Q and A About The Red Sox’ Offseason Outlook With Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham

The Winter Meetings have begun and rumors are running rampant. Yesterday Red Sox Beat Writer and Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham agreed to do a quick questions and answers with me regarding the Boston Red Sox’ offseason outlook, as he answered seven questions that intrigued me. Before we get down to the questions, I would like to thank Pete for his time! Now, without further ado, let’s get down to the inquiries!
Starting pitching is an obvious concern heading into the winter for the Boston Red Sox. What are you hearing in regards to Boston’s starting pitching targets? And what do you think will end up happening? 
I’m not hearing anything concrete at this point. It’s very early in the offseason. I suspect they’ll sign a free agent starter and trade for another. Who those two turn out to be is anybody’s guess. Lots of teams need pitching and there’s a lot of money in the market so there are many potential outcomes.
Third base is also an area filled with uncertainty for the Sox. Who do you expect to occupy the hot corner for the Red Sox come Opening Day 2015? 
Great question. I don’t think it will be Pablo Sandoval. More likely Chase Headley.
Brock Holt was one of the best players on the team last season. Do you think there is any chance that Ben Cherington tries to sells high on him this offseason? 
His value is not that high. He struggled after the All-Star break (.219/.278/.271) and has really only had two good months in the majors. Holt is a good utility man and such players short of Ben Zobrist don’t really have much trade value other than as a throw-in. It’s easy for fans and media to fall in love with players like that and Brock had a good season. But guys without positions in the end are guys without positions.
Is Jon Lester coming back? Do you think they should try to re-sign him? 
I don’t think so, not based on the team’s behavior to date. I think they should very much try to sign him but trading him would seem to indicate that won’t be the case.
Are there any players on the trade market who you’re hearing Boston may be interested in? 
Not yet, not specifically. Still pretty early for that.
How do you anticipate the BoSox will resolve their crowded outfield situation? 
Trades and maybe a few of them. They need to thin that group a little. Bradley is the only one who can go back to Triple A (other than Betts and there’s no reason to send him back). Cespedes, Craig, Nava, Castillo, Betts and Victorino? Somebody has to go. Probably two. They should do Bradley a favor and trade him to an NL West team. He’d have a ton of value in a big park. The Sox panicked when they signed Castillo. I suspect in 2-3 years (if not sooner), Bradley is a more valuable player.
Lastly, what do the Red Sox need to do this offseason to be competitive in ’15? 
Two starters, left-handed hitting, a backup catcher, more relief help. That about covers it.

 

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Fixing the Boston Red Sox’ Rotation

What a difference a year can make. Last year at this time the Boston Red Sox’ rotation had too many guys with Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Jake Peavy, Felix Doubront, and Ryan Dempster. Ultimately, the overcrowded rotation “problem” resolved itself, as Dempster made the announcement during Spring Training that he would not pitch in 2014. Even without Ryan’s services, Boston’s starting pitching staff was regarded as one of the best in baseball entering 2014. It was not hard to see why because Lester, Lackey and Buchholz had tremendous 2013 campaigns and all had nice track records to boot. Rounding out the rotation, Peavy had turned it around when he was traded to Boston midseason and Doubront was coming off the best season of his young career. Optimism among Sox fans was plentiful and justifiably so.

But that was then and now is now. Of the five Opening Day starters in ’14, only Buchholz, who scuffled to the tune of a 5.34 ERA and 4.01 FIP last year, is still on the team. Lester, Lackey, Peavy and Doubront were all dealt midseason, as Boston gave young and touted pitchers Allen Webster, Brandon Workman, Anthony Ranaudo, Rubby De La Rosa and trade-deadline acquisition Joe Kelly starts in their absence during the final two months of the season. Due to the presence of these MLB novices, the Red Sox had the second-worst rotation ERA in the second-half of the season last year with an abysmal 4.84 ERA — only the Minnesota Twins’ rotation was worst, posting a 5.35 ERA in the second half. None of the Sox’ young pitchers performed well despite the hype surrounding them. Below are each pitcher’s stats with the Red Sox in 2014.

  • Rubby De La Rosa (101 1/3 IP): 4.43 ERA, 4.30 FIP, 6.55 K/9, 3.10 BB/9, and 0.9 fWAR
  • Brandon Workman (87 IP): 5.17 ERA, 4.44 FIP, 7.24 K/9, 3.72 BB/9, and 0.6 fWAR
  • Allen Webster (59 IP): 5.03 ERA, 4.35 FIP, 5.49 K/9, 4.27 BB/9, and 0.5 fWAR
  • Joe Kelly (61 1/3 IP): 4.11 ERA, 4.62 FIP, 6.02 K/9, 4.70 BB/9, and 0.4 fWAR
  • Anthony Ranaudo (39 1/3 IP): 4.81 ERA, 6.89 FIP, 3.43 K/9, 3.66 BB/9, and -0.5 fWAR
  • 2014 MLB Starters: 3.82 ERA, 3.81 FIP, 7.36 K/9, 2.69 BB/9 

All five failed to be at least average in ERA, FIP, K/9, and BB/9 last season. That is incredible but not in a good way.

It is clear that some thing has to be done in the offseason to strengthen this evident weakness. While a lot of people are calling for Ben Cherington to bring back Jon Lester or for him to reel in the biggest fish on the market, Max Scherzer, I have a three-step plan that will vastly improve the rotation without these expensive aces.

1.) Keep Buchholz and Kelly in the Rotation

I am well aware that all sane Red Sox fans loathe the mere mentioning of Clay Buchholz; however, one must keep in mind that a season before last he compiled a 1.74 ERA! This isn’t to say he will ever do that or even come close to that level again; rather, it is reminder of how good the right-handed pitcher can be when he is not ailing with an injury or getting hit hard. Steamer Projections thinks he will sport a 4.20 ERA, 4.06 FIP and 2.2 fWAR in 192 innings of work next year. The innings may be a stretch, but considering his track record him posting a 4.20 ERA is entirely plausible. If he is to meet his projections, he will be a solid back of the rotation piece.

Kelly’s peripherals have never been great in his three-year career. He has consistently walked guys at an above-average rate and struck guys out at a below-average rate. This is not a great formula for success, but he does induce a lot of weak contact via way of ground balls. Since 2012, Kelly has the 13th-highest, at 52.4%, ground ball percentage in baseball among pitchers who have thrown at least 300 innings. His ability to generate such a prolific amount of ground balls makes him a very solid candidate to start for Boston next year.

2.) Sign Francisco Liriano and Josh Johnson 

Francisco Liriano is not the sexy free agent pitcher that Boston fans want, I know. With that said, he is a lot cheaper than the big names, yet over the last two seasons he is not that far off from them from a performance standpoint. Here are the top-five free agent pitchers, in my mind, and their stats over the last two seasons.

  • Max Scherzer: 3.02 ERA, 2.79 FIP, 3.14 xFIP
  • Jon Lester: 3.10 ERA, 3.19 FIP, 3.49 xFIP
  • James Shields: 3.18 ERA, 3.53 FIP, 3.64 xFIP
  • Brandon McCarthy: 4.24 ERA, 3.63 FIP, 3.23 xFIP
  • Francisco Liriano: 3.20 ERA, 3.26 FIP, 3.26 xFIP 

Among those five Liriano ranked fourth in ERA, third in FIP, and third in xFIP. He was middle-of-the-pack in every category and the guy had a better xFIP than Jon Lester! In no way am I insinuating he is better than Lester because he isn’t. He is just a lot better than people give him credit for. Watch him go to work in the clip below. I’m a big proponent of his slider and changeup……

Now let’s talk about Josh Johnson. Yes, I know he did not pitch in 2014 due to the fact he underwent his second Tommy John Surgery. But this is a guy who four years ago was one of the best pitchers in baseball and just two years ago was an average pitcher for the Miami Marlins. Oh, and he is only 30! Health permitting, Johnson has a lot of baseball left in him. If he does not work out or is not healthy at the beginning season, then John Farrell can hand the ball to one of the rookies we discussed earlier — preferably De La Rosa.


3.) Package Prospects or Trade Yoenis Cespedes For Mat Latos 

An old colleague of mine over at BoSox Injection and a terrific Red Sox writer, Connor Duffy, wrote an article earlier this week suggesting that Boston targets Mat Latos in the offseason. He pondered whether a Yoenis Cespedes for Mat Latos swap would make sense, and it sort of would. The Reds need a left fielder badly and the Red Sox need a quality starting pitcher. Personally, I view Latos as more than a quality starting pitcher, as he compiled a 3.25 ERA and 3.65 FIP in 102 1/3 innings last season. It is also worth mentioning that his ERA has been below 3.50 every single season since his rookie year in 2009. That’s pretty impressive, and Boston could really use a consistent pitcher atop their rotation. If Cespedes is no dice for Cincinnati, then I would advise Cherington to propose a Drake Britton, Travis Shaw and Jackie Bradley Jr. for Latos deal. As long as they do not give up too much, Boston should pursue Latos. His consistency forges him into an “ace-esque” status but he would not cost nearly as much as Johnny Cueto, the Reds’ number one pitcher.

 

How does this rotation sound?

1.) Mat Latos

2.) Francisco Liriano

3.) Clay Buchholz

4.) Joe Kelly

5.) Josh Johnson/Rubby De La Rosa

If I were Ben, this is what I would do. It does not cost Boston a lot — in prospects nor capital — and looks pretty formidable on paper. Will it happen, though? Not likely. And that is okay. I just hope that Cherington does not compromise the Red Sox’ future by signing an “elite pitcher” when two solid ones will actually accrue more value.

An Honest Evaluation of Brock Holt

If you watched the Boston Red Sox in 2014, you are aware of the story of Brock Holt. Will Middlebrooks got injured early in the year and they needed a replacement until he returned. Initially, they tried Ryan Roberts, who they signed early April, but that failed miserably. Holt was their second option and he thrived upon the opportunity; however, Middlebrooks returned shortly thereafter and he was sent back down to Pawtucket. Will played well in his first few games after returning from his first DL-stint of the year, but that quickly faded and by mid-May he sported an abysmal .629 OPS. Due to a broken finger, he did not participate in a game until the beginning of August. Though you never want to see a player get injured, Middlebrooks’ absence allowed Holt to show people what he was made of.

Entering the month of August, Holt had compiled an impressive .302/.350/.422 slash line behind seemingly quality defense and a special and unique grit. People were hailing him as the team MVP at this point in the season. They were not totally off-base with their praise, as there were not a lot of bright spots on the 2014 Red Sox; Brock Star was one of the few. But then August happened and then September, and it was clear something had changed: Holt had gone from a sensation to mediocrity just like that. To back up that claim, here are his wRC+ totals per month in ’14.

  • March/April (28 PA): 142 wRC+
  • May (64 PA): 104 wRC+
  • June (127 PA): 130 wRC+
  • July (116 PA): 100 wRC+
  • August (133 PA): 68 wRC+
  • September (24 PA): 23 wRC+

From April to July, the 26-year-old produced, at the very least, average offense on a per month basis. In all honesty, it seemed likely decline was inevitable from there on out for Holt when one took into account his shaky minor league track record. Now, do not get me wrong: he raked in Pawtucket least season. But in 2013 he struggled tremendously with the stick in both the minors and majors. This isn’t to say I anticipated a steep drop from him, yet that is exactly what occurred. Holt finished the 2014 season with a decent .281/.331/.381 clip in 492 plate appearances.

Looking at his batted ball profile (percentage of line drives, ground balls, fly balls, and infield flies), nothing drastic changed those final two months of the season. Speaking of which, I must acknowledge Holt’s 2014 batted ball data so one can get a feel for how he did his damage. Below are his percentages and the MLB average percentages.

  • Brock Holt in 2014: 26.4 LD%, 50.3 GB%, 23.3 FB%, and 4.9 IFFB%
  • MLB Average in 2014: 20.8 LD%, 44.8 GB%, 34.4 FB%, and 9.6 IFFB%

Before we talk about the above data please read the following: FanGraphs calculates line drives produce 1.26 runs per out, whereas fly balls produce 0.13 runs per out and ground balls 0.05 runs per out.

Holt’s batted ball profile resembles nothing close to the MLB average’s profile. He hits line drive at a high rate, which is great, but he also hits ground balls at a high rate, which is not. Holt hits infield fly balls at a very low rate, which is great, but he also hits fly balls at a very low rate, which is not. In conclusion, Holt does two things very positively, hitting a lot of line drives and few infield flies, and two things very negatively, hitting a lot of ground balls and few fly balls.

I do not know if Holt continues on this pace because he has played only one full season. But I do know the guy had a very high and unsustainable BABIP (batting average on balls in play) entering August and ended the year with a lower but still high .349 BABIP.

Luck and luck running out likely had a huge influence on his stretch collapse. By the way, his .330 BABIP in August was the lowest in any month sans September. Even in August, a month he struggled in, his BABIP was way above the .299 2014 MLB average. Now, some hitters have higher BABIPs than others. It just happens. So, it would be unfair of me to sit here and say his BABIP will  definitely deviate to the MLB average over time. Truthfully, I do not know. But if I had to guess, I would advise one to anticipate Holt’s BABIP to regress.

Holt does not have a great minor-league track record and his play in the final two months of the season is cause for some concern. I would not be opposed to the idea, as tough as it may be, of the Red Sox selling high on the left-handed hitter this offseason. Too much depth, particularly in the outfield, is actually a problem that needs to be resolved this winter for the Sox. Holt is versatile, though, and can provide Boston with much-needed infield depth in 2015 and beyond. I’m ambivalent on what to do with him because on one hand his value is probably at an all-time high right now but on the other Boston has struggled with infield depth the past few seasons and Holt would make things a lot more clearer in that regard for Boston moving forward. All I can say is, thank God I am not Ben Cherington; this is a tough decision!

Is Pablo Sandoval Worth The Price?

Pablo Sandoval just won his third World Series Championship in five years with the San Francisco Giants. While those rings are probably more of a testament to good fortunate and the teammates surrounding him than the value Sandoval, himself, contributed, the “Panda’s” talent is real. The switch-hitter compiled a 111 wRC+, which is eleven percentage above the deemed MLB average, and a solid 3.0 fWAR in 638 plate appearances in 2014.

Despite his physique, he is a plus-defender at the hot corner according to the defensive metrics. In fact, his 4 DRS (defensive runs saved) ranked eleventh among qualified third basemen in baseball last year. That total was actually better than the highly regarded — from a defensive standpoint, of course — American League Champion third basemen Mike Moustakas, who finished with a 2 DRS in ’14.

Granted, Sandoval accrued over 100 more innings at the position and DRS is fairly subjective stat. Therefore, I will not go as far to say that Pablo was definitively the better defender of the two last season. The above comparison was strictly made to put Sandoval’s defensive numbers into perspective. Hopefully I accomplished that. If not, what are you going to do?

Anyway, the Red Sox need an above-average third basemen badly. They have not had one since Will Middlebrooks’ rookie year aberration in 2012. Since then, they have watched in disgust as Middlebrooks has been horrendous on both defense and offense for two consecutive seasons, clinging on to the erroneous and futile hope that he will rejuvenate his first-year self. I hate to be a pessimist but it likely won’t happen ever considering his mediocre defensive skills and his deplorable plate discipline. Then again, people said the same thing about Steve Pearce coming into the year and all he did was slug .556 in Baltimore.

It is possible he will at one point yield a team some value. I just do not want the Red Sox to keep banking on an improbable outcome. It is time to move on or at the very least find a left-handed platoon complement at third. From all indications, the Red Sox’ brass are prepared to do that, as they have been linked to numerous free agent third basemen. They do, however, have an internal option in rookie third basemen Garin Cecchini.

Cecchini is a left-handed hitter, and in his limited time (36 plate appearances) in the big-leagues he slashed an admirable .258/.361/.452 clip. Those numbers are not a reliable barometer of the youngster’s future contributions, though. It is just too small a sample size to take any thing away from. Instead, let’s look at his minor-league statistics over the past three seasons.

  • 2012 Single-A Greenville (526 PA): .394 OBP, .433 SLG, .371 BABIP, 51 SB, and 130 wRC+
  • 2013 Single-A+ Salem (262 PA): .469 OBP, .547 SLG, .400 BABIP, 15 SB, and 186 wRC+
  • 2013 Double-A Portland (295 PA): .420 OBP, .404 SLG, .367 BABIP, 8 SB, and 136 wRC+
  • 2014 Triple-A Pawtucket (458 PA): .341 OBP, .371 SLG, .331 BABIP, 11 SB and 99 WRC+

Based on his track record, power will never be a strong suit. His offensive value will be largely derived from his ability to get on base. I have confidence that he can be a perennial on-base machine in the majors seeing as how plate discipline is a skill that tends to carry over from the minors to the majors. With that said, his defense is something left to be desired, despite his improvement in that facet of his game.

Personally, I am a big fan of Cecchini. He runs the base paths exceptionally well, has a superb eye in the batter’s box, and does not totally suck on defense. Boston has the basis of a very good player with Garin, but he is still a project. And projects have not gone too well recently for the Sox: Xander Bogaerts was extremely disappointing last season, Jackie Bradley Jr. can’t hit in the majors to save his life, Anthony Ranaudo has pitched poorly in his first 39 1/3 innings, and Allen Webster induces panic attacks from coaches whenever he enters the game. Relying too heavily on youngsters was a huge problem for the cellar-dwelling Red Sox in ’14, and my guess is they won’t be as reliant on them going forward.

This probably means Cecchini will not be Boston’s third basemen to start the 2015 season. If they were anticipating him to be their Opening Day third basemen, then they would not be rigorously exploring the third base free agent market nor would they be showing this much interest in the man we talked about in the beginning, Pablo Sandoval. 

Sandoval is regarded as the cream of the crop of third basemen on the open market for good reason; reasons I laid out in the first few paragraphs. But the guy is seeking a six-year deal at presumably about $20 million annually. He will likely get paid in the $100 million dollar range this offseason, and if Boston wants him that is what they are going to have to offer. The question is whether or not he really is worth that much money.

Considering a win or one win above replacement is worth approximately $6-7 million we can guesstimate Sandoval’s worth over the next six seasons. To start, Steamer Projections forecasts the hefty slugger to be worth a 3.8 fWAR next season. That season alone would cover close to $25 million (or 1/4) of the contract. Sandoval is young, entering his age-28 season in’15, and should not run into the infamous decline-period any time soon. So, he is not expected to totally collapse like an Albert Pujols or Josh Hamilton.

A six-year contract seems reasonable once you consider how third basemen who performed similar to him in their age 21-27 seasons did over the next six seasons. Now, before I provide the eight closest third basemen to Sandoval’s production to this point, let it be known that I am very cognizant this is a very imperfect model. Without further ado, here are the similar third basemen’s fWAR totals from their age 21-27 seasons who I sampled.

Harmon Killebrew- 21.6 fWAR

Travis Fryman- 21.6 fWAR

Paul Molitor- 21.6 fWAR

Heinie Zimmerman- 21.4 fWAR

Pablo Sandoval- 20.9 fWAR

Troy Glaus- 20.9 fWAR

Gil McDougald- 20.8 fWAR

Tommy Leach- 20.5 fWAR

Matt Williams- 20.3 fWAR

For the record, this was not actually as hard to find as one might think. Thanks, again, Fangraphs!

Anyway, these eight players represent the closest players to Sandoval to this point in their respective careers. What I did next was to calculate how each of the eight performed, by fWAR, the next six years in their career. Once I added those totals up, I then arranged the numbers in a descending order and found the median of the data. I did not use the mean, like some probably expected, because of the fact that outliers exist and can skew the data. When it was all said and done, the median was a crisp 21.4 fWAR over the next six seasons, which is close to $140 million dollars worth of value — not even anticipating inevitable inflation.

This isn’t to say that Sandoval will be a 20+ win player in those six seasons; all it says is players closely resembling him were pretty darn good their subsequent six years of play. Even if Sandoval is worth three/fourths of that on a six-year deal, he rightfully deserves $100 million big ones.

So, yes, in my opinion Sandoval is worth the seemingly hefty contract he is demanding. But if he is the right fit for the Red Sox is a completely different story and one I detailed in my last article for Yawkey Way Report. Personally, I would rather Boston sign Chase Headley for less money and years and create a two-to-three year bridge for Cecchini. It’s idealistic, I know. That is not what this article was supposed to be about, though. This article, rather, was supposed to answer the question if Sandoval was worth the lavish contract he desired. From my research, I say with certain that he is, and I would not be upset at all if Ben Cherington and Co. spent big money on the Panda this offseason.

Introducing Red Sox Unfiltered

I am absolutely thrilled to be writing the inaugural “Red Sox Unfiltered” post! This site will hopefully provide one with original and objective Boston Red Sox content, as my goal is to forge this into a place where I can say what I want when I want about them BoSox. Now, this won’t be a typical Red Sox blog. This, rather, will be a blog for the thinking Red Sox fan; the one who is interested in learning about advanced metrics and questioning conventional wisdom regarding the 1903, 1912, 1915, 1916, 1918, 2004, 2007 and 2013 World Series Champion. Most of the content produced here will be timely and applicable to what is going on in Red Sox land.

My opinions have been said to be controversial in the past, but I can ensure you none of it is arbitrary. Actually, that is probably a lie. We all have a degree of pre-existing biases distorting our perception and judgement, and I, Patrick Green, am not immune. With that said, I will not be throwing around misleading anecdotal evidence that is only convenient for a narrative’s sake. Every thing pertaining to this team will be under a microscope on this blog, and my claims will surely be backed up with legitimate evidence.

This is not my first rodeo writing about the Boston Red Sox. I have contributed Red Sox posts to both Yawkey Way Report and BoSox Injection in the past, and while I enjoyed my time with both sites tremendously, I am ready and ecstatic for the next chapter of my career. I encourage all readers to check out those two sites at their leisure because they are fantastic Red Sox blogs that I was fortunate enough to spend time with. Also, I write analytic MLB articles on Call to the Pen, too. If one has ample time on their hands, I implore you to check out articles on CttP, as well.

Just so we are clear: I know the layout is crap. I am a novice at creating one of these, but, hey, I am learning! With time it should get better, though, I am not promising anything! The first actual post should be up tomorrow, so be sure to check back at your earliest convenience. Until then, I wish you the best!