2015 Red Sox, Final Roster Analysis

The Red Sox have set their final roster for Opening Day, so it’s time to take a look at what’s what.

Infield: There are no surprises in the infield. Pablo Sandoval will play third, Xander Bogaerts short, Dustin Pedroia second, and Mike Napoli first with Brock Holt taking the utility role.

Mike Napoli has been a beast all spring, and I rather suspect that is going to continue. He’s had a sleep apnea problem his entire career and he finally had surgery to correct it in the off season. Sleep apnea is one of those things that just robs you of everything from the will to get out of bed to the ability to do anything. That he has had an excellent career to this point without having a decent night’s sleep is astonishing.

Outfield: it’s a little bit surprising that Rusney Castillo is not on the team, considering that he easily looks like he’s a starter, but management feels that Shane Victorino has to play himself out of the job before Castillo can take it.

I confess I am not a fan of that decision. I would much rather have the better player playing the most. That said, it’s probably not going to be long. Castillo is one of those dynamic players that does a little bit of everything and Shane Victorino is old and broken down.

Also, should Shane Victorino prove me wrong, that would be awesome. He has, however, not played a full season in what feels like forever.

Of course, Castillo hasn’t played a full season in what actually is forever. The Serie Nacional plays a 90 game season. For that matter, Hanley Ramirez has been injured a lot as of late. Mookie Betts is the only outfielder who has actually played more than about 130 games recently.

I rather suspect that ultimately the decision will be to cut Daniel Nava and go with an outfield of Ramirez, Betts, and Castillo, backed up by Victorino and Craig.

Catchers: The injury to Christian Vazquez is a massive bummer as he was one of the things that I was really looking forward to watching this season. That said, Ryan Hanigan’s defense is also good, if not as spectacular, and Sandy Leon’s reputation suggests he’s also good.

The Sox are unlikely to get a lot of offense from the position, which means we’re all going to be watching Pawtucket to see if Blake Swihart is ready to make the jump. I rather suspect that it’s only a matter of time before Swihart is up. It might not be until September, but were I a betting man, I’d bet on him being up in July so management can’t get a good look at him in the bigs before the trade deadline.

The Rotation: Joe Kelly is on the DL, but might not miss a start. According to NESN.com he’s scheduled to pitch in a minor league game on Monday and if it’s determined he’s ready for regular season action, he’ll be activated for the April 11 game at NY.

Until then, it’s Clay Buchholz April 6 to open the season against the Phillies, Rick Porcello on the 8th, Justin Masterson on the 9th. Then it’s Wade Miley to start the series against the Yankees on the 10th, Kelly or his replacement Steven Wright on the 11th.

I rather suspect we’ll see Wright used in a relief role before the 11th which would indicate Kelly will be just fine for the 11th.

The more important thing to note is that it looks like Wright is the first guy to get the call when a sixth starter is needed. Wright is, of course, a knuckleballer, and we haven’t had one of those around here since Tim Wakefield retired.

What’s interesting is that he seems to have been battling Brian Johnson for the role, which indicates Brandon Workman has seen his last start. It makes some sense, since Henry Owens and Eduardo Rodriguez are both at AAA now, and they both have higher ceilings than Workman.

The Bullpen: Koji Uehara starts the season on the DL which is disconcerting considering his age and how bad he was at the end of 2014. He could be back as soon as the home opener on the 13th, but hamstring problems have a habit of hanging around.

Until Koji’s back, the closer is Edward Mujica, which gives me qualms, but he actually performed pretty well after the first couple months of last season.

The rest of the bullpen is Junichi Tazawa, Alexi Ogando, Anthony Varvaro, Craig Breslow, Tommy Layne, and Robbie Ross Jr.

Breslow, Ross, and Layne are all lefties and Varvaro has a reverse platoon differential. I rather suspect that when Uehara comes back, one of the lefties is going to go. I rather suspect it’s Breslow as he was rather underwhelming last year.

And look at that, I’ve blathered on for over 800 words already. Enough of this crap, time to get the season started.

Some Random Thoughts About The SuperBowl

I’ll skip past the deflated ball nonsense. Once I heard there was only one ball significantly under the required pressure, it lost all meaning to me.

Winning is more than fun. I wanted this SuperBowl more than any but the first, which makes that win the fourth most excellent win of my life.

The narrative that the Patriots didn’t win the game so much as the Seahawks lost it is annoying, at least in part because it’s so damn stupid.

Pete Carroll did cost the Seahawks the game. Or rather, the difference between Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll is why the Patriots won and the Seahawks lost. It wasn’t the play call, that’s stupid. If they wanted to run four plays—and they did—then they had to pass on one of them and it had to be either second down or third because they didn’t have the time outs to stop the clock.

And there it is.

Why didn’t they have the time outs to stop the clock? Because the team didn’t get to the line of scrimmage quickly enough after the Kearse magical reception and they had to call one there.

Yes, that’s right, a Pete Carroll coached team wasn’t disciplined enough to get to the line of scrimmage quickly after a long pass play and it cost them the time out that dictated the play call.

And, of course, even after the interception, the Patriots had to do something with the ball. Before the Seattle penalty, Brady was standing in the end zone to receive the snap. Sure, he probably could have snuck for a yard or two, or at least gotten out of the end zone to avoid the safety, but it’s not a sure thing.

So the Pats bet that a Pete Carroll coached team would be undisciplined in a big moment on the highest stage the game has. And they won.

But it’s more than Pete Carroll’s deficiencies, it’s that the team had prepared well enough to know what that formation meant. There’s a moment where the coaches recognize the formation and immediately send Butler in. He recognized the formation and knew where the pass was going, so he could get there before the receiver had a chance to catch it.

Because make no mistake, that was a pass play that is successfully completed almost every single time.

Almost.

Anthony Ranaudo Traded for Robbie Ross

Here’s a link.

Ross is a lefty. He started some with the Rangers in 2014, but it’s probably safe to assume that he’s going to be in the bullpen for the Sox.

I’ll get into him a bit more in the second part of the bullpen roundup in a few days, but there’s a good chance he’s one of two lefties in the pen (with Craig Breslow.)

And the number I know you’re all looking for, he has a groundball rate of 53.8% for his career against a league average of 44%.

The Sox are stocking up on ground ball pitchers, and a guy on SoSH (whose name I don’t recall at the moment) had a good argument why. I think I’ll be digging it out and expanding upon it once the roster roundups are done.

Roster Roundup: Bullpen Part 1

And we’ve gotten to the point where we have to talk about the bullpen and the thing with that is, well, bullpens are inherently variable. There aren’t many relievers who are consistently good from year to year and it’s not entirely clear how to determine which ones are which so it’s really hard to put together a whole group of pitchers you can trust to be good.

So we’ll start with the guys we can be sure are going to be in the major league bullpen before moving into guys who are being brought in just in case they catch fire.

Koji Uehara: There’s an interesting little factoid about Uehara’s 2013 that always amazes me. He allowed a run in his last appearance of June, then didn’t allow a run in July, August, or September, only to allow a run in his first appearance of October, in Game 3 of the LDS against the Rays.

Of course, this is largely irrelevant to what he’ll do in 2015. Will he still be good in 2015? As long as we’re understanding that “good” doesn’t mean he’s going to be as otherworldly awesome as he was in 2013, then yeah, he’s probably going to be good. He was good in 2014 with the exception of a few weeks at the end of a lost season. The thing is, he’s going to be 40. Here’s the thing about being an athlete at 40. If your performance completely falls off the cliff, it’s not a surprise. There are just so few athletes who are still effective at that age, that guaranteeing good performance is ludicrous.

So yeah, he’s probably going to be good, unlikely to be outstanding, and there’s a non trivial chance that he’s just terrible.

Junichi Tazawa: He’s more than a decade younger than Uehara, but has never reached Uehara’s peak. Still, a solid but unremarkable set up man is nothing to be sneezed at. Tazawa has been that, and there’s no particular reason to believe he’ll be different in 2015 other than the inherent volatility of the position.

Craig Breslow: Breslow is perhaps the Red Sox poster child for the volatility of the position. He was brilliant in 2013, holding all batters to a .635 OPS, and terrible in 2014, allowing an OPS of .887. What are we going to get from him in 2015? No idea, really. He’s had more good years than bad in his career, so I guess that’s more likely than a bad season, but by the same token, he’s 34 and well past his prime. If 2013 turns out to be his last good year, it shouldn’t really surprise anyone.

Edward Mujica: Mujica gets a bit of a bad rap for his 2014 because it started off so damn crappy. He was terrible in April and May, as well as July, but he was quite good in June, August, and September. Was there something wrong with him? Was it just the volatility of the position? I don’t know, you don’t know. This we do know. 2014 was his worst year since 2009. He’s 30 so he’s not young, but that’s not terribly old either. Chances are, he’s pretty good in 2015.

Brandon Workman: He’s kind of just a guy, you know? He did well as a starter in 2013, and very well as a reliever in the post season, but in 2014 it was just the opposite. Some of that is no doubt due to small sample sizes and being bounced between one role and the other. My guess is that being able to settle in as a reliever on a permanent basis is going to be a good thing for him and allow him to be the very effective reliever he looked like in the 2013 post season.

And I’m going to stop there for now because these are the guys that are highly likely to be in the 2015 bullpen, and the rest of the guys are less likely for various reasons. Also, and perhaps more to the point, these are the five guys who are probably going to determine if the Sox have a good bullpen or a bad one. In the model of six innings from a starter and three from relievers, these are the guys who are going to be getting those three innings when we’re in close games. If they do well, it mean a lot of good things for the Sox starting staff just because they don’t have to be out there trying for seven innings every night.

The first thing that should be pointed out about these guys is that we know their names. There are a lot of teams that don’t know the names of their top 5 guys, so the fact that the Sox do is a non trivial advantage. More than that, they’re all fairly likely to be good. I say that within the context of the whole position being volatile, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone if any particular one of these guys mediocre to terrible.

And that’s over 800 words so we’ll take a look at the other candidates next week.

Roster Roundup: Outfield

As we continue our reassessment of the Red Sox roster, we turn from the infield to the outfield. Unlike the infield, we don’t know who is going to play where. We don’t really even know who the starters are.

Let’s start with what we do know.

Hanley Ramirez is going to start in left field. It’s where he was signed to play. He can’t really be expected to play any of the other outfield positions. And oh yeah, he can hit the snot out of the ball. Aside from an injury that affected his 2011 and 2012, he has always been a much better than average hitter.

And sure, he’s thirty and he’s getting paid a ton of money, but he’s also one of those elite guys who got to the bigs at a very young age and is likely to be effective relatively longer than most.

In short, we don’t have to worry about left field for a while.

We can be pretty sure that Rusney Castillo is going to be starting somewhere. They didn’t pay him 7/70 to sit on the bench. It’s going to be right or center and I rather suspect it’s going to be center, but that depends a bit on who is playing right.

Which brings us to Shane Victorino and Mookie Betts.

My sense is that Shane Victorino is going to have a hard time staying healthy enough to play every day. Maybe that’s wrong. Victorino sure thinks it’s wrong and is coming to camp planning on being the starting right fielder. Good. I want him to think and act like he is going to go out and kick the shit out of everything.

But…he played 30 games in 2014, 53 in 2012, and 101 in 2011. Even in 2013 he only played 122. That looks like a guy whose body is starting to break down and since, when healthy, he still has the skills to be a tremendous asset, I want to take steps to make sure he’s healthy.

That means he’s the bench guy, Betts starts in right, Castillo in center, and Vic gives them each more time off than normal. Betts is still adjusting to the majors. It looks like he played about 150 games in 2014, but that was the first time he played more than 127.

Mostly, I think young guys are going to benefit from more time off, not just because they don’t play 162 in the minors, but because they need to slow the game down a little bit and time off to think should help that.

Also, Castillo hasn’t played a full season since I don’t even know when, and it stands to reason he could use a bit more time off than a normal guy.

I think we could plan on having Castillo and Betts each playing five days a week and Victorino playing four.

If the starters are Betts and Castillo, there’s some notion that Betts should play center and Castillo right because Castillo has the better arm. I think most of this sentiment is coming from the fact that Betts was moved off short because of his arm and I’m not sure it translates that well.

Regardless, if they decide Victorino is going to be the starter, he’ll go in right and Castillo in center with Betts going back to Pawtucket so he can play ever damn day.

And there are the bench options. Allen Craig is likely to be backing up left as well as first. At least, he is unless there is some way he can be slipped through waivers to Pawtucket.

But basically, the backup options other than Victorino are Allen Craig and Daniel Nava. They don’t need all three, and if Brock Holt is on the roster, the chances are decent that they’ll go with just Vic and one of Craig/Nava.

My guess is that the Sox would be best off going with Castillo and Betts with Vic and Craig. Going with Castillo and Vic with Craig and Nava would allow the team to keep more talent in the organization and that’s something they try to do.

Regardless, the team should be getting better than average offensive production from all outfield positions while having some decent depth.

It’s a good thing.

I’m Not As Pissed Off About The HOF Voting As I Thought I Would Be

I’m pretty much always at least a little bit pissed off, so the fact that I’m only a little pissed off is probably as good a result as we could have expected.

Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Craig Biggio, and John Smoltz were elected and will be inducted this Summer. Good for them, they all deserve it.

I’m a little pissed off that Pedro Martinez didn’t get 100%. Randy Johnson also deserved 100%, but I don’t give a damn about him. And sure, some of the folks who didn’t vote for them did so because it’s a crowded ballot and they wanted to vote for some of the guys down ballot a bit who weren’t locks to get in. I’m mostly cool with those guys.

But the guys who actually didn’t think Pedro Martinez was worthy of hall induction are just utterly divorced from reality. Sure, his career wasn’t the longest, but it was long enough, and his peak was obscenely high. There were five seasons where he was twice as good as the league average, including a 2000 season where he was almost three times as good as league average. In one of the most offensively dominant eras in the game, Pedro Martinez made the entire league hit like Mike Benjamin.

The moral policemen drive me nuts. There are people who aren’t voting for Jeff Bagwell because he looks like he used steroids. No failed tests. No evidence from steroid suppliers. Just whispers. It’s disgusting.

We have a situation right now where there is someone who has a credible argument to make that he’s the best hitter of all time who has been on the ballot and who is not in the Hall of Fame.

We have a situation right now where there is someone who has a credible argument to make that he’s the best pitcher of all time who has been on the ballot and who is not in the Hall of Fame.

We have a situation right now where there is someone who has more hits than anyone else in the history of Major League Baseball and he is not in the Hall of Fame.

With Pete Rose, there’s a good reason, and while I think a player’s placement on the ineligible list should expire when they die, that doesn’t yet apply to Rose.

But Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens aren’t in the Hall of Fame and it’s embarrassing. It’s obvious it’s the steroids. There’s good reasons to keep steroids out of the game, but I don’t think that means there’s good reason to keep out—as a class—the people who took steroids.

We have a pretty good idea when Clemens and Bonds started roiding up. If you look at their numbers before that, they’re Hall of Famers.

Perhaps more to the point, if you’re going to keep such monstrously talented guys out for steroids, why are you not keeping Rickey Henderson out because of cocaine? Or all the guys from the 70s who used amphetamines? They didn’t start taking those things just because they were fun, they started taking them to help them stay alert during the long grind of the season.

I heard Bob Costas saying that the coke and amphetamines didn’t allow anyone to improve as drastically as steroids and HGH, and that’s true, but do we really want to set the precedent that cheating is okay unless you’re really really good at it?

Of course not.

It’s too late to keep all the cheaters out. It’s too late to set a strict moral line. It’s too late to have a Hall of Fame that doesn’t have any players who aren’t completely immoral douchebags.

There are current Hall of Famers who are cheaters, drunks, racists, and every other thing you can imagine.

So…enough ranting.

The fact that four guys made it is fantastic. It relieves a ton of the pressure on the ballot to the point where it might be possible to turn in a 2016 ballot with less than ten names on it without being an assjack.

Trevor Hoffman and Ken Griffey, Jr join the ballot in 2016 and I think they’re pretty likely to get in on the first ballot. Just as an aside, the closer fetish the voters have is a little bit weird. With Mike Piazza at 69.9% this year, I think it’s pretty likely the class of 2016 will be Hoffman, Griffey, and Piazza, and putting in three more guys would be a very good thing.

I think it’s going to be interesting to see what happens to Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina in 2016. There are some who suggest that clearing Pedro, Johnson, and Smoltz off the ballot is going to lead to a very large jump in votes next season. I think I’d like to see it, as they both deserve it, but I’m skeptical that it will really happen. And if it does, I don’t think it’s going to be enough to get them in.

Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines are the other guys who I’m going to be looking at in 2016. They’re at 54.3% and 46.1% respectively, which means getting up to 75% would take a gigantic leap that I just don’t think is going to happen. Since Raines only has two years left on the ballot, he’s got to get a lot of votes in a short amount of time.

We shall see.

Roster Roundup: Infield, Catcher, DH

This has been one of the craziest off seasons in my lifetime of watching baseball. Somewhere in those last couple days of the Winter Meetings, I completely gave up on knowing who was going where, when, and why.

I figure that with the off season winding down a little bit, there’s some value in taking a look at what the heck the Sox have done and where it leaves them.

Infield

We’ll start with the infield, just because it’s the easiest. The Sox had a black hole at third base in 2014, and it hasn’t been a strength for a long time. It should be no surprise, then, that one of the first major acquisitions of the off season was Pablo Sandoval who has been significantly better than average offensively every year since 2010. Defensive metrics are a tad ambivalent about him, but overall, he has a reputation as a solid fielder.

He’s getting a lot of money and he’s older than you’d want in a player you’re paying that much, but at least for the short term, he’s got to be better than what the Sox have had.

The move to Sandoval at third means Xander Bogaerts gets to settle in at short and make the position his for as long as he can hold on to it. It might be a bit generous to say that Xander Bogaerts had an up and down year in 2014—his .595 OPS in July wasn’t even his second worst month (June .426, August .360)—his ups were pretty damn high. He had an .897 OPS in May and looked like he was going to storm into the league and make it his bitch. Of course, that was his best month of the season by far. Encouragingly, though, his second best month came at the end of the season with an OPS of .806 for September and October.

This is the thing to remember about Xander Bogaerts. He’s still 22 and is only a year away from being the second best prospect in baseball. He struggled mightily, and might well struggle more, but chances are, he’s going to be a lot better in 2015 overall.

Dustin Pedroia had his worst season since he became a regular in 2007 and chances are that his peak is behind him, but while he’s not young, he’s not quite old, either. He’s got more above average seasons in him and hopefully he’s manage to play 2015 without having a significant hand or wrist injury early in the season.

Mike Napoli hasn’t really had a bad season in his career. I’m sure he will, at some point, but there’s no particular reason to think it will be 2015. Sure, his hip could explode at any moment, but it hasn’t exploded yet.

Bottom Line: The Red Sox should be getting league average or better seasons from all the infielders.

The infield bench is probably going to include Brock Holt, who is likely to be the primary backup at three positions, and Allen Craig, who is likely to back up first.

Craig is actually a bit of a thing. When he was good, he was very good. Easily starting material. When he was bad, holy crap was he bad. 2015 should represent a chance for him to put all questions of his injury behind him and demonstrate once again that he is an offensive threat.

The problem for him is going to be playing time. The Sox can’t afford to run someone out there every day who is hitting like Craig hit in 2014, and perhaps more to the point, they don’t have to, having better options pretty much everywhere.

Clearly the Sox want him to be what he was before, but the only way to demonstrate that he’s back—not to mention the only way to get back—is for him to play and I don’t see where those ABs are going to come from.

DH

Nothing really to say here. David Ortiz get old and fall off at some point, but he hasn’t yet and it’s a gamble I’m willing to continue to take until it bites me in the ass.

Catcher

Christian Vazquez is the starter. His offense was well, pretty bad in 2014, but that’s not terribly surprising for any rookie breaking in, and especially so with one who has a history of taking a while to adjust to each higher level. He does adjust, though, and that bodes well for his chances of being not terrible. There are a lot of things that impact a team throughout a season that you can’t foresee. One of the things we can foresee is Vazquez. How well and how quickly he makes those adjustments is going to have a pretty big impact on what the Sox do in 2015.

Should Vazquez struggle at the plate, Ryan Hanigan can help, but only so much. He hasn’t had an OPS+ above 95 since 2010 and his last two years he was at 59 and 86. It’s the 59 that looks like the outlier, however, as most of his career has been spent as a slightly less than average hitter.

No, if Vazquez crashes and burns, the real help is going to have to come in the form of Blake Swihart who has had all of 18 games of AAA experience. I don’t think there is anyone who thinks he is going to be ready before mid season at the earliest so, well, I think we all need to hope that Vazquez gets the job done.

Next week I’ll take a look at the outfield, then the rotation, and finally the bullpen, and at that point, truck day won’t be far away.