- Eric Wilbur
we can surmise four truths to be self-evident.
1. The Toronto Blue Jays have officially become better than the once and former World Series champs.
2. The once and former World Series champs are officially in a rebuilding mode.
- Glenn Ordway
The Red Sox are a third place team next year.
- Rudy Pemberton
Still a lot of work to be done, but I think an impartial observer has to like the Jays more than the Sox right now.
There are plenty of people in print/radio/web who feel this offseason's turnover is a sign that the Sox are screwed, are taking a huge step backward, and won't be able to compete with the Blue Jays much less the Yankees. I'm not interested in rehashing the merits of Toronto's free spending ways, or analyzing the likelihood that Johnny Damon makes the Yankees a division winning team. I just want to know what to expect out of the Sox. If people are saying the Sox have taken a step backwards, that implies management has taken what was a decent situation and made it worse. Is this really true?
To that end, the 2005 edition scored 910 runs. The position players posted a total of 379 VORP suggesting that a replacement level team in a neutral park scores 530 runs. Fair enough.
The VORP positional breakdown was as follows:
My assumptions for now are that: Manny, Ortiz, Varitek, and Nixon all stay. (Simplistically I am taking the front office at their word that if Manny is traded it is for equal value. Since I am looking at total value, an equal value trade will not change anything. Not too realistic but I don't care.)
The holdovers and their backups accounted for 225 runs of VORP. Perhaps they regress a bit in 2006, perhaps not. I'll peg them for 210 runs.
Now we need to fill in the remaining positions. Loretta plays 2B. For the sake of argument, let's pretend the season starts today and they have to put Youkilis at 1B, Lowell at 3B, and bottom-of-the-barrel chumps at SS and CF. We're talking Alex Cora and other sub-.300 OBP types.
The unit of measurement for the below chart is VORP rate, in other words the amount of VORP each player contributes per game.
3 2 1 2005 2004 2003 Best Worst Youkilis 0.157 0.218 0.143 NA 0.218 0.09 Loretta 0.290 0.154 0.467 0.343 0.467 0.154 Lowell 0.189 0.019 0.340 0.396 0.396 0.019 CF 0.09 0.09 0.09 0.09 0.09 0.09 SS 0.09 0.09 0.09 0.09 0.09 0.09 TOTAL VORP 120 84 165 135 184 66 TEAM VORP 330 294 375 345 394 276 TEAM RUNS 860 824 905 875 924 806(note: each player's VORP contribution was calculated as 145 games * VORPr plus 17*.09 to account for time off and backups.)
In the 3-2-1 projection where Youks plays better than Kevin Millar but worse than Carlos Pena, Lowell/Loretta rebound modestly, and the Sox are forced to start Alex Cora and George Lombard for a full season... the team still scores ~860 runs (before any corrections for Fenway Park are made). For reference only the Yankees (886) and Rangers (865) scored more in '05. This number would be #3 in the majors in 04 as well.
In the case where Lowell + Loretta exceed our wildest dreams and turn back the clock to their best season while Youks does well and we still field scrubs at SS and CF, expect ~925 runs. (The 04 Sox scored 949)
If Youks plays like a scrub, Lowell plays even worse, and Loretta repeats his 04 then the Sox score ~805 runs. This total last year would have them at #5 in MLB.
The nightmare scenario is if Manny/Ortiz/Tek are hurt and miss significant time, but this hurts the team big-time no matter who else is on it. In other words, any team with these 3 (plus the minimum surrounding cast the Sox currently sport) is pretty likely to be an offensive force no matter what happens.
I'm not going to go so stat heavy here, but the way I see it the Sox currently project to go to war with a group chosen from Schilling, Beckett, Wakefield, Clement, Arroyo, Wells, and Papelbon.
Josh Beckett's 117 ERA+ translates to a 3.75 ERA or so. One figures that Schilling won't post another 5.7 ERA, and either he or someone else on the staff should be able to give us a sub-4 ERA as well. Since Tim Wakefield was the only starter last year with an ERA below 4.5, this is a pretty sizable improvement. The difference in replacing 400 IP of 4.75 ERA with with 400 of 3.75 is ~45 runs of improvement, so let's call it 40.
The bullpen was incredibly bad last year. Combined they posted an ARP (adjusted runs prevented) of -16. For reference the terrible 03 bullpen was worth -12. Throw in a rebound year from Foulke, but some regression from Timlin, and new guys Mota + Seanez, with perhaps some Papelbon/Hansen/Delcarmen/Arroyo. Relief pitching is almost impossible to project but one would hope that they could at least get back to 0 ARP with this infusion of free agents and young talent. That's a very modest goal.
So let's guess (fairly conservatively, I should think) at an improvement of 55 runs over 2005's ugly pitching staff. This brings the Sox down to 750 runs ~allowed. This would put them in the middle of the AL pack.
Assuming the Sox were to take the field for the 2006 season tomorrow, a simplistic conservative projection tells us that barring disastrous injury they'll score and allow fewer runs than in 2005. Here is a chart with pythagorean win projections:
Feel free to use your own logic to change my numbers and move the Sox around in the chart.
Keep in mind that the Sox were a 89.7 pythagorean win team last year (that overperformed their projection). Right now the median semi-realistic projection of a team with no CF and SS works out to 91.1 wins, which is already an improvement over 2005. Should the pitching staff actually develop into an above average staff, it is not unthinkable to see a pythag. projection of 95+ wins. And who knows what could happen if the team decides to find someone with any talent to fill the current holes. But it doesn't look like the headless front office has taken a step backwards to me.