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.


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.

What Wade Miley, Justin Masterson, and Rick Porcello Mean For The Red Sox

Remember when you were so bored at the off season you were just dying to have something—anything—happen?

Yeah, me neither.

In the past three days or so, the Red Sox have lost out on Jon Lester, traded Rubby de la Rosa and Allen Webster for Wade Miley, traded Yoenis Cespedes and a couple spare parts for Rick Porcello, and signed Justin Masterson.

I’m going to take them one at a time, then put the whole thing together thematically at the end, just like they tried to teach you in your high school English class.

It sucks losing Jon Lester, there’s no question about it, but the fact that the Sox brass didn’t move past the 6/$135M offer is probably a good sign. You don’t want your front office to get emotional about these things and the reality is that pitchers rarely age well. Maybe Lester will be one of the ones that does—I hope he is—but it’s really dangerous to put a big wager on that.

That leaves us with a big hole at the top of the rotation, one that hasn’t yet been filled. Of the remaining options, the one I like best is signing James Shields as a free agent. It doesn’t require giving up any of the binky level prospects and it’s a shorter term lesser gamble than Lester.

I don’t particularly like the Wade Miley trade, but I have warmed to it a little after some initial loathing. The Sox came into this off season needing two top of the rotation guys and I just don’t see Wade Miley being one of those guys. He’s better than Kelly, not better than good Clay Buchholz, and a lot better than bad Clay Buchholz. So if things go right, Miley would slot in as the fourth best starter, pushing Kelly to fifth and improving both those slots a bit in the short term.

Of course, in doing so, he blocks the kids from a rotation spot, a fact that is I guess ameliorated by the fact that the kids who are most ready to use that slot just got traded for Wade Miley.

Justin Masterson just doesn’t do much for me. He was terrible in 2014 and whether that was due to injury or messed up mechanics from injury, I don’t really care. He’s the fifth best starting pitcher at the moment in large part because he’s always had big platoon splits.

I’m looking at him as someone who is insurance against Buchholz being unavailable out of spring training. Given Buchholz’ history, I think it only reasonable to build in that insurance and with the trade of de la Rosa and Webster, the in house options for someone coming out of spring training weren’t that great. Anthony Ranaudo and Matt Barnes just weren’t cutting it and both Henry Owens and Eduardo Rodriguez are guys that need to put in some more time at AAA before we think about them in the majors.

I really like the trade of Yoenis Cespedes for Rick Porcello. Cespedes was pretty obviously the odd man out when Hanley Ramirez decided he wanted to come to Boston to play left. He was on a one year deal that didn’t have draft pick compensation attached if he left, his OBP has always been lacking, and his defense has been marginal.

Rick Porcello, on the other hand, is a good pitcher who has always been victimized by bad defenses, and that brings us to the theme that ties this all together.

Porcello, Miley, and Masterson are all significant ground ball pitchers. So, for that matter, is Joe Kelly.

I was reminded of this article from a year ago about the Athletics loading up on fly ball hitters because sometimes fly balls leave the park and in an era when power is at a premium, fly balls that leave the park have a ton of value.

What the Sox seem to be doing is taking advantage of that in another direction. The strike zone has been expanding  in the pitch/fx era and a lot of that expansion has come at the bottom of the strike zone.

The way Miley, Masterson, Porcello, and Kelly get ground balls is by pounding the bottom of the strike zone. Hitters are going to have to swing at those pitches a lot more than they were just a few years ago which suggests the ground ball guys are just getting more valuable.

Then there’s Christian Vazquez. He’s really good at framing pitches and where does pitch framing matter the most? Where the umpire has the worst view of the pitch—the bottom of the zone.

It really looks like the Red Sox are putting a premium on the bottom of the strike zone, keeping balls in the park, putting a good defense on the field—the infield in particular, even if Xander Bogaerts is nothing special—and surprising people with how good they really are.

If the Sox can reel in Shields or some other top of the rotation guy, I think it’s going to be a fun season.

And Now The Sox Sign Pablo Sandoval

So I wake up this morning to the news that the Sox have indeed come to an agreement with Pablo Sandoval on a five year contract that will pay him roughly $100 million.

I have qualms.

In the short term, I think he’s going to be exactly what the Sox need—a competent defensive third baseman who hits lefty (if only part time) and who is a good bet to not be a sucking chest wound in the lineup.

He’s 28 and the contract will run through his age 32 season. That’s fine.

His weight is obviously a thing. I don’t know that there has been any analysis done on such things, but it stands to reason that a guy with his body type is more likely to have a calamitous decline than someone who is more fit.

I’m still mostly okay with it.

I think what the Sox will be getting from Betts and Bogaerts three years from now is likely to be a lot more than what they get from Betts and Bogaerts in 2015 so in a way, there is a built in counter to some anticipated decline from Sandoval.

There’s also Rafael Devers who looks like he is going to be a beast. On a recent soxprospects.com podcast, the crew referenced a scout who is higher on Devers than he was on Bogaerts. That’s pretty high.

Still, Devers is a long way away and a lot can happen between now and then.

The prospect of Sandoval being a $20 million albatross for the last couple years of the contract is, I think, a real one, and as much as guys like Chase Headley made more sense, the Sox pretty clearly zeroed in on Sandoval early and went after him hard. They must either not agree on the downside or not care.

The interesting thing, though, is that this forces Hanley Ramirez to left field which forces Yoenis Cespedes where, exactly?

Noboby knows, of course, unless there are some folks in front offices around the game who have a deal all negotiated pending the Panda and Hanley signings.

The obvious step is to think Cespedes will be traded for pitching, but there has to be at least a possibility that Cespedes stays and Allen Craig and/or Shane Victorino are traded instead, but both of them have injury and performance concerns that Cespedes doesn’t.

Which is to say, someone will one Cespedes.

There’s also the question of Will Middlebrooks. He is, so far as I know, still alive. He also doesn’t have a position on the major league team anymore. He could be sent to Pawtucket, for sure, but is there really any point? He would have to share playing time at third with Garin Cecchini and wouldn’t really have a viable route to the majors save a big injury to Sandoval.

Someone looking for right handed power might look at a combination of Cespedes and Middlebrooks as an enticing tandem and be willing to trade a significant pitching asset for it.

What’s left for the Sox?

Clearly, it’s pitching. There’s a need for two starting pitchers and a lefty in the bullpen. It’s hard to imagine the Sox will be able to sign both Jon Lester and Andrew Miller and stay under the tax threshold.

Of course, with the contracts coming off the payroll after 2015, staying under the threshold in 2015 might not be the priority it has been recently.

Still, if reports are true and Miller is looking for a four year contract, well, that’s a heck of a long contract to give a middle reliever, especially one who has only had the on year of excellence.

On the other hand, it was a phenomenal season, including a .802 WHIP, and six strikeouts per walk. Also it was prefaced by two seasons that, while not quite as good as 2015, weren’t bad.

I think I have come to the conclusion that signing both Hanley Ramirez and Sandoval suggests that the Sox care not a bit about the tax threshold in 2015 which makes the signing of Lester and/or Miller all that much more likely.

Sox Announce Non-Roster Invitees: Bryce Brentz Shoots Himself In Leg (not dead)

Sox Announce Non-Roster Invitees: Bryce Brentz Shoots Himself In Leg (not dead)

With all due respect to the headline writers at MLB.com, I don’t the headline here is Bogaerts and Bradley. Sure, they were expected, and Marrero wasn’t, really, but so much of what this team is going to be in the next five years rides on the shoulders of Bogaerts and Bradley it’s not even funny.

It should also be mentioned that Bogaerts is going to be with Dutch team in the World Basball Classic. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m going to catch as many of those games as I can.

And yes, Bryce Brentz shot himself in the leg, not too seriously, when he was cleaning a gun. I’m not really a gun person, but I was under the impression that it was standard operating procedure to A) unload a gun when you’re done with whatever you need it loaded for, and B) make sure it’s unloaded before you try to clean it.

Greek Godspeed, Kevin Youkilis

Sometimes we don’t like things that are good for us. Vitamins, vaccines, prostate exams, you know the drill.

Thus it is with Youks leaving for Chicago.

It’s probably good for us. Youks is increasingly looking old. He’s not hitting. Worse, for a man who always got on base everywhere he went, he’s not getting on base. His OPS is below .700 and his OBP is .315.

Middlebrooks is younger, healthier, and probably better.

And yet, Youks was one of us. He was ours. We’ve heard about him since he showed up to Lowell and put up an OBP of .512 while walking on average more than once a game.

And he’s one of the 25.  He may have had just two plate appearances in the 2004 post season but he played seventy games at third to help get there.

There are eight players still alive who have twice won the World Series with the Red Sox. Kevin Youkilis is one of them and we love him for it.