The first thing we here at TATB do when when the Bill James Handbook arrives in the mail each spring is thumb straight to the section featuring the statistical predictions for each major league player in that particular section.
It's always fun to see what James - the father of sabermetrics, one of the most entertaining baseball writers of any era, and of course, a special adviser to the Red Sox - and the numbers wizards at Baseball Info Solutions project for Boston players in the new season.
And it's even more fun to look back at the end of the season and see just how accurate -- or inaccurate -- they were.
How did they do this season? Well, it turns out they had a few big hits . . . and also some significant whiffs.
The James Gang expected great things out of Jacoby Ellsbury, didn't see Kevin Youkilis emerging as a heart-of-the-order beast, and sold Dustin Pedroia, um, short. (Sorry.)
They did, however, almost precisely forecast Mike Lowell's dropoff from his career year in '07, and were pretty close on J.D. Drew's final stats as well, though there was no suggestion that he'd have a career-high two epidurals.
I realize that today, we're supposed to be looking ahead to the imminent postseason. But before we do, here's a quickie look back at the final numbers of the regular season, and James's projections for the members of the current starting lineup:
Bill James Projection: .320, 5 HRs, 46 RBIs, .810 OPS, 42 steals in 52 attempts
Reality: .280, 9 HRs, 47 RBIs, .730 OPS, 50 steals in 61 attempts
TATB's take: So he's not yet the second coming over Johnny Damon, and expectations were oversized after his dazzling postseason performance last October. But it wasn't a bad rookie season, especially defensively, and once he fixes the obvious but reparable holes in his swing, he'll be a mainstay for a decade or more.
DUSTIN "LASER SHOW" PEDROIA
Projection: .300, 9 HRs, 57 RBIs, 77 runs, .805 OPS, 40 doubles, 6 steals in 9 attempts
Reality: .326, 17 homers, 83 RBIs, 118 runs, .869 OPS, 54 doubles, 20 steals in 21 attempts
TATB's take: A legitimate MVP frontrunner, the only person who thought he'd be this good was Pedroia himself. Two seasons into his career, and he has a chance to be one of the most universally beloved Red Sox of all time. C'mon, I couldn't have been the only one who was this wrong about him. Was I?
Projection: .298, 41 HRs, 130 RBIs, .994 OPS
Reality: .264, 23 HRs, 89 RBIs, .876 OPS
TATB's take: Papi lost all of June to a wrist injury, but just when we worried he might be heading into the Mo Vaughn portion of his career, he rediscovered his power stroke in September. He could be poised for a typically memorable postseason -- if Sox opponents are foolish enough to pitch to him, that is.
Projection: .290, 15 HRs, 78 RBIs, 38 doubles, .852 OPS
Reality: .312, 29 HRs, 115 RBIs, 43 doubles, .959 OPS
TATB's take: Not even Billy Beane, back in the days of his "Greek God of Walks" man-crush, could have imagined Youkilis would turn into this, a legitimate masher and lineup anchor on a playoff team. Pedroia is getting most of the national publicity, but Youuuuuuk might be the club's most valuable player, especially when his defensive versatility is considered. He's just a terrific player.
Projection: .276, 26 HRs, 91 RBIs, .872 OPS
Reality: .286, 31 HRs, 101 RBIs, .895 OPS
TATB's take: Bay won over the Manny-jilted fans quickly since coming over from the Pirates at the trade deadline, driving in 37 runs in 49 games while carrying himself like the consummate professional. Now comes the hard part for the postseason novice -- producing steadily and in the clutch under the October spotlight. We're not in Pittsburgh anymore, Toto.
Projection: .282, 17 HRs, 81 RBIs, .809 OPS
Reality: .274, 17 HRs, 73 RBIs, .799 OPS
TATB's take: While the 34-year-old's fall off from his sensational .324-21-120 season of '07 was predictable (it was a contract year), he remains a dependable-to-dazzling third baseman as well as an integral part of the lineup, and the Red Sox' championship hopes will take a significant hit if his creaky hip hinders him from playing up to his usual level.
Projection: .278, 20 HRs, 78 RBIs, .857 OPS
Reality: .280, 19 HRs, 64 RBIS, .927 OPS
TATB's take: The ultimate tease, he carried the Sox when Ortiz was out, walked off with the All-Star Game MVP award . . . and just when we got our hopes up that he was going to live up to his immense talent, a mysterious back injury cost him most of the second half. But as frustrating as he can be, you know what? He earned his $14-million salary in June (.337-12-27) alone, and he adjusted OPS for the season was an impressive 139. I no longer consider his signing a black mark on Theo Epstein's record.
Reality: .258, 2 HRs, 46 RBIs, .739 OPS
TATB's take: Looked like a combination of Bill Mueller and Mark Loretta in the early going, but lately has been whiffing at an alarming (yes, Bellhornian) rate. Such are the trials and tribulations of a young player, but to his credit, his ups and downs at the plate haven't hindered his better-than-expected defense. It remains to be seen whether he is the long-term answer, but for now he gets extra leeway simply for not being Julio Lugo.
Projection: .253, 17 HRs, 70 RBIs, .767 OPS
Reality: .220, 13 HRs, 43 RBIs, .672 OPS
TATB's take: Guess I won't be eating any shin guards after all, suckers. The captain still gets plenty of credit for his supposed intangibles, which inevitably happens when a popular player's production no longer meshes with his reputation. From the left side, his bat has slowed to Bob Bailey-in-'78 levels, and as far as his defense is concerned, I'll leave you with Keith Law's snarky take: "[He] is no longer an average thrower but gets lots of credit for his handling of pitchers and his ability to call for fastball after fastball." Ouch.
Tune in Wednesday when, time permitting, we'll look at projections for the pitchers, and perhaps also some other contributors, role players, and suspects.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.