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The Bill James Handbook, the Sox & you

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  December 21, 2010 10:14 AM

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lowriefinn.jpgA little late on the swing here, but that's probably a good thing. Had I written what has become an annual column on the delicious baseball appetizers found in the Bill James Handbook -- produced, as always, by Acta Sports and the wizards at Baseball Info Solutions -- when I first got my grubby paws on this year's edition in mid-November, it would have had a slightly different tone. Let's just say there might have been a little bit of howling at the moon about letting Victor Martinez and (most likely at the time, definitely now) Adrian Beltre depart. They were two of the best things about the admirable but unlucky 2010 team, and the idea of acquiring adequate replacements, let alone superior ones, seemed like a bit like asking Santa for a new Porsche. It's not going to happen, slugger.

gonzalezpetcofinn.jpgInstead . . . Adrian Gonzalez. Carl Crawford. Two new Porsches, not to mention an intriguing remodeled bullpen. Odd how there are not a lot of bridge year references anymore. Yup, turns out Theo had a long-term plan, and it was executed patiently and spectacularly. My only lingering questions this offseason are whether the righthanded-hitting Jayson Werth would have been pursued ahead of Crawford had the Nationals not made him an (insane) offer he couldn't refuse, and whether the decision to pick up David Ortiz's $12.5-million option affected their plans with Martinez. But V-Mart, like Beltre, is nothing but a good memory now. Funny how that works.

Let's lead off with a glance at some of the Handbook's projections for Red Sox hitters and starting pitchers in the coming season. For fun and perspective -- which are really two of the three main points of this exercise, the third being any excuse is a good excuse to write about baseball, especially on the first day of winter -- we've also included last year's BJH projections along with the highlighted player's real-life numbers.

RED SOX BATTERS
Adrian Gonzalez
2010 BJH projection: .279, 35, 106, .888
2010 reality: .298, 31, 101, .904
2011 BJH projection: .285, 33, 102, .890

Carl Crawford
2010 BJH projection: .295, 12, 62, .786, 41 steals
2010 reality: .307, 19, 90, .852, 46 steals
2011 BJH projection: .300, 14, 71, .803, 42 steals

David Ortiz
2010 BJH projection: .264, 29, 99, .887
2010 reality: .270, 32, 102, .899
2011 BJH projection: .261, 33, 112, .875

Dustin Pedroia
2010 BJH projection: .307, 15, 75, .843
2010 reality: .288, 12, 41, .860
2011 BJH projection: .297, 17, 77, ..834

Jacoby Ellsbury
2010 BJH projection: .302, 9, 62, .780
2010 reality: .192, 0, 5, .485
2011 BJH projection: .300, 8, 58, .763, 59 steals

Kevin Youkilis
2010 BJH projection: .289, 23, 95, .885
2010 reality: .307, 19, 62, .975
2011 BJH projection: .294, 25, 95, .906

Jed Lowrie
2010 BJH projection: ..260, 9, 59, .788
2010 reality: .287, 9, 24, .907
2011 BJH projection: .270, 17, 75, .828

J.D. Drew
2010 BJH projection: .269. 22, 76, .859
2010 reality: .255, 22, 68, .793
2011 BJH projection: .263, 22, 77, .830

RED SOX PITCHERS
Jon Lester
2010 BJH projection: 13-10, 3.84, 206 IP
2010 reality: 19-9, 3.25, 208 IP
2011 BJH projection: 14-9, 3.53, 204 IP

Clay Buchholz
2010 BJH projection: 10-8, 3.91, 161 IP
2010 reality: 17-7, 2.33, 173.2 IP
2011 BJH projection: 13-9, 3.54, 193 IP

Josh Beckett
2010 BJH projection: 10-8, 3.91, 161 IP
2010 reality: 6-6, 5.78, 127.2 IP
2011 BJH projection: 10-9, 3.86, 163 IP

John Lackey
2010 BJH projection: 13-10, 3.81, 208 IP
2010 reality: 14-11, 4.40, 215 IP
2011 BJH projection: 13-12, 3.89, 227 IP

PROJECTIONS FOR OTHER PERSONS OF INTEREST

Jason Bay: .267, 21, 78, .839
Manny Ramirez: .290, 23, 84, .904
Adrian Beltre: .283, 24, 88, .812
Victor Martinez: .298, 19, 88, .841
Pedro Alvarez: .277, 27, 103, .853
Jose Bautista: .251, 34, 90, .864

NOTES SCRIBBLED IN THE MARGINS

bautistafinn.jpgThe BJH/Baseball Info Solutions masterminds acknowledge the conservative projections for pitchers' wins. But let's put it this way. If Lester, Buchholz, Beckett and Lackey combine to go 50-39, either Daisuke is the first 40-game winner since Ed Walsh in 1908, or catastrophe akin to what happened to the early '80s Oakland A's pitching staffs after Billy Martin finished meat grinding their arms has befallen the Sox. I'm putting Lester down for 20 (yes, again), and the four of them down for 67 wins. Minimum. . . Don't know about you, but I used to snicker when Yankees fans compared Brett Gardner to Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury? He's going to be a star, and the dreamiest kind! Gardner? Bah. He's Bubba Crosby in disguise. Yet if you look at what each has accomplished and what the BJH projects this year, they are pretty similar. At age 26 last year, Gardner went .277/.383/.379 with a .762 OPS and 47 steals. Ellsbury, also in his age 26 season, got Beltred and endured a lost year, but the previous season he went .301/.355/.416 with a .770 OPS and 70 steals. This year, Ellsbury projects to .300/.355/.409/.763 with 59 steals; Gardner checks in at .275/.377/.371/.748 with 50 steals. Ellsbury looks like the better bet, health-permitting, and he's younger, but Gardner is much more of a reasonable facsimile than I ever expected . . . I included the numbers for the Pirates' Alvarez for a couple of reasons. He was the Red Sox' 14th-round draft pick in the 2005, and they made a significant effort to sign him despite his commitment to Vanderbilt. Like Lionel Richie before him, Alvarez made his name as a Commodore, and ended up being selected second overall by the Pirates in the 2008 draft. (Tampa Bay took Tim Beckham No. 1 overall. I would like to thank them on behalf of Red Sox fans for not going with Florida State catcher Buster Posey.) Had they been able to sign Alvarez five years ago, he'd have been the insurance run in a draft that with Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, and Jed Lowrie and Craig Hansen is already a winner. As for that other reason I included him, he capped off a decent rookie season (.788 OPS, 16 homers in 95 games) with a heck of a September, hitting five homers and driving in 26 runs in 27 games. But there's a perception that he feasted on September callups and other scatter arms who know their way around the International League, so it's going to be interesting to see if his great finish was a mirage. And thus concludes our segment titled Way Too Much Information About Pedro Alvarez Considering This Is A Red Sox Blog . . . Jose Bautista is probably the great conundrum of the upcoming fantasy baseball season. (Along with "How high do you draft Brewers ace Zack Greinke?" and whether provincialism and the thought of him hitting at Fenway will lead someone in your league to take Gonzalez No. 1 overall.) Do you have any idea what to expect from Bautista next season? Does anyone? With 54 home runs last year, he surpassed his career high by 38. The only example I can recall that was somewhat similar to his stunning breakout happened when Cecil Fielder hit 51 homers for the Tigers in 1990 upon returning from Japan, with his previous major league high of 14 coming three years earlier for the Blue Jays. My hunch is that Bautista hits right around the BJH projection of 34. But I won't be the one drafting him in the early rounds. (Update: As a comp for Bautista, reader Holt M. cites Brady Anderson, who hit 50 homers in 1996 after hitting no more than 14 previously. Great call. He never hit more than 24 after his one monster season.). . . Love the Lowrie projection (I won't make you scroll back up -- it's .270, 17, 75, .828), though I wouldn't be shocked to see him hit for a higher batting average (provided, of course, that he remains healthy). I'm curious how Terry Francona finesses the shortstop situation this spring, because Lowrie's upside, which was on display last August (four homers, .971 OPS) and September, should make Marco Scutaro the infield's version of Mike Cameron: A very well-paid super-sub . . . I'd love to see the change in projection for Gonzalez now that he's swapped Petco for Fenway Park as his home base and is protected in the lineup with hitters more accomplished than Chase Headley and Ryan Ludwick. Does .300-40-115 sound about right to you? Because it does to me.

OTHER BLOOPS AND BLEEDERS
kalishryan.jpgIs this something a WEEI caller came up with? Check this out, Sox fans: Ryan Kalish, who batted .252 with four homers, 10 steals, and a .710 OPS in 179 plate appearances last season, apparently has feats in store that have been accomplished by no other player in Red Sox history. The BJH has the 22-year-old outfielder penciled in for a .271 average, a .791 OPS . . . and 20 home runs, and 43 stolen bases. Yes, next season, and no, not at Pawtucket. I realize this is based on him playing close to every day, but the absurdity level is still high considering no player in Sox history has ever hit 20 homers and swiped 40 bases in the same season, and only five players (Jackie Jensen in 1954 and '59, Yaz in '70, Ellis Burks in '87, John Valentin in '95, and Nomar in '97) have ever gone 20/20 in a season. Now, if you want to talk about someone maybe going 20/40 next year, Carl Crawford has a real chance. But Kalish? Get back to me in 2013.

Rated rookies: The guesstimates -- I'm using that work only because I'm sick of saying "projections" -- give some serious love to a couple of potential members of the '11 rookie class. We mentioned the Yankees' Montero already; if they Yankees think the offseason is a bummer now, imagine how they'd feel had Seattle accepted their offer including him for Cliff Lee, only to watch Lee walk away as a free agent. A smile is a frown turned upside down, Cashman. The Phillies right fielder Domonic Brown is down for a .288 average with 26 homers and 94 RBIs -- which would virtually mirror the 2010 numbers of the $126 million man he's replacing in right field for the Phils, Jayson Werth, who went .296/27/85. Royals superprospect Mike Moustakas, who hit 36 homers and drove in 124 runs between Double A and Triple A last season, has a .297-26-98 projection, which would make him such a valuable performer that KC GM Dayton Moore would no doubt be tempted to trade him to the Brewers for three magic beans.

He's not a rookie, but . . . . . . if Braves second-year phenom Jason Heyward meets or surpasses his projected OPS of .904 at age 21, the feat will put him among the elite hitters in baseball history to do so at such a young age, among them Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Aaron, and . . . Cesar Cedeno.

The Bronx Embalmers? Oh, all right, so they're not dead yet. And yes, it's probably a fool's errand to to write off a Yankees team that has virtually everyone back from their 95-victory wild-card winner from a year ago, depending upon how Andy Pettitte's annual retirement dance plays out. But man . . . they are getting old. It's sort of jarring to realize that Derek Jeter is entering his age 37 season, that A-Rod is 35, Jorge Posada 39, Pettitte 39, and Mariano Rivera's robot parts were manufactured by ACME in November 1969. The projections are somewhat encouraging if you're a Yankees fan. Jeter makes a slight uptick at .295 with 13 homers and .775 OPS. (No word whether he'll become the first defensive player to win a Gold Glove while not moving to his left or right during the entire course of the season. Oh, that's right, he already did.) A-Rod is at .284-35-116, even the declining Posada is projected with 16 homers and an .817 OPS. But with so many other players either already on the wrong side of 30 (Mark Teixeira, A.J. Burnett) or turning the corner next season (Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, CC Sabathia), it's imperative that Robinson Cano continues to play like an MVP, Phil Hughes continues to progress, and perhaps even that slugging prospect Jesus Montero comes close to his optimistic projection (.285, 21 homers, .867 OPS). And still, I don't know how they get younger in the coming seasons. Hanley, maybe?

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.

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