I would take the over. The last two years have been remarkable in the lack of health and with guys playing far below any reasonable expectation. This has to straighten out sometime.
I'm not sure if the lack of health and variable performance are as anomalous as we would like them to be. I think we have to start with a baseline expectation of several injuries and underperformance from some presumably "reliable" players. Thankfully, there are also the occasional Jacoby Ellsbury 2011 upswings as well, but I strongly disagree with your last sentence.
Thanks for the new sig.
I vote over. I think Adrian Gonzalez has a beastly year and Crawford improves quite a bit. If the big 3 in the rotation stay healthy I think this is team that can go deep.
I think the odds of the "big 3" in the rotiation staying healthy are extremely long. I understand that Buchholz's back injury is not explicitly known as something that will permanently harm his ability to pitch, but when a 23-26 year old starter only throws 76, 92, 173.2, and 82.2 IP at the MLB level, I think the burden of proof is on the posters who expect him to be healthy, not those of us who expect him to be injured and therefore unavailable and/or ineffective.
Lack of conditioning isn't strange. The same guys who were sucking wind in September will be taking the field in April. I'm eagerly awaiting the "Josh Beckett is in the best shape of his life" stories in spring training.
Then we have the other potentially weak link in the "big 3". I have every expectation that Josh Beckett will be more motivated and less effective in 2012, because by ERA+ and WHIP, he had his best season yet in 2011 and still was a major negative contributor at the end of the season. Expecting him to have the equivalent of his best season in his career two years in a row is a tall order at age 32. He is an extremely talented, extremely unreliable performer.
The biggest risk to the 2012 bullpen isn't the departure of Papelbon (who wouldn't replicate his 2011 season anyway, IMO) and Bard, it's the rotation. Again. A rotation of Lester-Beckett-Buchholz-Bard-Aceves with various dreck backing them up, even with Matsuzaka's expected midseason return, is a huge injury AND performance risk. Those risks translate into fewer IP, which translate into more IP and eventually a worse performance by the bullpen. That can manifest itself either in more wear and tear on whoever the good relievers end up being over the course of the year, or in more innings being forced to the crappy middle relievers due to too many IP per night being forced upon the group as a whole. I think the bullpen is as likely to be fine as it has been in any other recent year, because beyond how many IP the rotation can take from them, it's essentially pointless to try to set specific expectations for reliever performance anyway.
The other major risk is the lack of reliable performers in the starting lineup. The players who can be reasonably assumed to match their recent performance and forward-looking projections are Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez. As far as I can tell, that's it. We know that Salty seems to be streaky at C, and while he should have a steadier start to the season, he's not a sure thing from a production standpoint. Kevin Youkilis is reliable from a production standpoint, but is a significant injury risk. David Ortiz brings the native injury risks from his age, plus the near-certainty of a performance falloff relative to his excellent 2011. Ellsbury looks to be fairly reliable from a injury standpoint, but there's no realistic way that he can match his 2011. Marco Scutaro is a significant injury risk and should not be expected to match his 2011 production, although I think only a mild falloff should be expected. Carl Crawford, based on last year, is obviously hugely unreliable from a production standpoint and is a mild injury risk (speedy players with hamstring issues, Jose Reyes haunts my dreams here), although I think he's certain to have a better season. Right field shows no obvious improvement from the 2011 baseline, with the current setup looking to be better than Drew, but worse than Reddick.
So, if we're talking about this team's "true talent level", which I consider to be what the team should/would achieve given normal production and health levels from each particular player, I think we're looking at a squad that can be reasonably expected to win 95 or more games. I would ballpark the group as a 92-97 win team by that measure. Once you start to factor in the reliability of any given position player's production level, then factor in injury and performance risks on the pitching staff, I'm seeing a team that is equal to last year's squad, but one that should not be quite as streaky. With the roster AS-IS (Kuroda and a RF would make me feel significantly better), I think this team is heading for 90 wins on the mark, and a decent shot at one of the two Wild Card spots. I'd take the under.
Edited by JMDurron, 11 January 2012 - 05:12 PM.