Improve or Decline? 2011 Predictions - Starting 9


With the 2011 regular season set to begin on Friday, I know I’m not the only one restless to put my mind on something more than spring training notes from Dan Shaughnessy. From a combination of that and being bored at work, I decided to do this writeup. Over the next few days I will also cover Bench, Bullpen, and Starters.


Notes: All performance predictions are relative to last season. And yes, I realize it is difficult to distinguish performance from the effects of true talent, injury, aging, actual decline in skills, poor luck, or simple regression (positive or negative). So take this for what it's worth.


I used the following terminology for predictions:

Breakthrough: I feel this player will take his performance to the next level.

Improve: I feel this player will make small but solid gains in his performance.

Maintain: I feel this player's performance will be essentially unchanged.

Decline: I feel this player's performance will suffer from last year's.

Collapse: I feel this player's performance will fall off a cliff. (Did not use, but here for sake of completion)


Today’s Post: The Starting 9


Jacoby Ellsbury

Opening Day Age: 27

2011 Bill James projection: .300/.355/.409, .349 wOBA, 8 HR

Prediction: Maintain

Analysis: Bill James believes Ellsbury will essentially replicate his 2009 line this year, which I find perfectly reasonable. Those excited over his spring training or hoping for a surge in HR/gap power are, in my opinion, setting themselves up for disappointment. There is nothing wrong with a 2009 Ellsbury atop the lineup, as long as he retains enough speed to maintain a high BABIP and thus cover his deficiencies in patience. Nobody disputes that Ellsbury possesses the raw tools to hit for more power, Johnny Damon-style, but I am skeptical he will ever translate it to games any more than he already has. He turns 28 in September and the likelihood of his plate discipline improving any further is low. In order to hit the 15-20 HR some are envisioning, he would likely have to totally revamp the plate approach he currently utilizes. A career 1.7 GB/FB ratio is not going to produce many homers unless he can double or triple his current HR/FB rate, and I don’t see that happening. At this point, he is what he is. Frankly, what he does with the glove is far more valuable than what he does with the bat.


Dustin Pedroia

Opening Day Age: 27

2011 Bill James projection: .297/.372/.462, .367 wOBA, 17 HR

Prediction: Breakthrough

Analysis: Before losing the second half of his 2010 season to injury, Pedroia was continuing a trend he began in 2009 of hitting the ball in the air more frequently and with more authority; essentially sacrificing batting average for power. Despite striking out at a much higher rate in 2010 than ever before, he also posted the highest walk rate of his career. Make no mistake, Pedroia is not simply flailing at more pitches in hopes of hitting them out; he has combined even greater plate selectivity with markedly increased aggression at pitches he thinks he can drive. While 2010 is obviously a small sample, I am also encouraged that he hit 8 of his 12 HR away from Fenway. In all, I feel all signs point to a breakthrough 2011 for him. His eye and plate approach indicators keep ticking upwards, while he is apparently becoming more and more skilled at identifying the pitches he can hit hard and doing so. I would not be surprised to see him reach 20 HR and slug .500.  


Carl Crawford

Opening Day Age: 29

2011 Bill James projection: .311/.360/.472, .369 wOBA, 14 HR

Prediction: Improve

Analysis: The youngest man in history to reach 100 HR, 100 triples, and 400 steals, Crawford only needs to continue building on his power and plate discipline to become a true monster in the mold of Rickey Henderson. Last year he continued his gradual improvement over the last several years in both areas, a testament to his work ethic and his personality; anyone who read the profiles in Boston media of his winter training routine can tell you that the last thing Crawford will ever do is rest on his laurels. Power-wise, he posted the highest HR total of his career while keeping his HR/FB rate static, and put up a .921 OPS against RHP. He managed to do this without sacrificing the gains in patience of his 2009 season, in which he posted a career high walk rate and career high .364 OBP. While Fenway is not necessarily the most ideal park for Crawford’s offensive profile, the Red Sox philosophy of plate discipline and the opposite-field extra-base opportunities afforded by the Green Monster can only help him. The speed and high BA will be there as usual; what I am most eager to see in 2011, and where I am optimistic he will continue to make steady gains, are those two areas of power and patience. 65-70 extra-base hits and a .375 OBP would not shock me.


Adrian Gonzalez

Opening Day Age: 28

2011 Bill James projection: .312/.399/.600, .427 wOBA, 40 HR

Prediction: Breakthrough

Analysis: Assuming the shoulder is 100% healthy, this is a no-brainer. Gonzalez is in his prime and his offensive profile is custom made for pure devastation in Fenway Park. We have all seen the hit overlays and spray charts comparing Petco to Fenway. Gonzalez’s OBP is likely to dip slightly from the drop in intentional walks compared to the Padres, but the jump in slugging will more than make up. The only catch, for those drooling at the prospect of dozens of scorched opposite-field Wall-ball doubles, is that the guy is also pretty damn slow. I expect many of those hits to be long singles. Nevertheless, all the signs point to an absolutely monstrous 2011 for the first baseman of the future.


Kevin Youkilis

Opening Day Age: 32

2011 Bill James prediction: .294/.398/.507, .391 wOBA, 25 HR

Prediction: Decline

Analysis: Before you jump down my throat, it should be said that the resident Jewish God of Walks has a hell of a lot of room to decline from. Despite many Red Sox fans’ loud complaints of the team lacking a true power threat until Adrian Gonzalez’s arrival, Youkilis has quietly put up the third highest OPS in MLB over the last three years, behind only Albert Pujols and Mark Teixeira. However, given his age, his move back to a significantly more physically demanding position across the diamond, and the as-yet unknown effects of 2010’s hand injury, I am inclined to be more cautious on his 2011 than most. The injury in particular concerns me, as we have seen recently how injuries of the hand and wrist have had lingering effects on power (see Lowrie, Jed and Ortiz, David). Should Youkilis’s injury prove completely healed, I will be more than happy to recant this analysis. Until then, however, I feel that expecting him to re-do 2010 with the bat over a full season is unwise. That said, I only feel that Youkilis’s power will see a small decline; his on-base skills, on the other hand, seem to somehow still be improving. In 2010 he posted his highest walk rate since before he “morphed” into a power hitter in 2008, combined with the lowest K rate of his entire career, combined with the highest wOBA of his career. All very positive trends, I admit. Still, given the age, position change, and injury, I expect a slightly decreased slugging and a final OPS more in the .910-.920 range than .950+.


David Ortiz

Opening Day Age: 35

2011 Bill James projection: .261/.366/.509, .380 wOBA, 33 HR

Prediction: Decline

Analysis: I love Ortiz as much as anyone else with memories of 2004 and 2007 can and should, and while I would love to believe he can eke out one more serviceable 2010-ish season (as Bill James believes), that is essentially what it would boil down to: eking it out. Ortiz’s peripherals and contact indicators have all gone the wrong way for three years now, and it is hard to believe that his current ceiling can be any higher than the numbers he managed last year. While this makes him a perfectly acceptable DH, it also leaves him very little room for slipping. As he has become essentially helpless against LHP, any slip in his ability to hit RHP (who, to his credit, he did torch for a .297/.416/.643 triple-slash last year) will deeply affect his total performance. I do think that Ortiz will manage a .360 OBP, .500 SLG and 30 HR this year, but just barely. And from there, there really is virtually no room left to go down as a DH.


J.D. Drew

Opening Day Age: 35

2011 Bill James projection: .263/.370/.460, .365 wOBA, 22 HR

Prediction: Improve

Analysis: As one of Drew’s biggest defenders on this site, I wrote an analysis several months ago on my views regarding his struggles in 2010 and what it foretold for 2011. My opinions have not changed. While I doubt Drew will finish up his Red Sox tenure with a vintage 2008-2009 type offensive performance, I strongly believe he has more left than his limp 2010 would suggest. Drew’s plate discipline indicators and peripherals all pointed to a shift in approach being the culprit to his decreased production, not any physical loss of skills. Though he rarely made his sentiments visible, Drew was clearly unhappy with being squeezed at the plate for much of last year, and thus attempted to compensate by swinging at more outside pitches than ever before. A significantly reduced walk rate, poorer OBP, and decrease in solid hard-hit contact were the results. I am optimistic that some positive regression will be in store for him this year. Bill James’ projection is slightly bearish on SLG to me, but otherwise looks like a pretty realistic idea of what to expect from Drew in 2011.


Jarrod Saltalamacchia

Opening Day Age: 25

2011 Bill James projection: .249/.323/.422, .329 wOBA, 12 HR

Prediction: Maintain

Analysis: As “Salty” has had only sporadic MLB time, and I place little stock in minor league numbers, it is difficult to get a handle on what he will contribute this year. Most projection systems see him doing no better than roughly his MLB career line of .248/.315/.386, while Bill James is more optimistic on his power production. As the Red Sox will in all likelihood cover Salty’s weaknesses against LHP by platooning him with Jason Varitek, this may be the reason for James’s optimism. It should be said that despite Red Sox fans being spoiled by Victor Martinez’s bat for the last year and a half, James’s projected line for Salty would actually be more than acceptable for a catcher. As I freely admit to little in-depth knowledge on his offensive profile or scouting report, this projection seems quite reasonable to me: roughly in line with his career average, with more power to reflect the favorable matchups granted by the platoon.


Marco Scutaro

Opening Day Age: 35

2011 Bill James projection: .266/.339/.374, .319 wOBA, 10 HR

Prediction: Decline

Analysis: Scutaro was arguably the most underappreciated man on the team last year, forcing himself through 150 games despite multiple upper body injuries that affected him both in the field and at the plate. Despite all that, he still surprised with the bat, piling up more extra-base hits than Derek Jeter. For the statistically inclined, Scutaro also amused by putting up an absurd 97.4% zone contact rate to go with a 1.9% swinging strike rate. Seeing Scutaro swing and miss at a pitch in the zone was about as rare as David Ortiz stealing second. That said, being 35 and coming off an exhausting season where he played through multiple injuries, I don’t expect Scutaro to match his production from 2010. The recurring nature of 2010’s injuries, which forced him to receive multiple cortisone shots to make it through the season, also leave me pessimistic that he can endure an entire year as the starting shortstop. With Jed Lowrie on the bench, however, he doesn’t need to.


Tomorrow’s post: Bench and Bullpen.

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