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To Decline or Not to Decline? That is the Question

ESPN columnist Rob Neyer recently had an article announcing players that he thinks will improve or decline (ESPN Insider required) this year. Red Sox on the list that are "likely to decline" are Mark Bellhorn, and Jason Varitek. On the list to "likely improve" is new shortstop Edgar Renteria.

Is Neyer a genius that is making predictions that he pulled out of his hat? No. He's just following trends and making assumptions.

Bellhorn, odds are, has to decline. Last season was a career year for him and he only batted .264. So what are the chances that he improves on those numbers? I'm not saying Bellhorn is a bad player. As a matter of fact, I've actually grown to like Bellhorn. I just think that, according to previous seasons, it'd be hard to top last season and his performance has to decline somewhat.

Varitek, when factoring in his age (33 on April 11th) and his position (catcher), is pretty much on the downward slide of his career. Once again, I love Varitek. I think he's a great player, but I don't see him actually improving this season. He may not decline, but improving would be a stretch. If he hit like he did last season (.296/.390/.482) then I'll be extremely happy. If he declines slightly, then I'll still be happy. But he may never crack .300 or better from this point in his career. Or hit 25 or more home runs in a season again.

New shortstop Renteria has a very good chance of improving in the 2005 season. The majority of his numbers last season were some of his lowest in his pro career. He only stole 17 bases in 2004, when he stole 41 in 1998 with the Florida Marlins. The Sox don't steal much, but he should come close to improving over 17 stolen bases last season. Also, even though this is Renteria's tenth season in the majors, he's only 29 years old. He has a lot more years in the majors, and a lot more years to improve. He's also coming to a hitter-friendly ballpark, so a batting average of over .300 and more than 20 home runs is a definite possibility.