As a diehard Red Sox fan, I have to admit I was skeptical of Ben
Cherington spending $13 million per year over three seasons on the Flyin’
Hawaiian this offseason.  Shane had been a very solid and above average player in his days with the Philadelphia Phillies (averaging about a 108 wRC+ over 7 seasons). 
However, he took a major step down in 2012 with the worst season of his
career.  He posted a slash line of .255/.321/.383 with a career low 93 wRC+. 
His walk rate was only 8% and he had a career low ISO of .128.  At 32 years of age, I 
believed he would continue his decline.  In Shane’s defense, he did have to move
from hitter friendly Citizens Bank Park to pitcher friendly Dodger Stadium
midway through the season.  He was even worse in his time with L.A.  

As we sit here entering September of 2013, Shane Victorino has
absolutely proven me wrong.  His value to this Boston club has been extremely important and in my opinionoverlooked by many.  He is overlooked because a majority of his 2013 value comes from his defense, which leads me to my main question. Is Shane Victorino really the fifth best outfielder in all of baseball for 2013? According to Fangraphs, he is, as they have him listed with a 4.9 WAR.  This puts him ahead of some huge names such as Carlos Gonzalez, Jose Bautista, Shin-Soo Choo, Adam Jones, Josh Hamiltion and Justin Upton.  Let’s dig a bit deeper into the numbers to analyze further. 

I’ll bring up the fun part first…offense.  Victorino has no doubt had a tremendous offensive season, batting mainly out of the two spot for John Farrell. 
This still holds true even with him only playing in 102 games to this point in the year. According to wRC+, Shane has been an even more productive player than Jacoby Ellsbury, mainly because of a 30 point advantage in SLUG and ISO. One thing that does not go Shane’s way is walk percentage.  He’s walking just 5% of the time this year! With that said however, he doesn’t strike out (just 12%).  Obviously a few more walks would be beneficial however a player with his kind of speed that doesn’t strike out a lot and puts pressure on defenses can be sufficient.  He uses the speed when he’s on first base as well; stealing 18 bags while being caught only 3 times.  

There are 22 outfielders that are behind Victorino in WAR, but have a higher wRC+ than Victorino.  This is where defense comes into play in a big way.  With the all-star Ellsbury already manning centerfield at Fenway, Victorino was asked to play what is in my mind the toughest right field to play in all of baseball.  Right field at Fenway is very spacious and includes many different quirks.  You have Pesky’s pole, which is just 302 feet away from home plate, which then jets all the way out to the bullpens which are 380 feet away from the plate.  The Red Sox lead the American League in triples this season, and that is not all that surprising considering many of them come from looping around the warning track and fence in right field.  Shane, however, has been up to the challenge.  He currently leads all big league outfielders in defensive runs saved (DRS) with 24.  He has just 3 miscues in the outfield to go along with 10 assists.  His UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) is astounding this season at 25.4 in right field.  Victorino has been able to track down balls that others simply cannot get too.  I also believe that John Farrell has an effect on his outfield play, as
the Red Sox have been known for using various shifts in the infield and
outfield.  Simply put, more often than not, Victorino is in the perfect position to make a play before the pitch is even thrown.  

A majority of viewers pay much more attention to the offense.  However, defense plays a big role as well.  Limiting the opposition in runs scored due to terrific defensive play can make the difference in whether a team makes the postseason or not.  Therefore, with Victorino’s unbelievable defense and terrific offense, he is one of the best outfielders in
all of baseball for 2013. 

By: Nick Rabasco


 
 
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Ben Cherington (left) and John Farrell (right)
By: Nick Rabasco

In 1965, the Boston Red Sox hit the century mark in losses, going 62-100.  2012 marked the worst season Boston has had since that abysmal year in 1965 by going 69-93.  This breakdown in 2012 goes without mentioning the worst collapse in baseball history in 2011 when the Red Sox failed to hold a 9 game September wild card lead.  The list of problems for this team in the past two campaigns is a long one.  The clubhouse seemingly fell apart in 2011 and that carried right into 2012.  Bobby Valentine replaced two-time World Series champion Terry Francona, proving to be a huge mistake for Boston.  Valentine and his players had ongoing conflicts all season long, and he was quickly dismissed the day after the 2012 season mercifully ended.  These clubhouse conflicts were just part of the problem, as the players were either injured or just simply underperformed.  With that said, Ben Cherington was on a mission heading into the 2013 offseason.  This tall task for Ben was certainly not an easy one, having to find a new manager and players who can not only produce on the field, but be leaders in the clubhouse. 

For the Red Sox, it all begins with pitching.  This was the biggest problem in 2012, so we start off with Ryan Dempster, the man Cherington went out and got to fill a spot in the rotation.  Dempster has proven he can eat up innings and has been an average pitcher for his career as a whole (99 ERA+).  However, since 2008, he has been an above average pitcher.  The numbers look good on Dempster over that span, however his age (36) and the fact that he is moving from the National League to the American League, and Fenway Park for that matter, raise some concern and are reasons why I think Dempster will be a middle of the rotation guy.  Everybody else in the rotation is a question mark for 2013.  John Lackey was historically bad in 2011 and is coming off Tommy John surgery.  There is no guarantee that he will return to his Angels form.  Felix Doubront had flashes of excellence in 2012; however, he was inconsistent.  He ended the season with an ERA approaching 5 even though he led the staff in strikeouts.  Doubront should improve if he can get deeper into games and limit his walks.  Of course these improvements are no guarantee and Doubront could regress.  As for the two leaders of the staff, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, improvement is as close as you can get to a guarantee.  I am not saying they will get back to being Cy Young contenders, but I am very confident, if healthy, that they will show great improvement.  From 2008-2011, Lester was one of the best and most consistent pitchers in all of baseball (135 ERA+ over that span).  In 2010, Buchholz led the league in ERA+ (187) and was second in ERA (2.33).  Both of them are still young, and their track records show they will not be as bad as they were in 2012 when Lester had an ERA+ of 90 and Buchholz was at 95.  If these guys can stay healthy, I expect a better 2013.

As far as the bullpen is concerned, I believe what the Red Sox have put together has the potential to be amongst the best in all of baseball.  First of all, they have more than enough depth.  They have added Joel Hanrahan to close out games for the Sox in 2013.  He has put up some impressive numbers over the past 4 seasons with ERA+’s of 244, 112, 203 and 138 respectively from 2009-2012.  However, his walk rates are a cause for concern.  He walked over 5 batters per nine innings last season and his career BB/9 is 4.3, well above league average.  His career WHIP is also 1.38, which is high for a reliever. 
With Daniel Bard coming back to the bullpen after a failed experiment in the starting rotation, Hanrahan will be joined by him, Andrew Bailey, Andrew Miller,  Junichi Tazawa, Alfredo Aceves, Franklin Morales, Craig Breslow, Koji Uehara, Mark Melancon and Clayton Mortenson. This tremendous combination allows the Red Sox flexibility and many options for left handers, long relievers and the back end of the bullpen.  Aceves, who has had more success as a starter or a long reliever figures to be the long man along with Morales and Mortenson.  The Sox added Uehara this offseason on a one-year deal, and he figures to work in the 7th and 8th innings along with guys like Tazawa, Miller, Bailey, Melancon, Breslow and Bard. 

An extremely important statistic to look at for pitchers is WHIP.  Inconsistency with pitch location, whether it means missing out of the zone or in the zone, was obviously a huge problem for Boston in 2012.  Limiting base runners not only leads to less runs allowed, but it aids in preserving pitch counts and allows guys to get deeper into games.  It is no coincidence that in 2004 and 2007 (World Series champion seasons) the Red Sox as a staff led the league in WHIP as a team.  In 2012, the sox staff finished 10th in the AL in WHIP.  I believe the Red Sox staff will be much improved in 2013; however, I still do not believe it will be quite enough to be able to win the division compared to the pitching staffs of teams like Toronto and Tampa Bay. 

Offensively, the Red Sox should be near the top in the league again.  With Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Will Middlebrooks and David Ortiz at full health, it already improves the offense from a year ago.  Ellsbury played in 74 games in 2012, with Ortiz at 90, Middlebrooks at 75 and Pedroia at 147.  Although Pedroia stayed on the field, he played through a thumb injury for about half the season.  These four players will go along with several additions to the lineup.  Mike Napoli, Johnny Gomes, Shane Victorino and Stephen Drew were picked up by Cherington this offseason.  Starting with Napoli, he will not replace the production of Adrian Gonzalez at first base, offensively or defensively.  Health is a huge concern for Napoli as he has only played in 140 games once in his 7 year career (114 is the second most games he’s played).  Playing first base, instead of catcher, should aid his health.  When he is on the field, he is a very productive player.  Although he will not hit for a high average, he gets on base and hits for power.  He has hit at least 24 home runs in each of the past 3 seasons.  Expect him to be a 25-30 home run guy for the Red Sox with the help of the green monster.  He has also posted a career .356 OBP, which bodes well for what the Red Sox are trying to do in 2013.  Even today, the importance of OBP remains underrated.  The Red Sox lead the lead in team OBP in 2003, 2004, and 2008 and were second in OBP in 2007, just 4 points behind the league leader.  They reached the 7th game of the American League Championship series in all 4 of these seasons, winning the World Series in 2004 and 2007.  In 2012, the Red Sox won 69 games and finished 10th in the AL with a team OBP of .315.  Again, this is not a coincidence.  With guys like Ellsbury, Pedroia, Ortiz, and Napoli healthy, that team OBP should rise significantly.  Shane Victorino took a step back last season with the Phillies and Dodgers.  He batted just .245/.316/.351 with an OPS+ of just 85.  He will provide good defense for the Sox in right field; however he needs to be able to get on base at a higher rate in order to utilize his speed.  He has a career .341 OBP so I would expect it to certainly rise from his horrible .316 mark in 2012.  Jonny Gomes is a guy who put up very solid numbers in 2012, although it came in just 99 games.  He batted .262/.377/.491 with an OPS+ of 140 and 18 long balls.  These kinds of numbers are all above his career marks, however if he can put up production that is even close to this for a full season, Red Sox fans would be very satisfied.  He is however, in completion with guys like Daniel Nava to get playing time in left field.  Gomes has struck left handers very well over the course of his career and figures to get all of the playing time against them in 2013.  Stephen Drew is coming off a major injury, but figures to be at full health come spring training.  This is a move that I like a lot for the Red Sox.  They were able to get him for only one year, which works out well with guys like Jose Iglesias and Xander Bogaerts needing more time in the minors.  Drew has a career line of .265/.328/.433 and an OPS+ of 96.  His 162-game average for home runs is 15, and if he can put up a number like that, the Red Sox would be very impressed.  These additions will be nice additions to a lineup that includes Ellsbury, Pedroia, Ortiz, and Middlebrooks, and we all know what those guys are capable of doing.  These guys are also proven to have been great in the clubhouse which may be just as important as production on the field considering the problems the Sox have had in the past couple seasons. 

Overall, the Red Sox have certainly improved.  Offensively they have added some nice pieces along with getting their regulars back healthy.  I also believe their bullpen and the amount of depth they have will prove to be successful and help the team win close games.  However the biggest and most important aspect to watch out for in 2013 is the starting rotation.  If they can stay healthy, give the team innings, and just flat out pitch better than last season, this team can compete for a postseason spot.  I do not believe they will win the division because the competition is so heavy in the game’s best division.  I am going to predict an 85 win season for Boston in John Farrell’s inaugural season as manager at Fenway.  



 
 
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John Farrell is coming back to Boston.
        After on-going rumors of John Farrell making a return to Beantown, it’s finally a done deal.  The former Sox pitching coach has agreed to a 4 year contract to manage at Fenway Park.  Since his contract with the Toronto Blue Jays is expiring next offseason, the Jays received shortstop Mike Aviles as compensation from Boston. 

       Farrell led the Blue Jays to a subpar 154-170 mark in his two seasons north of the border.  They also finished 8 games worse in 2012 than in 2011.  The Blue Jays willingness to negotiate with Boston signals they are ready to move on without Farrell being a part of their future plans.  Also, Farrell’s inclination to speak directly with Ben Cherington and the Red Sox about the position showed his desire to return to Boston.  It seems like a good fit, as Farrell has a great relationship with Ben Cheringtion after having a shaky partnership with Alex Anthopoulos.  Farrell had a history of being in disagreement with the Toronto GM with some of his roster moves.  Farrell was pushing to release veteran infielder Omar Vizquel in July and the Jays disagreed and kept him.  Farrell also called for help in the starting rotation and instead the Jays got bullpen help at the trade deadline.   These incidents did not escalate enough to receive the kind of attention and scrutiny Bobby Valentine faced in Boston.  Valentine had problems throughout the year with his players and the media which made it inevitable that he would be out as manager.  Comparing Farrell and Valentine’s managerial style, the Red Sox are receiving a more aggressive manager, with Farrell’s Jays attempting 164 stolen bases compared to the Red Sox’ 128 in 2012.  However, they both sacrificed almost the same amount of time with Farrell bunting 33 times compared to Valentine’s 34. 

                It is clear the glaring problem on Yawkey Way is the pitching staff.  As a staff, Red Sox pitchers posted the third worst ERA in the American League (4.72) in 2012.  Leaders of the staff such as Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz also fell apart in 2012.  With Beckett now in Los Angeles, Lester and Buchholz look to anchor the rotation yet again as they attempt to return to front-line starters.  Farrell is the optimal guy for Boston as he led his pitchers to great success during his time as pitching coach.  From 2007-2010 (Farrell era), Red Sox pitchers led the American League in strikeouts, opponent batting average, and shutouts.  They also ranked third in ERA during Farrell’s 4 year stint (4.11).  It may be coincidental, but Jon Lester is a perfect example of a guy who just seemed more comfortable with Farrell’s presence.  After winning the clinching game of the 2007 World Series in Colorado, Lester went on to post an ERA+ of 144, 136 and 134 from 2008-2010 under Farrell.  At this point, Jon entered 2011 at age 26, so it would make sense to expect similar results if not much better results.  However, after a nice start to 2011, Lester completely fell apart in September (the worst and most painful month in Red Sox history I might add) and has not been the same since.  He posted an ERA+ of 124 in 2011 and 90 in 2012.  90! Red Sox fans hope Farrell can help him become more comfortable again and aid him in regaining his confidence.  John is also liked around Boston because he coached under Terry Francona, who led the Red Sox to 5 postseason appearances and 2 World Series titles in his 8 year reign. 

       The other part of this deal that hasn’t received much attention is Mike Aviles.  The Jays are getting an average hitter (.277 career BA) who broke out in terms of power in 2012 with a career high 13 home runs.  However, the knock on Aviles is his lack of plate discipline.  He walked just 23 times in 546 plate appearances in 2012 and had a sub-.300 on-base percentage.  This also opens up a hole a shortstop for Boston.  The options they now have internally are Jose Iglesias and Pedro Ciriaco.  Iglesias, a magician with the glove, hasn’t shown any signs of hitting at the big league level (career .135/.210/.413 slash line).  Ciriaco hit for a nice average in 2012 (.293) although he plummeted towards the end of the year.  His .352 BABIP may have had something to do with that, along with swinging at a ton of pitches out of the zone.  He walked just 2.9% of the time he stepped up to the plate.  For now, all signs point to Iglesias being the front runner as Boston's starting shortstop.

First Impressions:

Winners: Red Sox and Blue Jays

                The Red Sox were able to grab the guy they had an eye on for 2 years now.  He is very well respected in Boston by players, management and fans as he enjoyed success as the pitching coach from 2007-2010.  Also, the Sox only had to give up shortstop Mike Aviles.  This is a position where the Red Sox have other options for going forward.

                The Blue Jays were able to get rid of a manager who had not had success and caused a few minor problems with management.  At the same time, they received a solid infielder in Aviles.  The Blue Jays, after coming off a tough season, can now start fresh with a new manager and perhaps change the atmosphere just like Boston is trying to do.  


 
 
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Although Robinson Cano may be having the better season, does Dustin Pedroia still claim to being the game's top second baseman?
                 Rivalry.  The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees have symbolized the meaning of this word for generations and generations.  Within these two great franchises’ lies a smaller rivalry, between two players who happen to be among the best in baseball at the keystone.  So, inevitably, the question arises: who is more valuable to their team, Robinson Cano or Dustin Pedroia?  Each player is better than the other at certain aspects of the game, but we will delve further into the numbers to analyze these players a little closer. 

                Cano has played in more games than Pedroia, but they have both played long enough to take away averages and percentages of all their combined numbers.  In order to compare these superstars, we will take a look at their average season of 162 games.  Both guys own solid Triple Crown numbers with the pinstriped second baseman checking in at a .306 batting average with 23 home runs and 94 runs batted in compared to Pedroia’s line of .302/17/78.  These more glamorous and “sexy” statistics are the old-fashioned way, and unfortunately, still popular way at determining the value of a player.  The left-handed hitting Yankees second baseman has a beautiful swing that is perfect for the short porch at Yankee Stadium, so it comes as no surprise that he is considered one of the best hitters in the game.  It is clear that Cano hits for a bit more power than Pedroia, with more home runs and a higher slugging percentage (.499 to .461).  In addition, give Cano credit for staying on the field at great consistency.  Pedroia has been pretty durable himself, but he missed the second half of 2010 with a foot injury and close to a month in 2012 with a thumb problem.  Cano has played in at least 153 games every year since 2007. 

                Cano also has a step up in total bases, averaging 315 to Pedroia’s 296.  But hold on; total bases only accounts for a player’s bases collected via the base hit (single, double, triple, home run).  Walks, hit by pitches, and stolen bases are other ways a player can control of taking a base.  When adding walks, HBPs, stolen bases and subtracting caught stealing (as a caught stealing loses a base runner for the team), Pedroia has Cano beat (382 compared to 359).  Additionally, Pedroia simply gets on base more than Cano (.369 OBP to .349 OBP).  When he does reach, it enables his team more opportunities to score runs.  As evidence, Pedroia also leads Cano in the runs category (106 to 95).  Dustin is more prone to swipe a bag as well, and he is able to do it at a very solid success rate averaging 19 steals and only being caught 5 times (79%).  Cano only averages 4 steals while being caught 4 times; a poor success rate (50%).  While on the topic of base running, we will glance at how many outs each player makes while on the base paths (OOB).  Pedroia has made an average of 5.1 outs while Cano has made 6.1 outs.  In such instances, a player is thrown out trying to advance an extra base.  Shifting to more negatively viewed offensive statistics, Pedroia has Cano beat out in two categories that managers lose hair over.  Dustin strikes out an average of just 63 times (8.7% of his PA) and Cano whiffs an average of 81 times (11.9% of his PA).  Pedroia also grounds into less double plays than his counterpart in New York (14 to 21).  This means Cano makes 123 outs for his team via the strikeout or double play, compared to Pedroia’s 91. 

                Let’s not forget the other side of the ball: defense.  Pedroia can stop the “lasers” with the best of them too.  Cano does not match up to the defensive numbers Pedroia has put up.  Pedroia averages just 5 errors per season (.991 career fielding %), compared to Cano’s 10 error average (.986 career fielding %).  Another very important fielding stat is Rtot, where Pedroia, in the average season, nearly has Cano doubled (8.3 to 4.8).  This basically measures how many runs the player was worth based on the amount of plays they made.  Now, to sum everything up, we look at three statistics that measure how valuable a player is to a team overall.  Pedroia has Cano beat in all three: WAR (wins above replacement), Own% (offensive winning percentage), and WPA (win probability added).  Pedroia averages a 4.3 WAR compared to Cano’s 4.1.  Additionally, Dustin also has a .619 Own% while Cano owns a .588 Own%.  Lastly, Pedroia’s 1.1 WPA once again edges out Cano’s 0.74. Robinson Cano has had a tremendous career in New York, but the scrappy, undersized dirt-dog at Fenway proves to be more valuable to a major league baseball team.  

 

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