Keep Drafting Those Red Sox

By Jonah Keri

The hand-wringing has rung out from every corner of Red Sox Nation : How on Earth can Boston compete this year with such a weak offense?

The same way the Red Sox always have: By grinding other teams down with an unfailingly patient approach.

The
Sox ranked second in MLB last season in on-base percentage at .352
(trailing only the Yankees) and third in walks at 659 (just four behind
the Yankees’ 663 free passes). This isn’t some recent trend either.
Here are Boston’s MLB rankings in OBP and walks over the past nine
years.

OBP BB
2009 2nd 3rd
2008 1st 1st
2007 2nd 1st
2006 2nd 1st
2005 1st 1st
2004 1st 3rd
2003 1st 3rd

Expect the Red Sox to rank near the top of the league in those categories again this year.

First, the Sox feature four hitters who place
(http://mlblogsbloombergsports.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/3-15-2010202-53-4820pm-thumb-550×275-18564813.pngarchives/2010/02/b-rank-thinks-highly-of-the-yankees-and-phillies.html)among
the top 100 in B-Rank (Bloomberg Sports’ proprietary ranking of all
players). They are: Jacoby Ellsbury (12), Kevin Youkilis (24), Dustin Pedroia (51), and David Ortiz (76).

Next, consider the off-season moves the team made.

Replacing the unholy alliance of Nick Green, Julio Lugo, Alex Gonzalez and Jed Lowrie at shortstop is Marco Scutaro.
For years a patient hitter, Scutaro enjoyed a career year in Toronto in
’09, drawing 90 walks and posting a .372 OBP out of the lead-off spot;
even assuming some regression, that’s a huge upgrade compared to last
year’s gruesome foursome.

The other two swaps do pose some risk: Jason Bay (.384 OBP) and Mike Lowell (.337 OBP) are out, Mike Cameron (.342 OBP) and Adrian Beltre
(.304 OBP) are in. Even those two moves will likely pan out better than
they look on paper. Beltre’s coming off an injury-plagued season, and
he’s moving from Safeco Field (one of the toughest parks for
right-handed hitters in the majors) to Fenway Park (one of the
friendliest for righties, especially righties with doubles power or
better). Beltre’s also five years younger than Lowell, giving the Red
Sox reason to hope for a rebound. The Sox will surely miss Bay’s
offense; but Cameron has posted strong walk totals every season,
including 75 last year. He won’t be the big power threat that Bay was,
but he’ll do his part to turn the lineup over.

Meanwhile, Boston’s offense could benefit from two other factors this
season: A bounceback season for Ortiz (a miserable first half held him
to a mediocre .238/.332/.462 mark in ’09) and a full year of Victor Martinez (.303/.381/.480 in ’09) at catcher, replacing the rapidly declining Jason Varitek.

Here’s what the Red Sox lineup should look like come Opening Day:

3-15-2010 2-53-48 pm.png

Note the composite projections for that lineup: .283/.364/.467 (AVG/OBP/SLG). Those numbers would rival any team in baseball if they come to fruition.

Skeptics remain concerned that the Sox might lack the kind of major
power threat that typified recent Boston teams: Bay last year, Ortiz
and Manny Ramirez in the past. But in a game with no clock,
where the proceedings only end after 27 (or more) outs, the single most
important skill a baseball team’s offense can possess in baseball is
the ability to avoid those outs.

That’s largely true in fantasy baseball too. There’s a good chance your
league doesn’t count walks and on-base percentage. But as long as Red
Sox hitters keep vying for the league lead in both categories, they’ll
score a lot of runs. That means plenty of counting stats for most any
Boston hitter you draft.

For more information on all of the Red Sox, and hundreds of other
players, and for dozens of tools to help you dominate your fantasy
league, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

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