Friday, February 28, 2020

Boston Red Sox 2020 Season Preview



          A World Series hangover is not a real thing. Well, tell that to Red Sox fans. The team was dominant in 2018, leading to a World Championship. However, the team started off slow in 2019 and could never get it going fully, leading to an 84-78 season, finishing third in the AL East, missing the playoffs. They fired GM Dave Dombrowski mid-season, and due to his involvement in the Astros' cheating scandal, Alex Cora was gone in the offseason. Even worse, when payroll issues became apparent, new head of the front office Chaim Bloom was forced to trade away 2018 MVP winner Mookie Betts to the Dodgers, with former Cy Young winner David Price going with him. Now with Bloom and interim manager Ron Roenicke in charge, in will be very different in Boston, with the expectations lower.

          Offseason additions: OF Alex Verdugo, OF Kevin Pillar, IF Jose Peraza, C Kevin Plawecki, LHP Martin Perez, RHP Austin Brice, LHP Jeffrey Springs, RHP Phillips Valdez, C Jonathan Lucroy, RHP Trevor Hildenberger, 1B Tommy Joseph, OF Cesar Puello, LHP Matt Hall.

          Offseason subtractions: OF Mookie Betts, LHP David Price, RHP Rick Porcello, IF Brock Holt, RHP Andrew Cashner, C Sandy Leon, RHP Travis Lakins, RHP Jhoulys Chacin, IF Chris Owings, 1B Steve Pearce, 1B Sam Travis, OF Gorkys Hernandez.

          Rotation
Chris Sale had an injury riddled 2019, but when he was healthy, the results weren't there. He had a 4.40 ERA in 25 starts, about a full run higher than his previous career worst 3.41 ERA. However, he continued to strike out batters at an enormous rate. He K'd 218 batters in 147.1 innings. He did not receive any Cy Young votes. He had been top six in Cy Young voting every year since 2011, when he was still a reliever. He will start the year on the IL due to an illness. Eduardo Rodriguez had a career best 3.81 ERA, 213 strikeouts and 203.1 innings. However, he also walked a league leading 75 batters. Nathan Eovaldi was a postseason hero in 2018, but he had a 5.99 ERA in 23 games (12 starts). The Red Sox tried to use him as a closer, but it didn't work, and he never recorded a save. His 70 strikeouts in 67.2 innings led to a career high 9.3 K/9. The Red Sox will need him to go back to 2018 form. The Red Sox signed Martin Perez to a one year deal. A 28-year-old lefty with eight seasons under his belt, Perez hasn't had an ERA under 4.50 since 2016. For the Twins last season Perez had a 5.12 ERA with 135 strikeouts in 165.1 innings. It was a career high for him in Ks. 28 year old Ryan Weber could be the fifth starter or opener if the Red Sox go that way. In 18 games (three starts), Weber had a 5.09 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 40.2 innings.

            Bullpen
Brandon Workman was a solid reliever prior to 2019, but became Boston's closer last year. He struck out 104 batters over 71.2 innings with 16 saves and a 1.88 ERA. With Craig Kimbrel gone the Red Sox needed him badly last year. After Ryan Brasier was a success story and posted a 1.60 ERA in 2018, he struggled in 2019 and ended up back in the minors. The righty had a 4.85 ERA with 61 Ks in 55.2 innings with seven saves. Matt Barnes has never had an ERA under 3.00 in a season, with 3.78 in 2019 being very close to his career high. He has appeared in at least 62 games in four straight seasons. He struck out 110 batters in 64.1 innings in 2019. 30-year-old Marcus Walden, in his first full season, had a 3.81 ERA with 76 strikeouts in 78 innings over 70 games. Righty Heath Hembree has already been on the team for six years. He struck out 46 with a 125 ERA+ in 39.2 innings last season. In his rookie season Josh Taylor had a 3.04 ERA with 62 strikeouts in 47.1 innings. He had a 159 ERA+. 23 year old lefty prospect Darwinzon Hernandez made his debut last year, striking out 57 batters in 30.1 innings. Colten Brewer had a respectable 4.12 ERA with 52 strikeouts in 54.2 innings. Hector Velazquez has starting experience, so he can be an appealing option. He was good in his first two seasons, but was terrible in 2019, with a 5.43 ERA in 56.1 innings.

              Catchers
A big surprise for the Red Sox last year was light hitting catcher Christian Vazquez's breakout season. He hit 23 home runs, raising his career high by 18. He also hit ..276 with a .798 OPS. It was his first season with an OPS+ over 100, at 103. Two thirds of the Red Sox old three catcher tandem are gone, with Blake Swihart and Sandy Leon leaving in the last year. Kevin Plawecki is the only other catcher on the 40-man roster. The former Met and Indian has hit 17 homers with 92 RBIs and a .636 OPS in his 296 game career. Former all-star Jonathan Lucroy is in camp as a non-roster invitee. He has played for six teams since the start of 2016. He hit eight home runs with a .660 OPS for the Angels and Cubs last year.

              Infielders
Mitch Moreland is back for his 4th season in Boston. His .835 OPS last year was a career high. He has hit 56 home runs with a .782 OPS in his three years for the Red Sox. He will likely platoon with Michael Chavis, a sophomore who was originally a third baseman but can play first and second as well. The "Ice Horse" hit 18 home runs last year, and got off to a hot start with 15 homers in 69 games, but struggled in the second half, playing in just 26 games, with a .649 OPS. He can take some playing time from speedy second baseman Jose Peraza, signed from the Reds. Peraza stole 67 bases from 2016-18, but stole just seven bases last year, with six home runs and a .631 OPS. He had a .288 batting average in 2018 and a .742 OPS. The left side of the infield is where things get good. Former top prospect Xander Bogaerts finally broke out in his age 26 season, and his 7th season overall. He hit 33 home runs with 117 RBIs, a .309 average and a .939 OPS, plus a 140 OPS+. He is a terrible defender at shortstop, but his offense cancels that out. Rafael Devers is improving on defense at third base. At age 22 Devers led the league with 54 doubles, while hitting 32 home runs with 115 RBIs, eight stolen bases, a .311 average and a .916 OPS. Both Devers and Bogaerts received MVP votes. Rule 5 pick Jonathan Arauz can play all over the infield. He hit 11 home runs with a .707 OPS in High-A and AA in the Astros system. He has always been very young for his league, explaining his low offensive production. He is more of a fielder anyways.

               Outfielders
Without Betts here, writing about the Red Sox outfield seems weird. Andrew Benintendi is now the face of it. He had a down 2019, with just 13 home runs and 10 stolen bases, plus a mediocre .266 average and .774 OPS. To show how average he was, his OPS+ is exactly 100. Jackie Bradley Jr. has a great glove in center field, but his hitting can get better. He did hit 21 home runs in 2019, but he hit just .225 with a .738 OPS and struck out a career high 155 times. He has not had an OPS+ of at least 100 since his all-star 2016 season. Alex Verdugo, the main return in the Betts trade, was a top prospect coming off an encouraging rookie season. He hit 12 home runs with four stolen bases, a .294 batting average and an .817 OPS. Nothing super special, but all above average. The Red Sox signed Kevin Pillar to be one of the, if not best 4th outfielders in the game. Maybe a better defender than Bradley, Pillar hit 21 home runs with 14 stolen bases with a .259 batting average and a .719 OPS. The numbers are good, plus he had great defensive numbers, but somehow that led to him finishing 22nd in MVP voting in the National League. A longtime Blue Jay, he has seen the Red Sox and the rest of the AL East a lot of times. He also is very durable, playing in an average of 152 games over the last five years. JD Martinez's decision to not opt out of his contract might have cost Boston Betts. He is an outfielder, but is much better off at DH. He hit 36 home runs with 105 RBIs with a .304 average and a .939 OPS last year, and that was all worse than his first Red Sox season, 2018.

                Projected Opening Day Lineup
LF Andrew Benintendi (L)
3B Rafael Devers (L)
SS Xander Bogaerts (R)
DH JD Martinez (R)
1B Mitch Moreland (L)
C Christian Vazquez (R)
RF Alex Verdugo (L)
CF Jackie Bradley Jr. (L)
2B Jose Peraza (R)

                 Projected Rotation
Chris Sale (L)
Eduardo Rodriguez (L)
Nathan Eovaldi (R)
Martin Perez (L)
Ryan Weber (R)

                 Projected Bullpen
Brandon Workman, closer (R)
Ryan Brasier (R)
Matt Barnes (R)
Marcus Walden (R)
Heath Hembree (R)
Josh Taylor (L)
Darwinzon Hernandez (L)
Colten Brewer (R)

                 Projected Bench
C Kevin Plawecki (R)
IF Michael Chavis (R)
OF Kevin Pillar (R)
IF Jonathan Arauz (S)

                 Prediction
The Red Sox have a talented roster. But, they are trying to shed salary, and they already traded away their superstar outfielder and second starter. It is really hard to come back from that, especially when the trade was so close to Spring Training. The Red Sox will be on their own island in the AL East, way behind the second place Rays, but way ahead of the 4th place Blue Jays.

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