Friday, March 29, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, Season Preview Series

This is an excerpt from 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 a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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Boston Red Sox (95-67). The Red Sox are returning just about everyone from the team that dogpiled on the Dodger Stadium mound just five months ago. They retained midseason trade pickups Steven Pearce and Nathan Eovaldi, while doing nothing to bolster a bullpen that is the team’s weak link -- especially in the absence of free agent Craig Kimbrel.

Dating to the 2003 Angels, I’ve cringed when championship teams largely choose to run it back with the players they won with, rather than make improvements. Boston's 25-man Opening Day roster included just one player, reliever Colton Brewer, who wasn’t in the organization last year. The Red Sox did spend so much last season that they triggered the most vicious investment penalties, serving as a serious disincentive to do so again, but they still chose to pay Eovaldi $17 million a year, so it’s hard to paint this as an organization being cheap. The Sox just have a large core of controlled players, and no clear places where they might have added to the team.

With that said, I still have them slipping by 13 games from their record last year. That reflects a conviction that their offense won’t be quite as good, as Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez come down to earth a bit. Rafael Devers, who I’m over the moon for this year, and Jackie Bradley Jr. should make up some of the shortfall.

The biggest concerns are, once again, the relief pitchers, and it’s worth remembering that they were also the biggest concern heading into last year’s postseason. The Red Sox should get a lot of innings from their starters, making them less reliant on a strong pen than many other teams. A bullpen is also that part of a contender most easily fixed in-season, as even bad teams, ones selling at the trade deadline, will have arms available. Mark Melancon, Sergio Romo, Mychal Givens, Ken Giles, Alex Colome, Kelvin Herrera and more are all possibilities to be in the Sox bullpen come August. Panic over the Sox pen is exacerbated by a direct comparison to the Yankees’ deep group, of course, but the Yankees can’t match what the Sox have in the first five innings every night.

As you’ll see below, I had the Sox falling short of the division crown until very recently. As it is, this should be a much more interesting race than it was a year ago.

One Stat: Chris Sale, now the possessor of generational wealth, has proven to be more durable than many observers, myself included, expected him to be when he was coming up with the White Sox. With that said, Sale has often struggled to finish seasons. His career September ERA of 3.78 is by far his highest; his August ERA of 3.16 is his second-highest. October? A 5.76 mark in 25 innings, with no quality starts in four tries, and a peak Game Score of 56. Sale has never gotten more than 16 outs in a playoff start. That’s more than one stat, but they all stem from the same idea: Sale has stayed healthy, mostly, but maybe you don’t want to bet on him for five more years.

One Guy: If you haven’t read my Valentines to Rafael Devers in the Rotowire magazine or the SI baseball preview issue, well shame on you. I love the guy and think he’s going to blow up after an adjustment year in 2018. He’s still just 22, and even last year there were signs of growth in his profile. What he needs, more than anything else, is to be left alone for six months.