Our team-by-team preview of the 2012 MLB season from a fantasy perspective continues today with the Boston Red Sox. If you've just jumped on with our series or need a reminder, we are spending a day with each major league team, looking at 9 different fantasy angles for each franchise while also paying homage to the things we watch for as real life fans. The hope is that through this exercise we might all come to a greater understanding of the various environments that contain the players we spend so much time obsessing over. Fantasy baseball would be a lot easier if these guys played in a vacuum, but since they don't, it's a good idea to learn as much as we can about the circumstances that affect their play.
Make sure you check out Kenneth Arthur's spotlight on various Red Sox players, scheduled to post later today. Our series will continue tomorrow with the New York Yankees.
2011 in Review & 2012 Outlook
Boston Red Sox fans had every right to be confident going into the 2011 season. They were a good team that added highly touted free agents Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, surely enough to vault them into the World Series, right? It turns out they fell just short of expectations. Injuries were a major culprit, especially when it came to the pitching staff. Two pitchers (Lackey and Matsuzaka) ended up having Tommy John surgery by the end of the year, another (Buchholz) suffered a stress fracture in his spine, and still another (Lester) missed time with a back strain. The much-publicized late season collapse is fresh in everybody's minds, so it's easy to forget that this was a very good team that had to deal with a lot of health problems and still almost made the playoffs anyway. Please, whatever you do, don't blame the fried chicken and the beer.
In the wake of such disappointment, some shakeup was inevitable, but the front office went through a major makeover. Theo Epstein departed for Chicago, so Ben Cherington, who once co-served as the interim GM in Epstein's absence, took the reins. After landing Bobby Valentine to replace Better-Than-Tim-McCarver-At-His-Own-Job Terry Francona, Cherington set about snapping minor pieces in place to surround a strong core. Jonathan Papelbon was allowed to leave, with much cheaper options Mark Melancon and Andrew Bailey replacing him. Other minor moves were made, including basically swapping Jed Lowrie for the more defensively minded Nick Punto, but the point is this: For the most part, this is the same team that led the league in almost every offensive category last year, and they'll have enough pitching to keep them in every series. I get the impression that the way this team fell apart down the stretch last year is coloring the public's perception to the point that, for the first time since they won the World Series in 2004, people are actually underestimating the Boston Red Sox.
Fenway Park does not favor hitters when it comes to home runs, but it sure does inflate extra base hits. That seems counter-intuitive at first, since a well-hit ball to left field can easily turn into a long single, but that funky corner in deep center field can cause plenty of havoc. Hey, if Bengie Molina can hit a triple there, anybody can (skip to 1:03 for the hilarity). Overall, it's a positive run environment for hitters; in fact, it ranked third in that category last season.
Manager & Coaching Staff
I'm not sure why Bobby Valentine is the guy you go and get when you're trying to sell the public an image of a no-nonsense clubhouse, but then again, Valentine is a good manager, period. By the way, he's already announced some half-baked policy specifically designed to get the media off the team's collective back, and he wasted no time needling the Yankees, which is sure to gain him points in Boston. As far as we're concerned, Valentine is a stats-friendly manager who treats outs like a commodity, so expect Red Sox players to be put in positions to succeed.
Expected Position Battles
There's a minor battle at shortstop, where Punto will challenge Mike Aviles for starts, but the big one is the last spot in the rotation. There are a ton of non-roster invitees in camp competing for this spot, and the consensus among close observers appears to be that Aaron Cook is the early favorite. Other candidates include Ross Ohlendorf, Vicente Padilla, Brandon Duckworth, Clayton Mortensen, Andrew Miller, and Carlos Silva. Cook, Padilla, and Mortensen strike me as the only guys who could provide limited fantasy value, but none of the three are even worth a late-round flier until that last spot is set in stone.
Projected Lineup & Rotation
Jacoby Ellsbury - CF
Dustin Pedroia - 2B
Adrian Gonzalez - 1B
David Ortiz - DH
Kevin Youkilis - 3B
Carl Crawford - LF
Jarrod Saltalamacchia - C
Cody Ross/Ryan Sweeney - RF
Mike Aviles - SS
Ross and Sweeney are likely to platoon in right field when Crawford is healthy, but the most recent information indicates that the starting left fielder will not be available for Opening Day. Until he returns, Sweeney will take over in left.
Jon Lester | Josh Beckett | Clay Buchholz | Daniel Bard | Cook/Padilla/Mortensen/etc.
Lester is the only lefty in the bunch, as even all of the 5th starter candidates pitch from the right side.
Andrew Bailey got a late start to his 2011 season, but still managed 24 saves for a bad team while striking out almost a batter an inning. Melancon has closing experience and could vulture saves if Bailey scuffles, but the rest of his stats aren't elite enough to justify holding onto him just in case. Alfredo Aceves is a nice middle reliever who can give you plenty of innings and some holds. His final statline wasn't bad, but it looks even better when you throw out his starts:
Potential Fantasy Sleeper
My definition of sleeper and yours may vary. I use the term to refer to a player who may be undervalued, no matter his current or expected draft position.
I neglected to mention Daniel Bard in my starting pitcher ranks, so I'll focus on him here. Bard last made a start in 2007, but this season he's being asked to make the transition from bullpen to rotation. Bard features a fastball-slider-changeup mix, and all three are considered plus pitches. He throws his 97 mph fastball almost 70% of the time, but it's when he mixes his other two pitches in that he induces whiffs. The SwStr% on his changeup is 14.1% (well above-average), and the number for his slider is an absurd 18.6%. His relief stats are very good, but how will they translate? Using Tom Tango's Rule of 17, we can throw together a quick and dirty (but certainly not definitive) projection:
BABIP: .230, K%: 25.7, HR%: 1.7, BB%: 8.3
BABIP: .269, K%: 21.3, HR%: 2.0, BB%: 8.3
That certainly has value - enough that I surely shouldn't have left him out of my top 125. In fact, he probably should have come in around the 60-70 range. Mock Draft Central doesn't characterize him as a starting pitcher, but if they did, he'd be the 93rd guy off the board. Don't make the mistake I did and overlook Bard, as he has the potential to give you a huge amount of value at 311 overall.
Spring Storylines to Watch
Ignore all those stories about video games in the clubhouse and beer on the plane, and focus instead on the health of guys like Youkilis and Crawford. How long will Crawford be on the shelf? He's currently being drafted too high for my taste, but he's going to start slipping down draft boards, to the point that he could turn into a post-hype sleeper of sorts. Similarly, Youkilis can outperform his draft position given perfect health, but how likely is that?
Follow the Team
MLB.com beat reporter: Ian Browne (Blog | Twitter)
Boston Globe beat reporter: Pete Abraham (Blog | Twitter)
Boston Herald beat reporter: Scott Lauber (Blog | Twitter)
NESN.com beat reporter: Didier Morais (Blog | Twitter)
SBN: Over the Monster (Blog | Twitter)
Know of any other sites or Twitter accounts that deserve a mention? Let me know in the comments.