Saturday, June 27, 2020

Boston Red Sox 2020 Season Preview 2.0



       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 manager Ron Roenicke in charge, it will be very different in Boston, with the expectations lower. Even so, the Red Sox have a very good chance at making the playoffs, although a tough schedule will hurt them.

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

       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
The Red Sox will be without their ace, Chris Sale, for the shortened season. Figuring that the season wouldn't be long, Sale and the Red Sox decided to go ahead and end Sale's 2020, as he had Tommy John surgery. 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. The team trading away David Price will hurt, as Eduardo Rodriguez will have to step in and be the ace. Rodriguez had a career best 3.81 ERA, 213 strikeouts and 203.1 innings. However, he also walked a league leading 75 batters. Rodriguez threw his change-up and cutter a combined 40% of the time, more often than he threw his fastball. This lead to a lot of soft contact, as Rodriguez was in the top six percent of pitchers in average exit velocity against (85.7 miles per hour) and hard hit percentage (28.5%). 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. Despite elbow problems, Eovaldi's average fastball velocity did not go down. Instead, it slightly went up to 97.5 mph. He allows a lot of hard contact, with balls leaving bats at an average of 90.6 miles per hour. A dramatic walk rate increase from 4.4% in 2018 to 11.6% last year did not help. 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. Perhaps Boston sees Rodriguez in him. Both are lefties, and statcast shows that Perez and Rodriguez are similar pitchers. Perez allows even softer contact than Rodriguez, with an average exit velocity of 85.4 miles per hour. 28 year old Ryan Weber will get a rotation spot after Sale's surgery. In 18 games (three starts), Weber had a 5.09 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 40.2 innings. His sinker is the pitch he throws the most, and while it got hammered last year (.313 batting average against), it's expected batting average against of .258 shows that Weber was unlucky. The 5th spot could go to Collin McHugh. Recovering from an elbow injury, McHugh might not make Opening Day. There is also a chance that someone else opens for McHugh. He had a bad 4.70 ERA last year. He is the rare pitcher that relies on an offspeed pitch or breaking ball more than his fastball, throwing his slider 43.4% of the time. He had a 9.9 K/9 last year, but he also wasn't starting most of the time. Matt Hall and Tanner Houck could pick up some of the workload. The latter is a 2017 1st round pick and Boston's 10th best prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.

       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. His .173 expected batting average and .233 expected slugging were both in the top 1% of pitchers. His walk rate of 15.7%, however, was in the bottom one percent of pitchers. 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. He throws his slider and fastball 98% of the time. The fastball averages 96.6 miles per hour, while opponents had a .183 batting average and .226 wOBA against the slider. 30-year-old Marcus Walden, in his first full season, had a 3.81 ERA with 76 strikeouts in 78 innings over 70 games. He can evade good contact, as his 2.8% barrel percentage was in the top two percent. 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. Throwing his fastball nearly 70% of the time, batters hit just .172 against the pitch. 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. Batters had an expected batting average of just .159 against him. Colten Brewer had a respectable 4.12 ERA with 52 strikeouts in 54.2 innings. Austin Brice had a respectable season for the Marlins last year, with a 3.43 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 44.2 innings. He has a great curveball, with an average spin rate of 2903 rpm. The pitch had a batting average against of .172. Josh Osich pitched in 57 games for the White Sox last year, and lowered his walk rate to 5.5%. Matt Hall, another lefty, could eat up innings. His curveball has an exceptional spin rate of 2927 rpm.

       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. He is an above average pitch framer. 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. His pop time to second base is in the 5th percentile among catchers, but his pitch framing is in the 98th percentile. 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 hits the ball hard, with a 90.8 mph average exit velocity. 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 strikes out too much, with a K rate of 33.2%. Chavis can take away 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+ and a .390 wOBA. He is a terrible defender at shortstop (-3 outs above average) but his offense cancels that out. Rafael Devers is improving on defense at third base. He went from -7 outs above average in 2018 to 7 in 2019. 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. He hits the ball hard and often, with a 92.1 miles per hour average exit velocity, and a 47.5% hard hit percentage. 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. The final roster spot is between Marco Hernandez and Tzu-Wei Lin. Lin is on the 40-man roster, giving him the edge. Both are weak hitters, but Hernandez's speed (29.4 ft/s) is valuable.

       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. After a spectacular 50.1% hard hit percentage in 2018, that scaled back to 43% in 2019. 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. He doesn't strike out too much, with a 13.7% K rate. 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, 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. Like Verdugo, he doesn't strike out often (13.8% K rate), but he does not hit the ball hard, with an average exit velocity of 86 miles per hour. 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. He has an average exit velocity of over 91 miles per hour in each of the last five years.

       Projected 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
Eduardo Rodriguez (L)
Nathan Eovaldi (R)
Martin Perez (L)
Collin McHugh (R)
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)
Josh Osich (L)
Austin Brice (R)
Matt Hall (L)

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

Baseball-Reference OOTP Simulator Stats (at the time of writing):
36-47 record, 3rd in AL East
Most home runs: Rafael Devers (19)
Highest batting average: Jose Peraza (.301)
Highest OPS: Xander Bogaerts (.879)
Best ERA, starters: Eduardo Rodriguez (3.75)
Best ERA, relievers: Matt Barnes (2.25)
Most innings pitched: Eduardo Rodriguez (112.2)
Most strikeouts: Eduardo Rodriguez (122)
Best K/9: Matt Barnes (15.2)

Record through 60 games, last five seasons:
2019: 31-29
2018: 41-19
2017: 33-27
2016: 35-25
2015: 27-33

       Prediction:
The Red Sox are a very average team. Their outfield used to be the best in baseball, but with a departed Betts, they will need Benintendi to have a monster season for them to be in the top-5. Devers and Bogaerts are very good, but the rest of the lineup is meh. The starting rotation is awful, and the bullpen heavily relies on Barnes and Workman. With the Sox playing against good teams like the Yankees, Rays, Mets, Braves, Phillies and Nationals all season, they will have a hard time keeping up in their division. The Red Sox will not be challenged by the Blue Jays, but still ultimately finish 3rd in the AL East, missing the playoffs.

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