Last season, the Red Sox boasted the best offense in baseball, and it was by a fairly large margin. The 57-run gap between them and the second-place Tigers was larger than the gap between Detroit and the 6th ranked offense in the game. A large part of that success was because of an outfield that was more productive than any other unit in baseball, by fWAR. They were third among all outfield units in wRC+. With the 2014 season just around the corner, it's time to start seeing where the production is going to come from this year. For the Red Sox, they will need to be hoping some of the other spots around the diamond picks up some of the slack, because there will likely be some regression at every spot in the outfield.
Offensively, the Red Sox had the third most productive left field, behind the Angels (hello, Mike Trout), and Colorado. This was a pretty huge surprise, considering no one expected anything too far beyond league-average play from a Daniel Nava/Jonny Gomes tandem. In reality, it ended up being the perfect platoon, with Nava showing he is a much better hitter than anyone had given him credit for, especially against right-handed pitching. Overall, he hit .303/.385/.445, with a 128 wRC+, giving him the 15th best wRC+ among all outfields, and the seventh best on base percentage of that same group. While a lot of that should be sustainable, given his extremely advanced approach at the plate, there's a small chance that's his true-talent level. Much of his line was boosted by a .352 batting average on balls in play, a mark that is almost assuredly going to come down this year. Another worry I have is that John Farrell will get too enamored with Gomes during the season, moving away from a true platoon that seems so ideal. If Gomes still plays primarily against left-handed pitching, he should stay around the same 109 wRC+ he was at in 2013. If Farrell moves away from the platoon, though, Gomes will likely see a dip in his production as well, as he's a career .225/.310/.423 (94 wRC+) against righties.
Photo Courtesy of Dilip Vishwanat
Moving over to center field, we're at the spot at which the Red Sox may be looking at their biggest dropoff in offensive production on the diamond. It may be because the anti-Ellsbury crowd has just become such a loud minority over the years, but it has seemed like the former leadoff hitter and center fielder's ability at the plate has become somewhat underrated, especially last year. While he isn't above-average at drawing walks, especially for a leadoff hitter, his hit tool is good enough to make up for it, and last season he hit for a .298/.355/.426 (113 wRC+) line. In 2014, of course, Jackie Bradley will be taking the now-Yankee's spot. The rookie struggled a ton in his first taste of major-league action, but that was in no small part due to being rushed, as he was pushed to the bigs with just 271 plate appearances above high-A under his belt. He should be a more polished and season hitter this year, and won't be that black hole in the lineup again. With that being said, it'd be very surprising to see the same kind of offensive production that we saw from Ellsbury. Even the most optimistic projections have him as a very slightly above-average bat, while it's more likely he'll be somewhere in the 90-100 wRC+ range, putting him a little below-average. Bradley will be a fine player, and eventually could match the kind of production Ellsbury (non-2011 edition) put up, but that won't be in 2014.
Finally, in right field, Shane Victorino will be coming back trying to match a fantastic 2013 season. Dubbed by some as the worst signing of last offseason, the 33 year old proved to everyone that the 2012 season was an aberration, as he got back to being a very good player, hitting .294/.351/.451, good for a 119 wRC+. Looking back, writing him off after one bad season was extremely rash, since it was his first below-average season since 2007. However, even if he should still be a good player, there are plenty of reasons to think the production at that position will drop, even if it's just slightly there. For one thing, he is coming off a .321 BABIP season. While that number doesn't seem egregiously high, it was the first time in three years that put up a mark above .300, suggesting it will come down at least a little. On top of that, he accumulated 532 plate appearances last season despite being banged up for most of the year. Given his playing style, it's not far-fetched to think he'll miss more time in 2014. Right now, it's not entirely clear who would replace him in that spot, whether it's Nava, Grady Sizemore, or maybe even Bryce Brentz. Whoever it is isn't likely to be the caliber of player of Victorino.
While this seems really pessimistic, it's not as bad as it sounds. The Red Sox should be looking at better production at third base, and possibly at second base and shortstop, too. They still have an outstanding offense, even if it doesn't look like they'll be quite as elite as they were in 2013. Still, if Boston has hopes of repeating their run from last year, they are going to have to replace some of that production they got from the outstanding outfield of a year ago, with a dip coming from each spot in that unit.