Tuesday, February 17, 2015

2015 Bill James Projections: Christian Vazquez

2014: 55 games, .240 BA, .308 OBP, .309 SLG, 1 HR, 20 RBI
2015 projection: 110 games, .256 BA, .326 OBP, .343 SLG, 3 HR, 35 RBI

Though Red Sox catchers talk this season has been focused on the possibility that prospect Blake Swihart might get packaged to Philadelphia for Cole Hamels, the Sox have quite a catcher already in Christian Vazquez.

Though Swihart is widely regarded as the best catching prospect in baseball, Vazquez has some serious supporters of his own. Joe Kelly calls Vazquez "Mini-Yadi," a nod to Yadier Molina of the famously talented Molina catching brothers.

The comparison makes some sense, even if it's quite a lot to live up to, as Vazquez spends part of each offseason working out with the Molinas in their native Puerto Rico. For his part, Yadier Molina has confidence in Vazquez's abilities, both behind the plate and with the bat, proclaiming, "He's going to hit."

In 55 games with the Red Sox last season, Vazquez hit a light .240, but his teammates are rooting for him, and he did show improvement near the end of the year. Bill James and his team project only minor improvement for Vazquez this year, but catcher isn't typically a position that's expected to should a huge offensive responsibility.

If Vazquez can hold steady or even improve behind the dish with Kelly singing his praises to the pitching staff, the bridge to Swihart appears to be very solid.

Friday, February 13, 2015

2015 Bill James Projections: Mookie Betts

2014: 52 games, .291 BA, .368 OBP, .444 SLG, 5 HR, 18 RBI, 7 SB
2015 projection: 154 games, .321 BA, .405 OBP, .493 SLG, 15 HR, 76 RBI, 40 SB

Despite the very crowded Red Sox outfield heading into spring training, Bill James and his team expect Mookie Betts to burst onto the Red Sox scene and never look back. Betts made his major league debut in June of last year, and bounced between Pawtucket and Boston a few times before finishing the season with the Red Sox.

When Betts was in the lower levels of the Red Sox minor league system, he primarily played second base, though he'd also excelled at shortstop and outfield in high school. Though he was blocked at second by Dustin Pedroia, the Red Sox valued his athleticism and prowess with a bat enough to retrain him as an outfielder rather than shipping him off in a trade.

Betts no longer counts as a Red Sox prospect, or he'd be near the top of all the ratings lists floating around the internet this month. If he even approximates the numbers James has laid out, the Red Sox will be thrilled: at only 21, Betts won't be eligible for arbitration until 2018, and he's under team control through 2021.

Betts' success would probably mean one of the older and more expensive outfielders on the Sox roster being shown the door, but the Red Sox have handled their farm system well, and Betts is just one of a number of young players looking to make a name for themselves this coming season.

Given the fact that he barely flinched at the adjustment to facing major league pitching last autumn, Betts seems like the kind of player to establish his star-power early - and woe to anyone who might stand in his way.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

2015 Bill James Projections: Shane Victorino

2011: 132 games, .279 BA, .355 OBP, .491 SLG, 17 HR, 61 RBI
2012 projection: 149 games, .277 BA, .344 OBP, .441 SLG, 17 HR, 64 RBI
2012: 154 games, .255 BA, .321 OBP, .383 SLG, 11 HR, 55 RBI
2013 projection: 155 games. .269 BA, .338 OBP, .418 SLG, 14 HR, 59 RBI
2013: 122 games, .294 BA, .351 OBP, .451 SLG, 15 HR, 61 RBI
2014 projection: 148 games, .270 BA, .336 OBP, .415 SLG, 14 HR, 58 RBI
2014: 30 games, .268 BA, .303 OBP, .382 SLG, 2 HR, 12 RBI
2015 projection: 129 games, .265 BA, .326 OBP, .410 SLG, 12 HR, 50 RBI

Shane Victorino's 2013 was derailed early on with hamstring and back problems, and then he underwent season-ending back surgery in August. In 2013, he was an integral part of the World Series run, but with just one year left on his deal and a crowded outfield situation, we may be saying goodbye to the Flyin' Hawaiian sooner rather than later.

I like Victorino a lot, and I hope he sticks around at least through the end of his deal, but this might be one of those situations where the Red Sox showcase him a lot during spring training and early on in the season before dealing him to a team in need to open up some space in the outfield.

Bill James and his team project a return to form for Victorino in 2015, but it's hard to guess what any player will do after such an extended time away from baseball activities. The Red Sox owe Victorino $13 million in 2015, so they'll be looking for a trade partner that might be willing to take on a significant portion of that money.

If Victorino does get to stay around, that salary is likely to be a factor in determining playing time - you don't pay a guy that much to ride the bench four days a week. Victorino is a great clubhouse guy, and he's seriously embraced playing in Boston, so his presence might help some of the young players and transplants adjust.

Wherever Victorino ends the 2015 season, he's sure to be a solid contributor. But here's hoping he ends his Red Sox tenure the way he started it: celebrating a World Series victory on the field at Fenway Park.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

2015 Bill James Projections: Joe Kelly

2012: 5-7, 16 starts, 107 IP, 3.53 ERA, 36 BB, 75 SO
2013 projection: 4-4, 0 starts, 67 IP, 4.16 ERA, 23 BB, 48 SO
2013: 10-5, 15 starts, 124 IP, 2.69 ERA, 44 BB, 79 SO
2014 projection: 6-7, 14 starts, 118 IP, 4.12 ERA, 41 BB, 81 SO
2014: 6-4, 17 starts, 96.1 IP, 4.20 ERA, 42 BB, 66 SO
2015 projection: 8-11, 28 starts, 172 IP, 4.19 ERA,70 BB, 117 SO

Joe Kelly came to the Red Sox from the Cardinals at last year's trade deadline as part of the John Lackey trade. Until then, Red Sox fans might have remembered him as the guy who started World Series Game 3 in 2013.

The Cardinals won that contest, though Kelly's 5.1 IP, 2 earned runs performance wasn't enough for him to get the W. In the end, of course, the Red Sox won that World Series, and Joe Kelly probably left Fenway Park feeling incredibly disappointed, not knowing he'd be traded for the Game 6 (and World Series) clinching pitcher just nine months later.

Kelly had a bit of a rough time last season, and Bill James and his team project him to have an almost identical ERA in 2015, albeit with a significant jump in innings pitched. You might have heard that Kelly has other ideas about his 2015 potential: the 26-year-old has predicted he'll be the American League Cy Young winner this year.

While I'm not ready to jump on the end of season award winner bandwagon yet, there are some compelling reasons to believe Kelly could have a breakout year in 2015. For starters, his 2014 was marred by an early hamstring injury, and then he had to get used to the AL after being traded.

Now healthy and with a few months of facing AL lineups under his belt, Kelly will be able to start the season in his comfort zone. It's also worth noting that now that he's made such a bold prediction, he'll have a serious incentive to reach it; pitchers are notoriously ego-driven, and Kelly has set himself a laudable goal.

But perhaps the greatest thing about Joe Kelly's still-new Red Sox tenure is his age: just 26, he's eligible for arbitration after this season, but under team control until he can first file for free agency in 2019. Even if his first full season in Boston turns out to be disappointing, he has plenty of time for improvement.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

2015 Bill James Projection: Rick Porcello

2010: 10-12, 27 starts, 162.2 IP, 4.92 ERA, 38 BB, 84 SO
2011 projection: 10-11, 29 starts, 188 IP, 4.21 ERA, 52 BB, 102 SO
2011: 14-9, 31 starts, 182 IP, 4.75 ERA, 46 BB, 104 SO
2012 projection: 10-11, 31 starts, 190 IP, 4.22 ERA, 49 BB, 105 SO
2012: 10-12, 31 starts, 176.1 IP, 4.59 ERA, 44 BB, 107 SO
2013 projection: 9-11, 31 starts, 178 IP, 4.50 ERA, 45 BB, 102 SO
2013: 13-8, 29 starts, 177 IP, 4.32 ERA, 42 BB, 142 SO
2014 projection: 9-11, 30 starts, 186 IP, 4.31 ERA, 45 BB, 117 SO
2014: 15-13, 31 starts, 204.2 IP, 3.43 ERA, 41 BB, 129 SO
2015 projection: 11-13, 32 starts, 209 IP, 4.00 ERA, 45 BB, 132 SO

It's curious to me that Bill James and his team project Rick Porcello's ERA will go up significantly next season, considering he's consistently improved in that area every season since 2010.

Porcello is a member of the much-debated and sometimes-maligned 2015 Red Sox rotation. The group is often referred to as a staff of number 3 starters, but I think that's unfair. Is Rick Porcello a bona fide ace? Absolutely not [yet]. But he could certainly be a solid number two.

Rick Porcello was an important member of the vaunted Detroit Tigers staff for the last few seasons, and while his contributions were sometimes forgotten behind those of Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, there were times when Porcello outperformed them both.

All of this, plus the fact that Porcello is just 26 years old, makes him a fantastic addition to the Red Sox. The downside is that he's a year out from free agency, and apparently uninterested in discussing an extension.

But with a potential payday on the horizon, the Red Sox will be getting a young, talented pitcher with an incredibly large incentive for giving the 2015 season everything he has in the tank.

I think James' projections for Porcello are underestimating him. Despite the naysayers and the "We should have signed Shields" whiners, I expect big things from Porcello this season.

Monday, February 9, 2015

2015 Bill James Projections: Justin Masterson

2010: 6-13, 29 starts, 180 IP, 4.70 ERA, 73 BB, 140 SO
2011 projection: 9-10, 26 starts, 175 IP, 4.11 ERA, 73 BB, 147 SO
2011: 12-10, 33 starts, 216 IP, 3.21 ERA, 65 BB, 158 SO
2012 projection: 11-12, 32 starts, 205 IP, 3.82 ERA, 70 BB, 164 SO
2012: 11-15, 34 starts, 206.1 IP, 4.93 ERA, 88 BB, 159 SO
2013 projection: 10-12, 34 starts, 204 IP, 4.01 ERA, 79 BB, 160 SO
2013: 14-10, 29 starts, 193 IP, 3.45 ERA, 76 BB, 195 SO
2014 projection: 10-12, 30 starts, 198 IP, 3.82 ERA, 78 BB, 165 SO
2014: 7-9, 25 starts, 128.2 IP, 5.88 ERA,  69 BB, 116 SO
2015 projection: 9-13, 31 starts, 194 IP, 4.22 ERA, 93 BB, 164 SO

 As much as I liked Victor Martinez, and as happy as I was to see him come to the Red Sox in 2009, I was always a little sour about that deal requiring Justin Masterson's departure.

Masterson was a home grown guy who came to the mound every outing determined to win. He had a funky delivery and a goofy smile on his face, and he seemed like the kind of person everyone wants to be around.

All that said, the deal was a good one for the Red Sox at the time - but it also means that I was totally ecstatic to see Masterson signing a free agent deal with the Sox this offseason.

No, there isn't an obvious ace in the Sox 2015 rotation, and it's unlikely Masterson will evolve into one overnight. But the front office has put together a staff of solid pitchers, and seem content to assume one or more of them will have a good-to-excellent season.

Joe Kelly's self-confidence aside, Justin Masterson would love to be the guy who steps up big for Boston this year. He signed a one-year deal in the hope that he'll perform well and be able to cash in next season.

Obviously, Masterson's numbers haven't been great for the last few years, but he's also struggled with lingering injuries. Already in Fort Myers, Masterson reports he's pain free for the first time in a long while.

If Masterson can only deliver what Bill James and his team projected for him in 2015, the Red Sox will have seemingly wasted $9.5 million. But the contract has an additional $2.5 million in incentives, and Masterson's health is keeping me optimistic.

I think we'll see a big year from Masterson in 2015. At the very least, it'll be nice to see him in a Red Sox uniform once again.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

2015 Bill James Projections: Wade Miley

2011: 4-2, 7 starts, 40 IP, 4.50 ERA, 18 BB, 25 SO
2012 projection: 4-5, 14 starts, 80 IP, 3.94 ERA, 30 BB, 61 SO
2012: 16-11, 29 starts, 194.2 IP, 3.33 ERA, 37 BB, 144 SO
2013 projection: 12-10, 30 starts, 199 IP, 3.57 ERA, 50 BB, 150 SO
2013: 10-10, 33 starts, 202.2 IP, 3.55 ERA, 66 BB, 147 SO
2014 projection: 12-11, 32 starts, 203 IP, 3.68 ERA, 59 BB, 151 SO
2014: 8-12, 33 starts, 201.1 IP, 4.34 ERA, 75 BB, 183 SO
2015 projection: 10-11, 30 starts, 184 IP, 3.91 ERA, 63 BB, 145 SO

The Red Sox traded for Wade Miley shortly before losing Jon Lester to the Cubs, and the trade almost suggested that Boston knew it wouldn't be luring Lester back to Fenway Park.

But let's be perfectly clear: Wade Miley, despite being a big southpaw, is not Jon Lester. Red Sox Nation mourned the loss of Lester, a true left-handed ace - but Ben Cherington made the right long term call, as the years committed by the Cubs are overzealous at best.

So what does Miley bring to the table? He throws his ~90mph fastball about two-thirds of the time, though he leaned on it slightly less last year than in previous years. He also throws a slider, a changeup, and (rarely) a curveball.

The biggest advantage Miley will bring to the Red Sox is the near-guarantee that he'll throw a lot of innings: since making the jump from 40 IP to 194 IP in 2012, Miley has neared or topped the 200 inning mark in each of the last three seasons. The importance of that durability on a staff that includes Clay Buchholz cannot be overstated.

The other thing about Miley is that he'll be just 28 this year. He's been good if not spectacular throughout his career, but he still has plenty of time to grow as a player - and John Farrell has an excellent track record when it comes to molding young arms.

Bill James and his team calculated their projections with the assumption Miley would be pitching in the NL West, so it's likely there will be an adjustment period when he moves to the AL East. Still, Red Sox fans should absolutely be optimistic about Miley's future in Boston. He's a solid pitcher with a high ceiling, and as of today, the only lefty in the Red Sox rotation.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Haters Gonna Hate (Our Duckboats)

Another year, another championship, another parade for the people of Boston - and for those of us who have sadly left the friendly confines of New England, but always keep our hometown teams in our hearts.

The turn of the millennium signaled a shift change for the once-beleaguered fans of the Patriots and Red Sox (and for the less unfortunate Bruins and Celtics fans). Since 2000, New England sports fans have enjoyed an unprecedented run of success, with nine major sports championships in fifteen years.

Boston hasn't gone more than three years without witnessing a duckboat parade in that span. Sure, Boston has a competitive advantage over some cities simply by virtue of having a team each in the NBA, MLB, NHL, and NFL... but New York has two of each, and Chicago has two MLB teams and one of each of the rest, yet Boston still has the edge.

So we're spoiled. And having moved to the New York metro area recently, I've witnessed firsthand that people are jealous.

But can I admit something? The jealousy of other city's fans (and particularly that of New York's fans) is absolutely delicious. I relish in their protestations about Spygate and Deflategate, and there's nothing I enjoy more than laughing in their faces when they spout absurd conspiracy theories about Curt Schilling's apparent affinity for ketchup.

Boston fans were once known for our inferiority complex, though whoever came up with that was obviously more focused on the "cursed" Red Sox and the previously-hapless Patriots than the winningest team in NBA history, the Boston Celtics.

Every championship won by a Boston team is another nail in the coffin of the lovable loser reputation we endured for so long. Sure, there are benefits to being the perennial underdog, but I'll take jealousy and bitterness from other fans over their pity any day of the week.

So congratulations, Patriots! You've enhanced my pride at hailing from New England - even if many of my coworkers and friends could do without the smug smile I've been wearing all week. But as Taylor Swift recently put into song, haters gonna hate, and I'll happily enjoy their chagrin.