Friday, December 17, 2010
With the signing of Bobby Jenks and Matt Albers over the last couple of days, the Red Sox bullpen now has at least enough bodies to start the season. Jenks is the much bigger name of the two, and he came with a much bigger price tag ($12 million over two years). Theo has to be happy that he avoided a third year, which has been given to many of the free agent relievers this offseason, such as Joaquin Benoit, Scott Downs, Matt Guerrier, and Jesse Crain. In a recent article, Dave Cameron pointed out that multi-year contracts for relievers just don't work, unless you happen to be signing Mariano Rivera.
At first glance, Jenks looks like a pitcher in decline. Between 2008 and 2010 his ERA has steadily risen from 2.63 to 3.71 to 4.44, and in the end of 2010 he lost the White Sox closer job due to injuries and inefficiency. However, if you look at his underlying numbers, 2010 was one of Jenks' best seasons of his career. Jenks has always had an electric fastball that flirted with triple digits in the early part of his career, but that did not always translate into strikeouts. His strikeouts per nine innings in 2008 was a career low 5.55; he was able to maintain h is good ERA thanks to a low walk rate (2.48/9 IP) and some good luck in the form of a high strand rate and a very low percentage of fly balls that left the yard. Since 2008 his strikeout rate has risen, despite increasing ERAs. In 2009 Jenks was victimized by a high proportion of fly balls that left the park (17%). On average, 10% of fly balls become home runs, and this is considered to be a skill that is outside a pitcher's ability to control (the number of fly balls allowed, on the other hand, is not). In 2010 Jenks posted one of the highest strikeout rates in the major leagues (10.42/9 IP), kept his walks in check (3.08/9 IP), and had a very high groundball percentage. Despite the spectacular strikeout and groundball rates, Jenks had his worst year since becoming the White Sox closer. Quite simply, it doesn't add up. Look for Jenks to have a great bounce back season, and give the Red Sox a trio of power arms that rivals the best top three on any other team. Because Jenks was non-tendered by the White Sox, he also won't cost the Red Sox any additional draft picks, which are needed to restock the farm system following the Adrian Gonzalez trade. As an added bonus, the Red Sox now can comfortably let Papelbon walk as a free agent following the 2011 season. Daniel Bard is still the closer in waiting, but if for some reason he doesn't prove ready the Red Sox have a proven closer as a fall back option.
Matt Albers is a lot less exciting. He's reliable, having pitched more than 67 innings in both 2009 and 2010, and can be stretched out into a long relief role, as shown by his 110 innings pitched for Houston in 2007 and the fact that he led the AL in relief appearances longer than one inning last year. He's also mediocre – he doesn't strike a lot of batters out (5-6 per 9 IP), he walks more than he should (4-5 BB/9), and should be good for an ERA around 4.50. He does keep the ball on the ground, keeping his home run rates low. While he won't be in the mix for the high leverage innings, he should be a good innings eater, which could be key given the injury potential in both the bullpen and the starting rotation. Replacement level pitchers are terrible; it varies from year to year, but often times they have an ERA of 5 or greater. Albers value isn't related to how well he'll pitch, but rather that you can count on him to be better than replacement level. Based on Fangraph's Wins Above Replacement statistic (WAR), the Red Sox had almost -2 wins from individuals with negative WAR. Even if Albers can pitch some of those innings at replacement level, he'll be an asset.
There is definitely room for another bullpen signing, particularly another lefty if the Red Sox was to keep Doubront in AAA as a starter. Right now Doubront is the only left handed pitcher I've projected to be in their bullpen, as both Albers and Jenks are right handed. Alternatively, if Rich Hill and Andrew Miller pitch well in spring training, either of them could snag a spot in the bullpen. As both are left handers, this would allow the Red Sox to send Doubront back to AAA for more seasoning as a starter. Both Hill and Miller are former starters who are trying to remake their career as relief pitchers, so they're hardly a sure thing. One final option might be to simply go with all the righties. As Tony Massarotti points out, both Jenks and Bard had excellent years against left handed batters in 2010, despite being right handed.
Friday, December 10, 2010
Left field was a disaster for the Red Sox last year. While Daniel Nava, Darnell McDonald, and Ryan Kalish all did a lot more than the team expected, the offensive bar is set very high for left field. The Red Sox left fielders ranked 28th in batting average, 28th in OBP, and 18th in slugging. Carl Crawford is an obvious improvement offensively, and according to all the advanced metrics his defense is off the charts. Also, catcher was a weak point for the team last year. Current reports indicate that Russell Martin is close to signing with the team. While he is not the All Star he was in 2008 (thanks Joe Torre! Who knew that 449 games in 3 years would harm a young catcher?), Martin still posts an excellent OBP for a catcher (.347 last season, .360 for his career). For a lineup as deep as the 2011 Red Sox, a catcher who can work the count would be a nice addition.
After a strong finish to the season, many folks are pushing for Jed Lowrie to be given the starting shortstop job, pushing Marco Scutaro to a super utility role. I agree with this, as Scutaro is a free agent after the 2011 season and in an admittedly small sample size, Lowrie was the best hitting shortstop in the AL. I've put Scutaro in my lineup for a couple of reasons, one of which is based on practicality. The front office has made it clear that they're going to start the season with Lowrie as the super utility player. Also, putting Lowrie in the lineup would make the runs per game calculation a bit tricky; due to his age and injuries Lowrie hasn't accumulated enough MLB at bats to make a good prediction using my admittedly basic model.
What about Ryan Kalish and Josh Reddick?
For 2011, both Kalish and Reddick appear to be blocked. As I wrote in my original post about the 2011 lineup, the Red Sox feel that Kalish could use more time in AAA, despite his strong showing last September. If a major injury occurs to an outfielder, it wouldn't surprise me to see the Red Sox turn to Kalish again. In 2011, the path to the big leagues is clear for at least one of them. JD Drew's contract expires after the 2011 season, and Kalish's great athleticism and arm strength seems like a great fit with the spacious right field in Fenway. The future isn't as clear for Reddick. He is organizational depth for the time being, but may end up as part of a trade package, as the younger Kalish has passed him in front office's mind. His line at AAA (.266/.301/.466) isn't particularly impressive, but the potential is definitely there, as shown by his post All Star Break numbers (.363/.385/.643). Reddick didn't impress in the Dominican Winter League either, although he showed a good approach at the plate (10 BB in 76 PA, much higher than his AAA walk rate). Next year is a make or break year for Reddick with the Red Sox; another mediocre showing in AAA could lead to him getting traded for some in season help.
Friday, December 3, 2010
I've always felt that resigning Beltre was more important than resigning Victor Martinez, mostly because of Beltre's exceptional defense and Martinez's poor defense and a looming positional change. The big question was whether or not Beltre would want to remain on the east coast, as he had played every prior season with either the Dodgers or the Mariners and his family remained in the Los Angeles area after he signed with the Red Sox. The Oakland offer (5 years, $64 million according to ESPN's Jayson Stark) remains on the table. Beltre has said the years are more important than the dollars, so if the Red Sox could sign Beltre for 5 years and $60 million, I'd be ecstatic. I ought to be, considering I felt that he would end up somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 years and $60 million coming into the off season. Right now the Red Sox are offering 4 years, $54 million - a slightly higher salary than Oakland, but a year less.
To top it all off, if the A's are the team to sign Beltre, they'd only have to give up their second round pick, as their first round pick is protected.