The 2017 Red Sox are probably going to be good. Very good, even. The gamblers at OddsShark have the team’s over/under pegged at 92.5 wins, tied with the Indians for the highest total in the American League and trailing just the Nationals and Cubs across the majors. Obviously, however, this is sports we’re talking about. You play the game on the field, not on paper, or something. Feel free to choose an alternate cliché. Expectations do not always become reality. So, in the spirit of pessimism, let’s think about the most likely fashions in which this season could fall flat. This guessing game will logically exclude any possibility of injury, because obviously Xander Bogaerts going down would be devastating but such an occurrence cannot be predicted. Mookie Betts and Chris Sale are unlikely to all-of-a-sudden stink at baseball, so you won’t see them mentioned here. (I’ll be right back, gotta go knock on wood for two hours.) If the team disappoints, what will be the root of the problems? I swear I’m not always this much of a downer.
The variance of possible Pablo Sandoval outcomes this season is about as wide as, well, 2015 Pablo Sandoval. Perhaps the trimmer Panda will have a Boston resurgence a la John Lackey or Hanley Ramirez, and win back the hearts and minds of the Fenway Faithful in the process. Something like .280/.330/.410 would certainly endear the third-baseman to the city of Boston, especially following the first two seasons of his deal. Of course, it’s entirely possible such an improvement does not come to pass. The miserable 2015 season could repeat itself and Sandoval could once again be an albatross, weighing down (ahem) the everyday lineup. The thing is, though, I don’t think it’d matter that much. Here’s a look at his 2015 numbers and last year’s production from Sox third basemen.
|All Sox 3B 2016||.242||.306||.380||15||68||145|
Apologies to all current and former mayors of Ding Dong City, but third base generally stunk in 2016. And guess what? The team still had the best offense in baseball. The worst possible version of Sandoval could reappear, and, yes, he’d be an easy punching bag, but it still wouldn’t be a marked drop-off from a year ago. If he’s bad, Sandoval will bear the brunt of criticism and bad jokes (the latter of which I’ve gotten the ball rolling on here), but he won’t be the true source of any Red Sox woes.
This one’s quick. Despite a month long stretch in which Johnny Bench Freaky Friday’d into Sandy Leon’s body, there really wasn’t much offensive production coming from behind the plate over the course of the season. Much like third base, even if there’s not a lot of production, it won’t be a steep fall from last season’s baseline. Brett Cowett broke down the modest expectations for the position in much greater detail, noting that Blake Swihart could well get called up to Fenway if he produces offensively at Pawtucket early in the year.
Back of the rotation
This is where things get a little more interesting, especially given the news that David Price will start the season on the disabled list. In the event he misses any significant time, the rotation will lack much dependable depth. Sale and Rick Porcello make the five-some strong at the top even minus Price, but the back end gets a little foggy. I am wildly bullish on Eduardo Rodriguez and will repeat my favorite statistical nugget from last season once more: in 14 starts after fixing his pitch-tipping problem, Eddie tossed 77.2 innings and earned a 3.24 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. And he’s still 23! He’ll be fine. Beyond that, who knows.
Lefty Drew Pomeranz (a.k.a. Not Anderson Espinoza) will be in the opening day rotation, as will All-Star Steven Wright. Pomeranz was moved to the bullpen late last season and did not inspire much confidence as a starter after being acquired, and Wright is cursed by being a knuckleballer whose success will perpetually be viewed as volatile and unsustainable. If there is any further trouble beyond the opening day five, everyone should duck for cover, as Cam Ellis laid out last week. Again, the starters all have the ability to perform well — both were All-Stars in 2016. But if the team faces turbulence or disappoints, it wouldn’t be shocking if this was a source.
Two-thirds of the outfield
Look, I love these guys. I love #WinDanceRepeat. Jackie Bradley Jr. is the best defensive centerfielder I’ve ever watched on a daily basis. Andrew Benintendi has all the makings of a great corner outfielder and the hair to match. But their offensive prowess is not carved into stone. Heaping top-of-the-order expectations on a youngster with rookie eligibility is not guaranteed to work out right away. Xander Bogaerts went from starting the World Series in 2013 to struggling mightily the following year. This is not an analytical exercise so much as one looking for gaps between expectations and worst-reasonably-possible-outcome. Sheerly by virtue of being a prospect without an MLB track record, Beni’s range of plausible outcomes is significantly wider than most.
And I hardly need to reiterate that Bradley has been the victim (and beneficiary) of streaky offensive performances, never quite putting it together until the first half of last season. Even still, he hit just .216/.303/.387 in August and September. If these guys don’t quite live up to their lofty ceilings, the 878-run offense of 2016 will be a distant memory.
Thus concludes this week’s edition of Wet Blanket: An Attempt To Depress The Fanbase And Lower Expectations. I happen to think the outfield is great in three out of three spots. Any Bradley slumps will be made up for by continued defensive wizardry, and I do think Benintendi will be able to hit right away. But it’s worth remembering not to take 90-plus wins for granted, and to acknowledge where the shortcomings may lie if the team winds up disappointing.
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