You may not know who Clay Davenport is, but as one of the founders of the excellent Baseball Prospectus, he's kind of a big deal in the baseball world. Today he released his projected standings for the 2014 season, and the news isn't the best for Red Sox fans.
At 86-76, Davenport projects the Red Sox to manage a second place finish in the East to the Tampa Bay Rays, whose 90 wins would trail only Detroit in all of Major League Baseball. If 86 wins seems like a low total for the defending World Champions, and 91 low for the best (projected) team in baseball, that's not terribly surprising, with projection systems tending to drag everything towards the middle.
Still, how did the Red Sox end up in second to the Rays? And by four games, no less? Honestly, this should come as no great surprise. The 2013 Red Sox were built on a buy-low philosophy. Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Stephen Drew? These were all players with the chance to do big things who had done very little in the season before. That's how the Red Sox were able to afford all three on a total commitment of about $50 million.
As with almost every projection system, Davenport's is not based solely on 2013 performance, but extends back a couple extra years. And it wasn't just the new acquisitions who struggled in 2012, but the returning Red Sox as well. Even some of their best players in Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz were significantly hampered by injury.
Given that, Davenport's projections probably says less about the Red Sox being an 86-win team--still good for a playoff spot, mind--and more about their nature as a high-variance team. All these red flags from 2012 still remain even after positive 2013 seasons. David Ortiz is still old. Dustin Pedroia has an even longer history of thumb issues. Jon Lester showed us in the middle months that he's still susceptible to periods of trouble. There is the potential for, if not disaster, than serious disappointment on this team. And that's something worth remembering coming off the heady days of October 2013.
That potential for disappointment, though, is mitigated by enough potential for greatness that it averages out to a playoff team. That's no great criticism.