By Ryan Hannable
2013 was a spectacular year for the Red Sox offense as they led the league in runs scored, were fourth in stolen bases and were second in batting average, all leading to a World Championship.
As is the case with all teams in this day and age they simply cannot all stay together because of free agency, trades, etc. In the case of the Red Sox they lost three key offensive contributors in Jarrod Saltalamcchia, Stephen Drew (if the club doesn’t re-sign him) and Jacoby Ellsbury. The three players have been replaced with A.J. Pierzynksi, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley, but in most cases these aren’t the same caliber players, particularly in the experience department.
Below is a statistical breakdown of what the Red Sox lost along with their replacements (stats are from 2013):
A few things stand out in the chart above. First, the lack of experience for Bradley and Bogaerts replacing Ellsbury and Drew. Bogaerts shined in the postseason and by all accounts will be a star one day, but he is just 21-years-old and only has 18 games of major league experience with only eight of them coming at shortstop. This isn’t to say Bogaerts won’t have a productive 2014 season, it’s just the fact he is only 21-years-old and the club doesn’t have a real insurance policy in case something were to go bad.
Meanwhile, no one expects Bradley to be Ellsbury, but the drop off is some cause for concern, particularly with Bradley’s struggles in 2013. In 18 games he hit just .189 and was over-matched by big league pitching. There is still plenty of upside in Bradley’s case this will be his first full big league season and he has the experience of last year to build on. Also, Bradley will not take over for Ellsbury in the lead off spot as that will likely be platooned between Daniel Nava and Shane Victorino — again, a downgrade from 2013.
Another stat which jumps out is stolen bases as the Red Sox will have to find a way to make up 58 stolen bases, led by Ellsbury’s 52. While it cannot be expected to make up 58 stolen bases, it is somewhat a cause for concern as a main key for the team last year was their aggressiveness on the base paths, something manger John Farrell preached from Day 1. Nava didn’t steal a base in 2013, while Victorino had 21 so the days of the Sox’ lead off hitter getting on base and then subsequently stealing second are pretty much over. This is not to say the team will not be as aggressive on the bases as last year, as anyone can go from first to third on a single to right, or tag on a deep fly ball, but the stolen bases were a major reason for the Red Sox’ offensive success last season.
Overall, replacing Pierzynski for Saltalamacchia is pretty much a wash as the two are relatively the same offensive player, with possibly Pierzynski having a slight edge because of the number of times Saltalamacchia strikes out, but there is a significant difference in WAR, with Saltalmacchia being 1.3 better. Bogaerts replacing Drew can potentially be an upgrade as FanGraphs 2014 projections have him hitting around .265 with 15 homers and 70 RBI. These numbers could even be better if the young phenom breaks out sooner than expected, but it needs to be kept in mind that he is only 21-years-old with not a whole lot of major league experience. No matter who the Red Sox replaced Ellsbury with it would not even come close to equaling his output, but that is where the organization could have upgraded even more at other positions, which is something they did not do.
It should also be noted a number of Red Sox players had better years than expected in 2013 and it just cannot be expected for those numbers to be duplicated in 2014, especially with those players getting older and not younger. Victorino is now 33-years-old and played through a number of ailments in 2013, but still had his best offensive season in three years. Nava bursted onto the scene having a tremendous season, posting a .385 OBP, fifth in baseball, right up there with the likes of Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera. Mike Napoli also had a better than expected season hitting .259 with 23 home runs and 92 RBI, along with leading the league in pitches seen per plate appearance.
On the other side of the spectrum, despite having a productive year by many standards, Dustin Pedroia played the entire season with a thumb injury suffered on Opening Day. His power numbers were down, hitting just nine home runs, his fewest since his rookie season, but he still managed to hit .301. The wild card is third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who was demoted to Pawtucket in the middle of 2013 and lost his job at third base in the latter stages of the postseason as he hit .227 with 17 homers and 49 RBIs to go along with a .271 OBP. With the raw talent the 25-year-old has and not playing a full season in his two years, a major spike in numbers is expected, pending he stays on the field as his 162-game averages have him hitting .254/.294/.462 with 31 home runs and 99 RBI. While these players will likely post better numbers than in 2013, it likely will not be enough to make up for what the organization lost along with the potential down years for other members of the team.
As it stands right now, the 2014 Red Sox offense will not be the same as it was in 2013. This isn’t to say the club can’t be as successful as it was last season, but with losing the caliber of players that they did and replacing it with the players that they did, a significant offensive drop off should be expected.
What are your thoughts on the Red Sox offense? Do you think they can win with their lineup as it is now? Voice your opinion in the comment section or on Twitter @Hannable84.