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A statistical Red Sox preview, part one

Posted by Andrew Mooney  April 5, 2012 02:43 AM

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In February, Baseball Think Factory released its annual ZiPS player projections for 2012, computer-based forecasts compiled using players’ past few seasons of performance and playing time, league factors, and the effects of aging. Below is a look at the ZiPS projections for players who will figure most prominently in the Red Sox offense, along with some brief commentary on each.

Adrian Gonzalez
.297/.384/.526, 153 G, 582 AB, 88 R, 173 H, 36 2B, 31 HR, 104 RBI, 79 BB

After a resoundingly successful first season in Boston, Gonzalez is due for a bit of a regression. His .338 batting average last season, a career high by 34 points, was inflated by a .380 BABIP, tied with Matt Kemp for the highest in the majors among those who qualified for the batting title. Still, that projected line is good enough to put him among the top three-hitters in the American League.

Kevin Youkilis
.268/.374/.477, 116 G, 421 AB, 63 R, 113 H, 28 2B, 18 HR, 67 RBI, 62 BB

Who remembers that Youk was an All-Star last year? With an injury-prone .199/.314/.346 line after the break, you could be excused for forgetting. Given how much time he’s missed the last two seasons, ZiPS projects him to play in only 116 games, depressing his raw numbers significantly. I’m not convinced. Now healthy (and domesticated), I expect Youkilis to get back to what he does best: draw walks and rake.

David Ortiz
.266/.357/.498, 127 G, 462 AB, 61 R, 123 H, 30 2B, 25 HR, 78 RBI, 65 BB

The first-ever article in this space questioned Papi’s ability to sustain his power numbers as he entered his mid- to late-30’s, but after his best offensive season since 2007, Ortiz proved in ’11 that he’s still kicking. However, a word of caution: as noted by Fire Brand of the American League, Ortiz’s numbers last year were boosted by suspiciously good production against lefties. For his career, Ortiz slugs .474 off southpaws (including a miserable .324 in 2010), as compared to .566 last year. That’s a pace he may not be able to continue.

Dustin Pedroia
.294/.368/.461, 139 G, 562 AB, 84 R, 165 H, 36 2B, 18 HR, 70 RBI, 67 BB

Not much new here—look for another characteristically solid year from Pedroia. I’m always curious how Pedroia would fare in another home park; his career slugging percentage is 85 points higher at home (.506) than away (.421), and his batting average also receives a significant boost (.323 home, .287 away). Those lasers off the Green Monster don’t always fall in for hits elsewhere, as evidenced by his 130 career doubles at home, against 76 on the road.

Jacoby Ellsbury
.290/.345/.457, 128 G, 527 AB, 76 R, 153 H, 30 2B, 16 HR, 62 RBI, 40 BB

ZiPS predicts a slight drop-off for Ellsbury offensively, particularly in his slugging percentage, which rose to a career-high .552 last season. It makes sense, given that Ellsbury had hit only 20 home runs in 1,513 plate appearances prior to 2011, in which he hit 32 dingers in 732 trips to the plate. The projection also penalizes him for time missed in 2010 by predicting that he’ll play only 128 games, which may be unfair given his impressive durability in ’09 and ’11.

Carl Crawford
.282/.325/.448, 144 G, 563 AB, 80 R, 159 H, 31 2B, 14 HR, 70 RBI, 34 BB

After Crawford's 2011 campaign, these estimates are awfully optimistic, especially with the news that he’ll be sidelined for the month of April recovering from wrist surgery. He deserves a little benefit of the doubt, though; compared with the rest of his career, last year was such an anomaly that we shouldn’t draw too many conclusions from it. I think he’s due for a bounce back season, but he’ll have to improve his plate discipline. His strikeout rate jumped to 19.3 percent from an average of less than 15 percent the previous three years.

Cody Ross
.254/.319/.426, 137 G, 472 AB, 63 R, 120 H, 29 2B, 16 HR, 70 RBI, 40 BB

There isn’t much to say about Cody Ross. If his statistics are any indication, he is an incredibly average baseball player, solid on offense and defense, but not a standout in any regard. He’s had a solid spring training (MLB-leading six home runs), so it’s possible he rekindles his form from 2008-09, in which he hit 22 and 24 homers, respectively. Also, he can juggle.

Ryan Sweeney
.282/.341/.385, 120 G, 379 AB, 53 R, 107 H, 24 2B, 3 HR, 48 RBI, 34 BB

For most of the year, Sweeney should split time with Ross in right field. Ideally, the Red Sox would get a little more power from a corner outfield position than Sweeney offers—he’s hit only two major league home runs in his last two seasons. Don’t expect too many fireworks here, but at least he brings a solid glove.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia
.228/.294/.410, 130 G, 450 AB, 55 R, 103 H, 25 2B, 16 HR, 60 RBI, 38 BB

ZiPS’ initial projection regarded Saltalamacchia as still sharing duties with Jason Varitek, so I adjusted his playing time accordingly, treating Kelly Shoppach as exclusively a backup catcher. It remains to be seen whether Salty’s career highs in power numbers last year are anomalies or indicative of a real increase in slugging ability. He might also have to fend off potential mid-season call-up Ryan Lavarnway for the job, but for fans, that’s a good problem to have.

Mike Aviles
.273/.301/.417, 115 G, 422 AB, 50 R, 115 H, 23 2B, 10 HR, 47 RBI, 17 BB

The Scutaro trade looks more and more puzzling after the way the rest of the offseason unfolded—so, when’s Roy Oswalt signing again?—but Aviles should be a decent stand-in until Jose Iglesias is ready for the majors. If he’s able to produce these type of numbers, he’ll be a more than serviceable bottom of the order hitter, though it would be nice to see him draw a few more walks.

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Stats Driven is powered by David Sabino, who over the last two decades has been a source of statistical analysis on the pages of Sports Illustrated, New York Times, and Chicago Tribune. David has written about all seven recent Boston-area championships for Sports Illustrated Presents commemorative issues, was the creator of such long time features as SI’s Player Value Ranking, NBA Player Rating and long running fantasy football and baseball columns.

He has also authored or made contributions to many books, including the Sports Illustrated’s 100 Fenway: A Fascinating First Century.

Now living in Marblehead, he’s focusing his attention on the Boston sports scene, specifically delving into the numbers affecting the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins, with the goal of informing and entertaining real fans. You can follow him on Twitter at @SabinoSports.

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