Thursday, February 22, 2007

2007 Red Sox Infield

I'll start with these guys since I'm predicting the least amount of flux in the infield throughout spring training, and I don't want to have to keep going back and forth with updates based on who's looking like the closer, or the 4th outfielder, or the Fat Elvis Presley, etc.

Arguably the most important defensive position on the field when one takes game-calling into the picture.

Varitek: 2007 ZiPS Projections BA .266 | OBP .357 | SLG .456

The Captain's offensive productivity dropped off last year, possibly as a result of injury, but he has come back this year stating he feels better than he has in years. Still, he's 35 years old playing a position that often correlates with steep performance declines for players older than 30. Varitek is not a normal athlete though, in terms of training and preparation. Until proven otherwise there is no reason to believe he cannot have a bounce-back year offensively.

Defensively, he remains the benchmark for game preparation and pitch-calling in the major leagues. With Matsuzaka coming on board for his first year in MLB, there can be no other catcher you would rather have behind the plate.

Good Herald article/puff piece on Varitek here. As one would expect he doesn't use the injuries last year as an excuse for the offensive struggles, and as usual he sounds like the kind of guy you just have absolute faith in. And, as usual, he doesn't seem like the guy you'd want with you in Vegas at 2am, unless of course you had attracted the unwanted attention of the security crew.

My personal prediction is that 'Tek ends up around where ZiPS has him. The swing is a little long, and the high inside heat will burn him a little more, but he will get on base, and when it's all said and done he is the Captain, and as long as he plays this team has a chance.

Doug Mirabelli: 2007 ZiPS Projections BA .214 | OBP .304 | SLG .377

Doug Mirabelli is the long-snapper of MLB. He does exactly one thing, catch the knuckleball, and apparently he does it well enough that he makes 3/4 of a million dollars to do only that while causing people to suffer cerebral edema just watching him hit. I personally find it hard to believe that catching the knuckler is so difficult that no other catcher can learn to do it (since Varitek did it just fine before Dougie came along), but evidently there is some "comfort" level that helps Timmeh here, so we get another year of Mr. Chubs. If we only get Dougie once every 5 or 6 days it's a manageable hit, but anything beyond that is just brutal.

George Kottaras: 2007 ZiPS Projections BA .241 | OBP .331 | SLG .374

Yes, the kid who's never been higher than AA is projected to hit better than Mirabelli. Shocking? No. My mom is projected to hit better than Dougie and she hasn't stepped into the batter's box since I bruised her ribs with an errant heater in 6th grade.

Kottaras is the heir-apparent to Varitek unless some odd things happen with Wagner, Weeden, Egan or Otness. That said, he does not project to approach Varitek's abilities defensively, at least at this point. The Sox obviously hope 'Tek can work with him to instill some of those traits, hence his invite to S.T. Kottaras is a cerebral hitter, though, and may be able to transform himself defensively through hard work and tutelage. It's something to watch this year. He'll play every day in Pawtucket. The interesting thing to note about Kottaras is that he does have some experience catching the knuckler (caught Steve Sparks for a bit in the minors) so if Dougie has an "incident" at the Pizzeria Regina, he might be able to caddy for Wake.

When all is said and done, we got Kottaras for a month of Fatty McFatfat. It's hard not to like that deal.

First Base
Typically an offensive position, the Sox do not have a typical solution in place.

Youks: 2007 ZiPS Projections BA .276 | OBP .383 | SLG .428

Yes, Youks is not your prototpyical masher at first. His IsoP of .149 ranks 21st out of all MLB first basemen. But his Runs Created, which to some extent might be considered the "bottom line", is 12th in all MLB. Given what we're paying him, that is not a bad return. Nevertheless, the Sox are unusual for a big market club in that the two corner IF positions do not contribute a ton of slugging to the lineup. Ideally, we'd have Youks at 3rd and a Teixeira (or Papi, if his knees weren't the Caine Mutiny) at first. As discussed, however, it may be easier to upgrade at third.

Looking deeper on the bright side, Youks is a very mediocre defender according to the available metrics. So there's that. I'm kidding, of course, but I think it's important to recognize that while Youks is a very likeable, hard-working guy who maximized his talent, he is not a long-term solution at first for this club, in all likelihood. Still, I expect he puts up slightly improved numbers from last years', and is a solid all-around contributor to the 2007 effort.

Eric Hinske: 2007 ZiPS Projections BA .256 | OBP .332 | SLG .406

Looking at the horrific mediocrity of these numbers, it is hard to understand why we would be paying Hinske $2.8M next year. The reason is that he hits right-handed pitching (OPS of .896 vs RHP last year), will take a lot of pitches, and can play 1B, 3B and OF (none particularly well, although the stats point to OF as his strongest). He is the uber-platoon player. Also, as previously mentioned in this space, he has a giant Rasputin head, and in tough times that can be used to instill fear into your opponent, or small children, as the situation dictates.

Second Base:
The red-headed stepchild of the infield. As Mark Loretta proved last year, you can get by with a gargoyle or lawn-gnome at second if they can turn the DP.

Dustin Pedroia 2007 ZiPS Projections BA .274 | OBP .347 | SLG .394

After being baptized by a 2005 that was characterized by injury and bad luck at the plate (his oft-harped upon - by me - .188 BABIP after his call-up), Pedroia dedicated himself to training in the offseason and revamped his body in preparation for his first year starting in the bigs. Frankly put, there are vastly differing opinions on what to expect out of Pedroia out there, but personally I think his glove is just fine for 2B, and I think he'll hit well. He's simply never not hit. Even when he struggled last year after the call-up he had the lowest K% on the entire team. The only real impact was that he became less selective and made poor contact on pitches he should have taken. I think he'll correct that this year, and hit a lot of line drives. This kid should be solid, and fun to root for.

Alex Cora 2007 ZiPS Projections BA .250 | OBP .333 | SLG .344

The most overpaid player on the team in terms of WARP-1 valuation is also the person most likely to become a solid coach in the organization (or worse, someone else's). This chat wrap excerpt from Gammons pretty much says it all:

Chris_2:This Alex Cora for Kaz Matsui rumor sounds bogus to me. Is there any truth and/or logic to this rumor?
PeterGammons:The Mets would love to do it but the Red Sox love Alex Cora, the manager agrees with Paul Lo Duca that he is the smartest player in the game. Matsui is a huge question mark. The Mets throw everything out there, so I'm sure they tried.

Cora is below average at two positions, but does the little things. He is a bench player and a good guy to have in the clubhouse. Not a problem.

The debate over defense vs. offense will rage on every time Lugo bobbles a ball, but no matter what side of the fence you're on SS is a lynchpin position.

Julio Lugo: 2007 ZiPS Projections BA .292 | OBP .355 | SLG .407

Lugo is gonna be the guy to watch this year. His ZiPS projections are nice, nothing to write home about, but Eric Van over at SOSH (thread here) has put a lot more time into Lugo's projections and came up with .319 / .382 / .482 as his adjusted projection. That would obviously be a pleasant surprise to most of us, but there can be no question that Lugo is a gifted athlete who will fare better in Fenway (he always has) than at the Trop. If he stays healthy his production could well be the difference-maker for the team this season.

Lugo adds another dimension to the offense. He is a true lead-off hitter, having put up much better numbers in that role (career he's .291 / .352 / .434 leading off an inning and .271 / .335 / .391 otherwise), and even if he doesn't steal has the speed to make an impact on the basepaths. He also allows Crisp to move lower in the order, which may benefit the newly-fro'd one by allowing him to see more fastballs, and perhaps run more.

Cora is supposedly the back-up at SS but I can hardly credit that plan for any real length of time. I think it more likely Pedroia moves over and we deal for a Graffanino-type journeyman or may-have-missed prospect. At last glance our own Jed Lowrie was nowhere near ready for prime-time.

Third Base
The hot corner is another offensively minded position where the Sox are a little lacking with Lowell. However, Lowell's glove cannot be criticized.

Mike Lowell: 2007 ZiPS Projections BA .277 | OBP .342 | SLG .465

Lowell is kind of a cottage speculation industry. Much about him is known: he's a great teammate, plays gold glove defense, is a hot 1st half-player, and sports an inexplicable John Waters moustache as part of his van dyke. However, ever since his mid-boggingly awful 2005, the vultures have been circling. He fell off a cliff in the second half of last year, as per usual, dropping 136 points in OPS after the All-Star break. Everyone is wondering - when will the slump become the norm (for reference see Millar, Kevin), or when will he figure out how to hit for a full season? Given his age, more of us are wondering the former.

Nevertheless, Lowell will be the third baseman until further notice, and frankly if he is not traded by the end of S.T. he probably won't be. You want him for the first part of the year, not the second. It's fun to conjecture that he might be better off with more days of rest earlier in the year, but what manager wants to sit a guy who's tearing it up? Ride the hot hand - that's the rule of thumb. Nevertheless, Hinske may see some action against LHPs to spell Youks and/or Lowell, and once again we will watch Mikey play with our fingers crossed, and play the conjecture game.

As an aside, there is no one in the minors who projects to be even close to matching Lowell's production. Top 3B prospect Chad Spann struck out in nearly 25% of his ABs in AA last year and was lackluster against AFL talent. Basically, root for Mikey.

Next....the outfield.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The 40-Man Roster

Spring training is upon us! We will wish Lenny Dinardo well out here in the Bay Area as he leaves to make room for JD Drew. We can now look at the finalized Red Sox 40-man roster for 2007. I've compiled a quick view of the 2007 roster in the spreadsheet below, listing each player with their 2007 salary and ZiPS projection. ZiPS is a publicly shared projection methodology created by Dan Szymborski of the Baseball Think Factory. You can get them for all teams here.

You can enlarge the image by clicking on it. Obviously, this is a projection system, and as such is based on historical statistics. Therefore some of the numbers will not reflect the new reality. For example, Pineiro doesn't have enough history as a reliever to generate projections for that role, so his projections are as a starter. Szymborski knew late last season that Papelbon would go into '07 as a starter, so his numbers are a hybrid. Et cetera, et cetera, blah, blah, blah, what I'm saying is take these numbers with a grain of salt.

I'll be covering the various groups of players (SP, RP, OF, INF, UTIL)in more detail in upcoming entries. I just wanted to baseline things here, and ease into the mayhem. This has been a hectic offseason, a lot of drama, but all in all you have to feel pretty good about this team as it's built right now (did I say this in 2006?... you bet your sweet ass). At the very least, with El Guapo just up the highway in Nashua, there will be ample opportunity for amusement.