Some thoughts on the Red Sox roster: Bullpen and shortstop

Somewhere around the time when pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in a couple weeks, I’ll be starting my annual team previews.  I will admit that this year, I come armed with more knowledge of advanced statistics than ever before.

I’ve literally been studying the stuff for the past year.  It’s not that I wasn’t aware of them before, but now I understand them as well.  As far as I’m concerned if you’re in the camp that refuses to look at modern statistics, then you’re going to be left behind, quickly.

This may sound incredibly geeky, but in order to properly perform these previews/predictions, I have to compile some data into chart form, like I did here for the Boston Red Sox earlier today.  In compiling this chart a few things struck me that I’ll elaborate on here since there is literally nothing else to talk about; unless Justin Duchscherer signing in Baltimore is considered overly noteworthy.

First off, after literally becoming one of the best closers in baseball over night a few years ago, Jonathan Papelbon has been seemingly left for dead by many analysts close to the Red Sox.

Rumours continue to surface that the Red Sox are may be shopping him and many speculate that he’ll be traded at some point this year; especially if Daniel Bard and Bobby Jenks prove capable of handling the closer’s job.

I would like to make three observations about the Red Sox bullpen: 1) Remove ERA and Bard was not much better than Papelbon last season which suggests that Papelbon wasn’t as bad as people said he was and that Bard wasn’t as good.  2) Bobby Jenks may have had the best season of any current Red Sox reliever in 2010; bear with me, I’m not crazy. 3) Outside of those three guys and maybe Dan Wheeler (who I think is a tad overrated) there is a shocking lack of depth in the Red Sox ‘pen and their left-handed situation is downright scary

Another observation I have about the Red Sox involves their shortstop situation.  Conventional wisdom would tell you that Marco Scutaro will be the close-to-everyday shortstop, given that he’s being paid the money to play there, but taking a quick look at the numbers it’s quite obvious that Jed Lowrie should be given every opportunity to start there in 2011.

Okay, so I’ve uttered four things here that I should now go about backing up.

1)      Bard and Papelbon were more comparable in 2010 than people think

Looking strictly at ERA, one could easily draw the conclusion that Bard was far superior to Papelbon in 2010, which likely feeds the notion that Papelbon should be traded in favour of Bard becoming the new closer.  Papelbon posted his worst ERA since taking over the role at 3.90, while Bard posted a surreal 1.93.

I have no doubt that Bard would be a fine closer and in fact, he is a great pitcher, but before every Red Sox fan jumps unknowingly off the Jonny Paps bandwagon, take a look at the peripherals for each pitcher last season.  Let’s play a little Pitcher A vs. Pitcher B.

Pitcher A: 67.0 IP, 10.21 K/9, 3.76 BB/9, 2.72 K/BB, 0.94 HR/9, 3.51 FIP
Pitcher B:  74.2 IP, 9.16 K/9, 3.62 BB/9, 2.53 K/BB, 0.72 HR/9, 3.37 FIP

Pitcher A is Papelbon and Pitcher B is Bard.  Bard’s numbers are very marginally better, but certainly not by much, if at all.  It’s clear that Papelbon’s 3.90 ERA and Bard’s 1.93 ERA were on either end of the misleading scale.

Papelbon’s numbers did decline slightly in 2010, but after the ridiculous stretch he had between 2006 and 2009, you had to expect that eventually he’d come back down to earth a little.  All signs point to Papelbon’s ERA rebounding in 2011.

2)      Bobby Jenks may have had the best 2010 of any current Boston reliever

Now, stick with me here.  I know how bad Jenks’ 4.44 ERA in 2010 looks, but seriously, look outside of that.

Jenks had a higher K/9 rate than both Bard and Papelbon at 10.42, a better BB/9 rate at 3.08, a better HR/9 rate at 0.51 and a much better FIP at 2.59.  He also posted a GB% at 58.3 which when combined with his stupidly good K/9 rate illustrates that he rarely, if ever, gives up a fly ball; that will play well in Fenway

I criticized the Red Sox signing of Jenks to a two-year deal earlier this winter, but looking at those numbers it becomes harder to do so.

3)      The Red Sox bullpen is scarily thin

Yes, you’d be hard pressed to find a better back end than the one in Boston, but outside of those three pitchers, there isn’t much.  Scott Atchison, Tim Wakefield, Dan Wheeler, Hideki Okajima, Matt Albers and Michael Bowden all had FIPs above 4.10 and none were particularly good.

Wheeler’s tendency to give up the long ball will be further exposed with the move to Fenway and any bullpen that plans on using Atchison as much as they will scares me.  This is not to mention that Tim Wakefield looks to be on his way out of baseball after a fine career.

Then there’s the lefty situation.  As of now, the only lefty that seems to have a real shot at cracking the roster is Okajima.  At 35 and coming off a 4.64 FIP year that saw his numbers fall dramatically across the board, that shouldn’t scare any lefty-heavy lineup *cough* Yankees! *cough.*

Essentially having three closers does help that situation as all three are solid against left-handed hitters, but having one shut-down lefty is essential and right now they don’t have it.

The best options outside of Okajima are prospect Felix Doubront, who will likely return to AAA and continue to start, and non-roster invites Andrew Miller, Rich Hill and Randy Williams.  Scary.

4)      Jed Lowrie should start at shortstop over Marco Scutaro

This one’s probably the most obvious of my claims; Scutaro came back down to earth in 2010 after his career 2009 season.  No one should be surprised by this as Scutaro’s lofty numbers in 2009 were much higher than he’d ever approached before.

His slash line fell from .282/.379/.409 in 2009 with a .354 wOBA to a .275/.333/.388 line in 2010 with a .319 wOBA; more in line with his career averages.

With Jed Lowrie continually showing that he is becoming a solid offensive player, it’s time to give him a shot at playing every day.  Last season, Lowrie had a slash line of .287/.336/.429 with a ridiculous wOBA of .393.

He may not be great defensively, but neither is Scutaro who posted a -4.8 fielding rating at short last season.

It’s time to put Scutaro back into a role he can excel at: utility infielder.  Putting him there increases his value a lot, especially if another injury-plagued season rears its ugly head in Boston.

Another concerning element to the 2011 season in Boston has to be their catching situation.  Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek might be the worst catching duo in the league.

I still think the Red Sox are the favourite in the AL East, but it’s not as convincing as I thought it was.

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3 responses to “Some thoughts on the Red Sox roster: Bullpen and shortstop

  1. A couple of things Travis – Wakefield was a reliever in the past for the Red Sox and he was very successful in that role. He freely admits that he mentally wasn’t prepared for that role last season but he is now; I suspect he will preform much better in that role this season. And imagine the impact that will have on hitters – they see a fastball pitcher for six innings and then bring on the knuckle ball!

    Bard and Papelbon might have had similar #s from last year – but when you consider that Pap put up the worse #s of his career it is troubling. He had 8 blown saves! And one must note that the two men are at very different places in their careers. Bard, with more time under his belt, should do well this season. Papelbon, however, will not see his numbers improve unless he can bring another pitch or two to the table. The AL East is hitting him; they have him figured out. And I too think that if Bard & Jenks have stellar years that Pap might be gone by July.

  2. Certainly Wakefield has the savvy to figure it out, I just don’t have a lot of faith in 44-year-olds, even if they are knuckleballers.

    I will acknowledge that Papelbon and Bard are at different stages in their career, but Papelbon still had a good year last year. I’ve never been a big believer in the “save” or “blown save” as they’re far too volatile to predict. It’s clear from their peripherals that both Papelbon and Jenks were horribly unlucky in 2010.

    I don’t totally disagree that Papelbon regressed last year, but he’s only 30. I imagine he’ll be much better this year.

    Either way Jenks, Bard and Papelbon will form a ridiculously good back end. Another good lefty would quell my worries a lot.

    Thanks for reading Julia!!

  3. Pingback: 2011 Boston Red Sox: Red Sox reload and look to get back to the post-season | Baseball Canadiana

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