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.