By Tommy Rancel //
The Boston Red Sox’ attempt at improved run prevention has been put on hold temporarily – at least in the outfield. On Tuesday, the team placed outfielders Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury on the disabled list. Cameron suffered an abdominal tear, while Ellsbury has been slow to recover from bruised ribs. The Ellsbury move is retroactive to April 12, meaning he will be eligible to come back next Tuesday.
In the interim, Josh Reddick and Darnell McDonald were called up from Triple-A Pawtucket. McDonald is a 31-year-old journeyman who got off to a hot start in the minors, and has continued that in his first two games with Boston. However, he holds little fantasy value unless you’re in an extremely deep AL-only league.
Meanwhile, Reddick might be worth a look in slightly shallower leagues. He spent 27 games with the big club in 2009 after hitting .277/.352/.520 at Double-A.
The 23-year-old outfielder is rated above average defensively by Total Zone, a metric similar to Ultimate Zone Rating. He has shown good pop – posting an ISO (Isolated Power, which is slugging percentage minus batting average) of .242 at the Double-A level in 2009. With Bill Hall‘s recent struggles at the plate and in the field, Reddick is likely to see the bulk of playing time in center.
The other player to pick up in this outfield shuffle is Jeremy Hermida.
A quiet off-season acquisition of Theo Epstein, Hermida’s potential became too expensive for the thrifty Florida Marlins. This made him a prime target for Epstein, who paid pennies on the dollar for his talent. For now, Hermida will in the Sox lineup on most days until Cameron and Ellsbury are both healed.
Even after that, Hermida could steal some at-bats from the struggling David Ortiz. Hermida, 26, had his best season in 2007 while playing for the Marlins. In that ’07 season, he hit .296/.369/.502 with 18 home runs and 63 RBI in 123 games.
Since then Hermida has been on a downward spiral. His ISO has dropped in each of the past few seasons – down from .205 in 2007 to .133 in 2009. Small sample size rules apply, but Hermida’s left-handed swing has enjoyed life so far in the American League.
On the young season, he has six extra-base hits including three home runs. Defensively, Hermida has made Jason Bay look like Carl Crawford, but has had less than 80 innings to learn the nuances of playing the outfield in Fenway Park.
Hermida should be available in most leagues and is worth a look in deeper mixed, as well as AL-only, formats. Once more, he is the stronger play over Reddick (or McDonald), who could be back in Pawtucket in a week’s time. If Hermida swings a hot stick as a fill-in, the locals will be calling for him to get more at-bats over Big Papi in no time.
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By Tommy Rancel
The Boston Red Sox made a conscious effort this off-season to improve the team in terms of run prevention. The highlights of the Red Sox off-season include the signings of respected defenders Mike Cameron in center field and Adrian Beltre at third base.
While Epstein is on record as saying he doesn’t agree with some publicly found defensive metrics (presumably Ultimate Zone Rating aka UZR, which rated Jacoby Ellsbury as one of the league’s worst center fielders last year), his actions suggest otherwise. Even before Jason Bay signed with the Mets, leaving a void in the Boston outfield, Epstein saw the need to sign an able defender like Cameron as an upgrade.
Despite Epstein’s support for Ellsbury as a center fielder, and the fact that Cameron is 10 years older than Ellsbury, it is Cameron who is patrolling center field for Boston this season.
Looking at UZR, Cameron is a perennial favorite of the metric. Even at his advanced age of 37, he is rated well above average (10.0 UZR in 2009). Ellsbury on the other hand has bounced around the spectrum, rating well above average in 2008 (+16.5) to well below in 2009 (-18.6).
The Ellsbury/Cameron moves highlight the outfield changes, but Beltre at third base is another gift to Boston’s pitching staff. Regardless of your fielding metric of choice, Beltre is a consensus top defender at the hot corner. His 14.3 UZR ranked fourth-best among major league third basemen, and he was runner-up at the position to Ryan Zimmerman in the 2009 Fielding Bible Awards. His plus/minus, a defensive statistic created by John Dewan, is also second to Zimmerman at third base over the past three seasons.
Looking at the Red Sox third basemen in 2009, Beltre will be a welcome addition to the left side of the infield – Mike Lowell (-10.4 UZR in 895 innings) and Kevin Youkilis (-1.6 UZR in 494.1 innings) were both below-average defenders in 2009. The Red Sox will also welcome Marco Scutaro to the left side. In his first full season at the position in 2009, Scutaro rated just above average at shortstop.
It is easy to pick out a few positions and point out the flaws, but the Red Sox as a team posted a UZR of -16.3 last year. This led to a highest-in-MLB batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .320. For comparison’s sake, the Seattle Mariners led the league in team UZR with 85.5 runs above average. Not surprisingly, they also had the lowest team BABIP in the majors at .280. The design of Fenway Park leads to some quirky BABIP in itself, but the Red Sox maintained a .297 team BABIP in 2008, and .292 while winning the World Series in 2007.
The Red Sox staff as a unit should benefit greatly from the improved defense, but Jon Lester especially. Fans of other AL East teams might want to close their eyes, but with a .323 BABIP in 2009, Lester was still good enough to maintain a 3.41 ERA. As a pitcher who yields comparable numbers of groundballs and flyballs, Lester should benefit from all the additions, and could see his BABIP fall this season. This could mean an improvement in his numbers, across the board.
Beyond Lester, young righty Clay Buchholz and his career groundball percentage of nearly 49.9% should greatly benefit from the above-average infield defense of Beltre, Scutaro, Youkilis, and Dustin Pedroia.
Feel confident in Boston pitchers not only for their individual abilities, but also because of the imported vacuum cleaners brought in to upgrade the defense. That those pitchers figure to benefit from solid run support won’t hurt either.
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By Jonah Keri
The same way the Red Sox always have: By grinding other teams down with an unfailingly patient approach.
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
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
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:
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.
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