Sunday, December 24, 2006

Don't Fear the Reaper

I've heard a lot of speculation about the quality of the Red Sox team lately, both in the comments of this site and on other message boards. I've heard that the Red Sox are big favorites to win the AL East, that they will win 105 games, that they are favorites to win the World Series, that Matzusaka will win 21 games, that the Red Sox have a better hitting lineup than the Yankees, that the Yankees have no starting pitching, and that the Yankees have actually gotten worse this offseason. It's all crap.

The Red Sox won 87 games last season. They were worse than the White Sox, Tigers, Twins, Athletics, Blue Jays, Yankees, and Athletics. To make matters worse, they allowed 825 runs and scored 820 runs, which would normally ticket a team for 80 wins or so. The Red Sox were not a good team in 2006 by any standard.

Seeing this as an obvious problem, the Red Sox were buyers heading in to this offseason. They upgraded four positions - replacing Mark Loretta at 2nd with Dustin Pedroia, Alex Gonzalez at short with Julio Lugo, replacing Trot Nixon in right with J.D. Drew, and of course replacing a bunch of scrubs in the rotation with Matzusaka.

The Yankees have made some improvements themselves. Hideki Matsui and Bobby Abreu will play full seasons in pinstripes - a big upgrade over Bernie Williams, Bubba Crosby, Terence Long, and Melky Cabrera sharing that playing time. Jason Giambi will be moved to DH - where his bat could suffer but we'll save 15-20 runs on defense. Alex Rodriguez will most likely improve, while Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Robinson Cano will likely (although not certainly) get a little worse. I think that barring major injuries, our offense is at least as good as last year's, if not better. We scored 930 runs last year, and the Red Sox scored 820.

Andy Pettitte and Kei Igawa should be effective additions to the starting rotation over Jaret Wright and the tandem of Aaron Small, Cory Lidle, Sidney Ponson, Jeff Karstens (who was actually pretty good), Darrell Rasner and Shawn Chacon, who combined for an ERA well over 5.50. They will be big improvements, which will help counteract the inevitable regressions by Mike Mussina (who still should be pretty good) and Chien Ming Wang. However, Randy Johnson (if he's healthy enough to pitch) will pitch better than he did last season (4.20-4.40 range). Overall, our starting staff is pretty good.

Our bullpen is as least as good as last year, and has the potential to be downright lethal. We have Mariano Rivera, enough said. I think that Kyle Farnsworth is better than his off year indicated. I predict that Farnsworth will give us 70 innings of low 3s, high 2s ERA work. Proctor probably will be a little worse (if he's able to shrug off the 100 inning workload at all - thank you Joe Torre), and Bruney certainly won't be as good. However, we should get some good work out of Britton, and we're losing Villone's 5.04 ERA. Our long relief should improve with Karstens or Rasner, and we always have Beam, Cox, and Kennard at AAA. And of course, none of this takes in to account what Phil Hughes could potentially do.

In sum, I think that our pitching has improved over last season. We allowed 767 runs last season, and Boston allowed 825. I think that we could easily cut 30-40 runs off that number, if not more.

If the Yankees are a 930-950 run scored and 720-740 run allowed team, we'll win 100 games at least. The question is: how much have the Red Sox improved?

Let's assume for a minute that Matzusaka exceeds expectations. Let's assume that he has a year roughly equal to C.C. Sabathia's 2006. He'll be worth about 60-70 runs. I don't think that Matzusaka is any better than what Mussina or Wang did in 2006, but I'll concede this one for the sake of an argument. Let's assume that Beckett improves to at least the league average, cutting another 10-20 runs off the Red Sox scoreboard. Then of course we have to take in to account Papelbon's move, because Papelbon was incredible last season. Even with him pitching more innings, I can't see Papelbon improving on his 92 runs created last season. He'll cancel out Beckett's improvements. Schilling is getting old and should also get a at least 10 runs or so worse. We'll even give Boston a general pitching improvement rating of +30 for all the little additions that I haven't thought of. Boston's defense is going to suffer a the loses of Nixon and Gonzalez, costing them a bare minimum of 15 runs. I think that I am being very generous, and Boston looks to improve by 55-85 runs allowed this season, which still isn't as good as the Yankees.

On offense, Boston would need to make up a lot of ground in order to beat the Yankees. Dustin Pedroia projects to be marginally better than Mark Loretta, maybe 5-10 runs. Drew will be a big improvement over Nixon/Pena/Hinske, about 30 runs. Julio Lugo wasn't very good last season, but he's still a 30 run improvement over Gonzalez. That comes out to 65-70 runs in improvement, which would make the Red Sox a 885-890 run team.

The result? The Yankees look like a 100 run team and the Red Sox like a 92-95 win team. If things break the Red Sox's way and the Yankees get unlucky, both teams could be looking at the 96-97 win range. If the luck evens out, it's no contest. And honestly, I haven't accounted for a lot of things that are in favor of the Yankees, including the potential play of Phil Hughes, gains off the Yankee bench, the regression of Wily Mo Pena, the injury history of J.D. Drew, the potential regression of Kevin Youkilis and Mike Lowell, and of course the significantly worse Boston bullpen. If I had to make a prediction today, I'd say that Boston wins 93 games and the Yankees win 100.

Next up: Work in Progress Daniel McCutchen.