had his fair share of setbacks in his first few years. He's been shuttled back and forth to Pawtucket for seasoning and rehab, and this year he played his fewest games in Boston since his debut in 2012.

Middlebrook's calf strain in April, followed shortly by a broken finger, were probably among the first signs that 2014 would be a disappointing year. In the games he actually managed to stay on the field, his numbers were underwhelming.

Bill James' projections for Middlebrooks represent a huge jump in productivity over his injury-shortened 2014, but if we're being honest with ourselves they're really not up to snuff for a corner infielder in the American League.

Doubtless the Red Sox front office has been aware of this for quite some time, and I trust Ben Cherington to have some ideas up his sleeves if Middlebrooks become yet another prospect who can't live up to the hype.

As with most home-grown prospects, Middlebrooks is a fan favorite. But all the fans in the world rooting for him won't force him to make the adjustments necessary to be the lineup-anchoring force the Red Sox need him to be. That's up to him.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

2015 Bill James Projections: David Ortiz

2011 projection: 151 games, .261 BA, .366 OBP, .509 SLG, 33 HR, 112 RBI
2011: 146 games, .309 BA, .398 OBP, .554 SLG, 29 HR, 96 RBI
2012 projection: 150 games, .277 BA, .378 OBP, .517 SLG, 30 HR, 104 RBI
2012: 90 games, .318 BA, .415 OBP, .611 SLG, 23 HR, 60 RBI
2013 projection: 147 games, .283 BA, .386 OBP, .533 SLG, 32 HR, 103 RBI
2013: 137 games, .309 BA, .395 OBP, .564 SLG, 30 HR, 103 RBI
2014 projection: 146 games, .287 BA, .384 OBP, .531 SLG, 30 HR, 98 RBI
2014: 142 games, .263 BA, .355 OBP, .517 SLG, 35 HR, 104 RBI
2015 projection: 144 games, .275 BA, .371 OBP, .517 SLG, 32 HR, 102 RBI

David Ortiz's batting average might be the only metric by which he shows his age, and it's still well within the acceptable range. The legendary lefty's power numbers are perennially strong, and he's as beloved by fans as he was a decade ago.

The Red Sox are one of the few teams left in the American League that employ a true DH; most other clubs use the DH spot to give players a day or two to rest without being pulled from the lineup. 

Players like Adam Dunn or Victor Martinez might play their share of games as the DH, but they're coming off careers as position players. David Ortiz, on the other hand, has been a designated hitter far longer than he ever played first base - and he's excellent at it.

I'm not worried about Big Papi in 2015 - he's done a reasonable job meeting - and often surpassing - Bill James' projections in the last few years. Someday soon, we will have to face the reality of David Ortiz's baseball mortality. But today is not that day.

Friday, November 7, 2014

2015 Bill James Projections: Clay Buchholz

2011 projection: 13-9, 29 starts, 193 IP, 3.54 ERA, 74 BB, 168 SO
2011: 6-3, 14 starts, 82.2 IP, 3.48 ERA, 31 BB, 60 SO
2012 projection: 13-8, 30 starts, 191 IP, 3.53 ERA, 73 BB, 162 SO
2012: 11-8, 29 starts, 189.1 IP, 4.56 ERA, 64 BB, 129 SO
2013 projection: 12-11, 30 starts, 205 IP, 3.56 ERA,  72 BB, 163 SO
2013: 12-1, 16 starts, 108.1 IP, 1.74 ERA, 36 BB, 96 SO
2014 projection: 12-9, 29 starts, 190 IP, 3.46 ERA, 64 BB, 153 SO
2014: 8-11, 28 starts, 170.1 IP, 5.34 ERA, 54 BB, 132 SO
2015 projection: 12-10, 29 starts, 196 IP, 3.58 ERA, 62 BB, 156 SO

I don't want to alarm anyone, but the last two years the Red Sox have won the World Series are also the only two times in Clay Buchholz's career with a season ERA under 2. 

Then again, he didn't play close to a full season either time: in 2007, it was because he was a rookie, making his debut. In 2013, he dominated in the first half, only to be sidelined by injury down the stretch.

As is his custom when turning in a full season, Buchholz's 2014 was a disappointment. It's as if his slim frame can't sustain excellence for more than a dozen starts. He's a top of the line pitcher, when he can be healthy.

Obviously, Bill James and his team can't predict injury, but if they did, Buchholz would be a safe bet. It's time to give up the dream we embraced when Buchholz came up: he's thirty years old, and he'll never be the young ace we hoped for. 

But if Buchholz can live up to James' projections for starts and ERA, he's a passable third or fourth starter. The biggest problem facing the Red Sox this offseason is their pitching. If Jon Lester returns home to us, that would be an excellent start, because having Clay Buchholz be the most established pitcher on the team (as he was after the trade deadline this year) simply doesn't work.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

2015 Bill James Projections: Jackie Bradley Jr.

2013 projection: 148 games, .258 BA, .351 OBP, .419 SLG, 13 HR, 65 RBI, 20 SB
2013: 37 games, .189 BA, .280 OBP, .337 SLG, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 2 SB
2014 projection: 131 games, .248 BA, .329 OBP, .420 SLG, 15 HR, 55 RBI, 13 SB
2014: 127 games, .198 BA, .265 OBP, .266 SLG, 1 HR, 30 RBI, 8 SB
2015 projection: 129 games, .226 BA, .298 OBP, .341 SLG, 6 HR, 36 RBI, 8 SB

It's no secret that Jackie Bradley Jr.'s value doesn't primarily lie in his bat. This season wasn't nearly as much fun overall as 2013, but Bradley's consistently spectacular performance in the outfield was one of the few bright spots.

Bill James is slightly less optimistic for 2015 after Bradley's disappointing offensive performance in 2014, but he's still predicting some improvement, including a nearly 30 point jump in batting average.

Obviously Bradley will never be a power hitter, but post-steroid era, how many elite defensive center fielders can claim that title? Not to mention, runs saved are just as valuable as runs scored, and though Bradley scored only 53, he saved 14. 

The player Bradley was tasked with replacing in the Red Sox outfield, Jacoby Ellsbury, scored 88 runs, but saved -5, meaning his defense (and let's be clear, probably his below-average throwing arm) cost the Yankees five runs. Bradley was worth 67 net runs to the Red Sox, while Ellsbury was worth 83 for the Yankees - not as big a difference as one might expect, given the $20 million difference in their salaries.

Would it be nice to have Ellsbury? Sure, at least until he's owed $63 million dollars for ages 35-37. But if Bradley can improve at the plate as much as James seems to believe, he's an absolute steal - and the highlight reel catches will keep on coming.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Dustin Pedroia Wins Gold Glove, Remains Awesome

Yesterday Dustin Pedroia won the fourth Gold Glove of his nine year career. It would be easy for me to wax poetic about Pedroia's grit, athleticism, and determination - I've done so many, many times.

But it is not Pedroia's hardware, or even his tools that make him one of the faces of the franchise, a captain in all but name. Dustin Pedroia is a de facto leader of the Red Sox because he puts the team first - you can feel his will to win.

I have the utmost confidence that if Pedroia were asked to trade his individual accolades (RoY, MVP, four-time All Star, four-time Gold Glove, Silver Slugger) for another World Series win, he'd immediately ask where to sign up.

The Red Sox were not a good team this year. There was remarkably little griping from a fanbase famous for it, but mostly because we were still awash in the hangover from 2013 until nearly June. But this award for Pedroia shows that he gives 110% every day, every season.

He's on the wrong side of thirty now, but he still throws his body around like he's fresh from the minors (in fact, sometimes I wish he'd be more careful). There is no halfway when it comes to Dustin Pedroia's style of play; he's the player I want in the big situations - though I wouldn't say no to Papi.

Gold Gloves aren't super accurate for actually measuring a player's defensive prowess - Derek Jeter won two after the age of thirty-five, and his range wasn't even that great in his prime.

By some metrics, Dustin Pedroia is the best second baseman in the American League, and that's all fine and good, but the real question is: if you could have an second baseman, would you pick him?

For me, the answer is always, unequivocally, yes.