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Can the Red Sox Still Hit? Dispelling the Myth of the "Weakened Offense"

From the beginning, the Red Sox' goal this offseason has been clear: run prevention, run prevention, run prevention. And certainly, they've made great strides towards that goal. Mike Cameron will hush fears of Jacoby Ellsbury's suspect reads, while Ellsbury will take advantage of the smaller left field, replacing the sieve that was Jason Bay. Adrian Beltre is one of the best defensive third basemen to play the game in recent years, and will hopefully allow Kevin Youkilis to supply his top-notch defense at first for the whole season. Marco Scutaro will provide some consistency at shortstop, for once, and all of this will be taking place behind a ridiculously strong rotation.

But in the eyes of many, this has been at the cost of offense. "We won't be able to hit elite pitching" (who can?) or "We're lacking a middle-of-the-rotation bat" are oft-heard complaints. Right now, let's take a look at what we actually have--all semantics aside. This article will attempt to look at the offensive production gained or lost objectively with statistics, so if you're not a fan of wOBA, now is the time to turn around. I've taken advantage of Beyond the Boxscore's wOBA to RAR calculator to turn wOBA over a certain number of plate appearances into the more tangible concept of runs for the sake of simplicity.

First, we need to establish a baseline. Let's use the 2009 Sox. Last year we scored 872 runs--the 3rd most of any team that season, and the 10th most in the last 5 seasons. If that's not a good offensive team, I don't know what is.

So what's changed since 2009? Well, a fair amount. Let's look at new players since the start of the 2009 season, who they're replacing, and how much of a difference it's going to make.

The first change is the difference that a whole season of Victor Martinez will make over a season of Jason Varitek. In 2009, Jason Varitek caught 109 games, accumulating 425 plate appearances. Let's consider this to be the load of the "starting catcher" that Victor Martinez is taking over. Last year, Jason Varitek had a .306 wOBA, while Victor Martinez managed a .399 while with Boston. Now, I'm sure Fenway helped Victor out some, but it seems likely that he won't be able to maintain that number, and again, I'm trying to be conservative--even pessimistic! Let's aim closer to his recent averages at .370 instead. Then we have to subtract Martinez' .399 wOBA over 31 games started at catcher. With these fairly conservative calculations the switch from Varitek to Martinez should be worth about 8.2 runs over last year.

Next up is the Marco Scutaro change. Last year's group of shortstops posted a truly atrocious .289 wOBA over 574 plate appearances, while Marco Scutaro managed a solid .354. However, it's the consensus opinion that Scutaro won't keep up his performance from last year, even if his plate discipline peripherals suggest it wasn't just a matter of luck. Bill James and the Fans projections both are right around .327, though, which doesn't seem at all unreasonable. Over the same 574 plate appearances, the difference between Scutaro and last year's shortstops is worth 19.5 runs. Surprisingly, this makes up the bulk of the improvement to the Red Sox' offense--likely due to the fact that I'm considering Martinez to have produced well above what could be expected of him in 2010 last year.

From here, we enter negative territory with a positive balance of 27.7 runs.

At third base, we have the newly acquired Adrian Beltre, whose offensive production is a matter of much debate, replacing Mike Lowell. Last year, Lowell managed a wOBA of .346 over 440 plate appearances at third base. Now, it's not fair to really only compare Lowell and Beltre, as Youkilis spent tons of time at 3rd with Victor Martinez filling in at first, making V-Mart the effective substitution. However, since we're not considering Martinez' time spent elsewhere this coming year, we can't really count it this year. It would be about the same as far as plate appearances are concerned. We'll also, for the sake of simplicity, not consider Casey Kotchman's fill-ins, since he'll likely be back too. Adrian Beltre, for his part, had a very bad year last year, but he was dealing with injuries. It's more fair to instead look at his 3 previous years, which were all very consistent around .340 wOBA. Again, to be conservative, we won't even consider the advantage of hitting in Fenway as compared to Safeco, great though it may be. Given the .006 wOBA difference, there's not much change in production switching from Lowell to Beltre--only 2.3 runs.

Finally, there's the big one: left field. While Ellsbury may well be the one manning the position come 2010, it's really Mike Cameron that's replacing Jason Bay, so we'll use him for comparison. Jason Bay was an undeniable offensive stud last year, managing a .397 wOBA over 638 plate appearances. 638 plate appearances might be a bit much for a guy of Cameron's age, but for once I'm going to be optimistic and assume he stays healthy all season (which he's mostly managed three of the last 4 seasons). In exchange, we'll ignore the fact that, given their likely different positions in the lineup, many of Bays at bats would be going to a better offensive producer like Drew. For Cameron, we'll put the wOBA level again at .340. This is less than Cameron has managed in recent years, for the most part, but let's accept some decline in production due to age, fitness buff that Cameron might be. The difference here is admittedly dramatic, as the switch from Jason Bay will cost the Red Sox some 32.2 runs.

Some quick math later, and we have the figure of 6.8 runs. That's it. The Boston Red Sox of 2010 should, even assuming a fairly low baseline for all replacement players, score only 6.8 runs fewer than they did in 2010. Even ignoring all bumps longtime residents of Progressive, Miller, and Safeco Field might get from playing half their games in Fenway. Even assuming that Ortiz doesn't continue his performance from the last half, but replicates his mediocre season as a whole. Even assuming that our young guys like Pedroia and Ellsbury don't improve! It doesn't take into account the advantages in wins if not runs that being able to play "small ball" might have in a close game, as Scutaro, Cameron, and Beltre can all steal a base if they need to compared to just Jason Bay (to say nothing of all the cries of GIDP-machine Lowell last year). The difference is all of 6.8 runs.

Last year, the Sox ended the season in a series where they failed to score more than one run combined in the first couple of games. And of course, there was the long period against the Yankees where they just couldn't score any runs. It was streaks like these that set off an alarm in Red Sox Nation making everyone think that we were somehow a bad team with a weak lineup. But alarmism is the perfect way to describe that. Every player slumps. Sometimes teams slump together--have a bad game or two. Even three like against the Yankees. Looking at a sample as small as five cherry-picked games, though, is an absolutely ridiculous way to assess a team's abilities, and the changes that need to be made. Last year, we scored a ton of runs. This year, we'll still score a ton of runs. The difference is that we won't give up nearly as many, and we'll have a better chance of winning any game we play as a result.