Some people start going to the gym every day. Some people stop smoking. Some people eat healthier foods. Maybe some people stop going to the gym, start smoking, and eat only junk food. It would certainly be a lot more fun that way. As we roll into the New Year, you will surely be hearing people talk about how they’re going to be changing their entire lifestyle for 2014. Granted, most of those people will probably change back to their same routines by February, but good on them for trying, and maybe a few will succeed. In that vein, a few players on the Red Sox have some things they should be working on. We’ll call them New Years resolutions, since it’s a holiday and I’m so darn clever.
Felix Doubront: Pitching Well Through September
Based on the current roster, Felix Doubront will very likely be manning the final spot in the rotation for the third straight year. As a 26-year-old who has made 56 starts over the past two seasons, he is no longer a young player who needs to be brought along cautiously over the course of the year. Everyone has seen the flashes from the left-hander, who could easily profile as a middle-of-the-rotation arm in his prime with a bit more consistency. The problem for him, though, is that he has yet to make it through an entire season. Each of his last two seasons, he was visibly fatigued by the end of the year, shifting to the bullpen for the end of the 2013 season. In his career, August and September have been Doubront’s worst months, as he has a 5.03 and 6.51 ERA in those months, respectively. In 2013, he got off to a wonderful start, putting up a 3.74 ERA and a 129/59 K/BB ratio through the month of August, before the wheels completely fell off in September. If he’s ever going to be a fixture in this team’s future rotation, Doubront is going to have to pitch at full-strength for all six months of the season plus October. It’s yet to happen, but 2014 would be a nice time to start.
Mike Napoli: Cutting Down on Strikeouts
By all accounts, Mike Napoli had a tremendous season in his first year in Boston. After a winter-long negotiation involving a failed physical and an incentive-laden deal, the now-fan favorite played all season, and at a high level. With a .259/.360/.482 (129 wRC+) batting line, combined with surprisingly good defense at his new position at first base, he was one of the more productive players on the team in 2013. Bringing him back was absolutely the right move for the front office. With all of that being said, he still has some things to improve this year. Even though batting average on balls in play isn’t all luck, Napoli’s .367 BABIP is probably going to fall this year, bringing the rest of his line down with it. One way to reduce the damage done by this regression would be cutting down on his strikeouts. He’s been a high-strikeout player throughout his career, but he went down swinging even more often this season, with a career-high 32 percent K-rate. If he can bring that rate down even to the high-20’s, he will still be able to produce at a high level offensively even without such a high BABIP. His K-rate has been trending upwards throughout his career, and reversing that trend should be number one on his to-do list in 2014.
Photo Courtesy of Greg M. Cooper- USA TODAY Sports
Clay Buchholz: Staying Healthy
This one is a little unfair to Buchholz, since I’m sure if he had it his way, he would get through the entire season healthy. With that being said, him remaining healthy would be a tremendous boost for Boston’s hopes of repeating in 2014. For all of the (deserved) praise Jon Lester has received after his amazing run in this past postseason, Buchholz is still the Red Sox’s best pitcher in this writer’s opinion.
Given how amazing the end of the 2013 season was for the team, it's easy to forget just how great the 29-year-old was before being placed on the disabled list. He threw 84-1/3 innings in his first twelve starts, posting a 1.71 (!) ERA with an 81/29 K/BB ratio. It’s up for debate whether or not Lester or Buchholz is the "staff ace." At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter. The 2014 Red Sox will be a better team if Buchholz can make 30 starts.
Allen Webster: Improving Command
One of the most promising aspects of this Red Sox roster is how much depth there is in the starting rotation. To go along with six bona fide major-league starters, they also have four - five if you count Rubby De La Rosa - well-regarded starters in Pawtucket. While Brandon Workman gets the most publicity after playing a key role en route to a World Series, Allen Webster is the guy with the most potential to help Boston this coming season. The soon-to-be 24-year-old came over from Los Angeles in the Nick Punto trade, and was ranked as the fourth-best prospect in Boston’s system by Alex Speier. He got his first taste of the majors this past year, and struggled mightily. In 30-1/3 innings, he put up an 8.60 ERA with a 6.51 FIP. He walked way too many batters (12.4 percent of them), while also allowing seven home runs, or a shade over two every nine innings. He has all the tools to be an asset for a major-league team right now, but he’ll need to refine his command if he’s going to fulfill that potential.