Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Season Preview 2022: #12, Boston Red Sox

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and has been a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for 25 years.

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12. Boston Red Sox (84-78, 832 RS, 780 RA, fourth in AL East)

It’s the Red Sox, not the Blue Jays or Dodgers, who I have leading MLB in runs scored. The addition of Trevor Story and the expected emergence of Bobby Dalbec lengthen a lineup that already had an excellent core of peak and pre-peak talent. The Sox are going to print runs, with Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts likely to be among the ten most valuable position players in the league. The Sox may even get an in-season boost from first-baseman Triston Casas, one of the game’s top prospects.

All this offense may be needed, because the Red Sox are going to allow close to five runs a game. The rotation is cobbled together and short an ace, with Chris Sale two years removed from Tommy John surgery and out for two months at the start of the season with a broken rib. The Sox will lean heavily on Nathan Eovaldi, the oft-injured righty who was quietly one of the best starters in the AL a year ago. Behind Eovaldi, though, are nothing but question marks. Can Tanner Houck hold up for a full season of starts? Was Michael Wacha’s late-season effectiveness a sign that he can return to being a full-time starter? How many innings will Rich Hill pitch, and will any of them be the sixth inning of a give game? Is James Paxton going to be late-season option?

Remember that these pitchers work in front of a shaky infield defense. No team in baseball allowed a higher batting average on ground balls last year, and it wasn’t all that close.

Red Sieve (AVG, hits on groundballs, 2021)

            AVG      H
Red Sox    .273    482
Orioles    .260    453
Royals     .255    448
Phillies   .254    459
A’s        .254    430 

The bullpen behind this group can be effective, led by 2021 rookie sensation Garrett Whitlock. The concern, and this was on display Opening Day, is that Alex Cora has to lean too much on his pen, especially Whitlock. Sox starters, as a group, won’t work deep into games, which increases the load on Whitlock, Jake Diekman, and Matt Barnes at the back end, but also on Matt Strahm (a longtime Newsletter favorite), Hirokazu Sawamura, and Ryan Brasier in the fifth and sixth. It’s a high-maintenance pitching staff, with a bullpen that will throw as many innings as that of any good team in baseball.

Fortunately, Alex Cora is good at what he does. Cora was one of the few managers whose presence caused me to adjust a record upward, if just by a game. That game might be critical for a Sox team trying to fend off improved squads in Minnesota, Seattle, and Anaheim, all vying for those new playoff berths. It says here they will, if just barely.

Random Player Comment: I haven’t counted, but I would be surprised if the player I have on the most fantasy teams this year isn’t Bobby Dalbec. Influenced in part by the research of John Laghezza, I pushed Dalbec up my ranks -- and the Sox projection accordingly. Dalbec seemed to find something in the second half, improving his walk rate and plate discipline, which allowed him to get to his great power in games. He hit .268/.344/.611 after the break. I like him for .250/.320/.520 and 35 homers this year.