The roster is set, and there are even a few Red Sox players trickling into Fort Myers to get an early jump on the early jump to the 2016 season that is Spring Training. Things are about to start getting ready to pre-game for preparing to get going! This is so exciting!
And still, the 2016 Red Sox are far from a sure thing. Well, they’ll surely be called the 2016 Red Sox. They’ll have uniforms with hats and everything. I’ve been assured of that. But performance-wise, things are a bit more up in the air. In fact, for a team that some are projecting to be one of the best in baseball, there is much up in the air. There’s Hanley Ramirez learning a new position, there’s the continued reliance on youth in Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Blake Swihart, Eduardo Rodriguez and Jackie Bradley. There’s guys coming back from down years in Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, and there’s guys coming back from injuries like Clay Buchholz, Dustin Pedroia, and Ramirez. There are, it’s fair to say, questions.
To me, in a subjective way, perhaps the most up in the air of all are the members of Boston’s 2016 roster are the following three players.
When it comes to pivotal players, this is probably as pivotal as it gets. Over the past two seasons Hanley has posted WARP numbers of 4.5 and -1.1. That’s an All Star season and a Put This Guy In A Pot And Slowly Boil The Water, Maybe That Whole Frog Story Is True After All season.
This season should be different. Ramirez should be healthy, though he started out healthy last season as well. But he’ll be slimmed down (we’ve seen pictures!) and he’ll be learning (yet another) new position. How all that uncertainty goes is unknown, which is why it’s called uncertainty. But Ramirez could be the four-win, bat-first, middle-of-the-order player the Red Sox thought they were getting when they signed him, or he could put together another sub-replacement level season, fail at first base, and put himself in the running for worst free agent ever signed by the Red Sox. That’s called variance, friends!
Sandoval is a lesser Ramirez. Less was expected of him at the plate, and his defense, though lousy last season, will likely not render him unplayable at third base. The problem with Sandoval is not, contrary to popular reports, his weight, but his play. He had played at a heavy weight before and still been productive. Sandoval has reportedly slimmed down anyway and is in better shape for the 2016 season, so that’s a good start to a good start. The swing between Sandoval’s last two seasons isn’t on a Ramirezian level, but going from 3.1 WARP to -1.4 is still pretty impactful, in the sense that a well placed rubberband to the eye can be very impactful.
Between the two of them, Sandoval and Ramirez went from almost eight wins to negative two and a half. That’s a 10-win swing. This season the projections are going to look at last year as a the outlier because both players have a longer track record than that one season, and in both cases the track record is one of overall success. But if last season is the start of a permanent downward trend for either guy, let alone both, you can quickly see how much trouble the Red Sox will be in. To win in 2016, the Red Sox really need positive production, if not All Star-level production, from both Sandoval and Ramirez. If they don’t get it, well, there will be lots of articles written about weight and free agency.
We all know David Price and what he can do and what he’s done. Price was worth almost six wins alone by WARP in 2015 and it’s a fair bet he’ll replicate that in 2016, or come somewhat close. Looking at the rest of the Red Sox rotation however, there really isn’t anyone else who can match Price in terms generating of ace-like production. Porcello, if his sinker is working and he trusts it, could be a middle of the rotation starter. Rodriguez is young and inconsistent and expecting anything beyond middle-of-the-rotation is unfair and quite unlikely to boot. Joe Kelly, Roenis Elias, Henry Owens, and on down the line are all back end starters with not a lot of possible variance on the theme. The guy with the most upside but also with considerable downside is Clay Buchholz.
Last year Buchholz was worth a tremendous amount when he was on the mound. On the mound last season, Buchholz was as valuable as David Price was. Then he got hurt. Buchholz is good at pitching and good at getting hurt. It’s not clear to me which he’s better at, but he’s quite good at both of them so maybe picking a winner isn’t necessary. The point is, Buchholz, if he can throw 190 innings, could easily put up a four- or even five-win season. He could be the number two Number One guy on the roster, and let the team focus on other things at the trade deadline rather than throwing prospects at the one or two good starters on the market.
Or Buchholz could sleep on his shoulder wrong, he could pick up his newspaper wrong, or he could simply throw a pitch. Pitching is pretty dangerous. The point is Buchholz could be great, or he could be hurt, and there’s a lot of variance in between those two positions.
For the Red Sox to succeed during the 2016 season, they can probably do it without Clay Buchholz. But winning in the playoffs? For that they’ll likely need two excellent starting pitchers and it’s difficult to look at the Red Sox roster now the way it’s constructed and see that second guy if not Buchholz.
David Price is the unquestioned ace on this starting staff. But Clay Buchholz can be as good. If he is, the Red Sox seasons will be much, much brighter. If he isn’t, well then we’ll all have to turn to chapter 1 in our Red Sox hymnals, entitled, Learning to Live with Disappointment. In case you were wondering, it’s the dogeared one with the tears in it.
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