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Plan B: A Look at the 2011 Red Sox Backups

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Spring Training has begun. The long, cold, baseball-less, winter is melting away and there is no shortage of stories. We have prospects playing with the big boys. We have superstars recovering from injury and taking their first cuts post-rehab. Yet, for the 2011 Boston Red Sox, one thing that we do not have is an exciting positional battle*. When you have the second or third highest payroll in the game, you tend to know who is going to get each positional spot, each rotation spot and each bullpen role.

*Ok, so a few players are completing for the LOOGY role, but does anyone find that battle exciting? 

Barring injury, we all know who will get the playing time on this team. That qualifier can matter quite bit, though. The 2010 Red Sox were proof of that. Even beyond injuries, it is always important to have good bench players. 162 games can wear guys down. Regular players will need a rest here and there. Theo and Co. have done an amazing job of creating a deep system and finding quality players to fill in when needed. Before we start the 2011 season, let’s take a look at the guys who will have to step up if things go wrong and who will have to make the most of limited playing time if things go right.

First up, the Position Players

2011 Marcel Projections (via Fangraphs)

 

Name

PA

R

HR

RBI

SB

AVG

OBP

SLG

wOBA

Ryan Kalish

290

39

7

36

10

0.269

0.333

0.427

0.338

Jed Lowrie

306

37

8

39

3

0.258

0.338

0.427

0.336

Aaron Bates

201

24

5

23

3

0.268

0.34

0.419

0.335

Darnell McDonald

393

43

9

38

8

0.262

0.326

0.41

0.329

Lars Anderson

222

26

5

25

3

0.262

0.339

0.4

0.328

Daniel Nava

294

35

5

36

3

0.257

0.345

0.389

0.326

Mike Cameron

353

42

12

38

6

0.24

0.321

0.417

0.326

Brent Dlugach

200

24

5

22

3

0.257

0.327

0.402

0.323

Drew Sutton

229

27

6

28

3

0.255

0.326

0.402

0.32

Yamaico Navarro

223

26

5

26

3

0.251

0.315

0.382

0.307

Josh Reddick

238

26

6

24

3

0.243

0.3

0.39

0.304

Jason Varitek

304

29

9

32

1

0.216

0.299

0.368

0.294

 

These twelve players are the most likely backup position players currently with the Red Sox in Fort Myers. Some may be cut or spend the entire season in AAA, but this is a look at our reserves and so far that mean these twelve guys. For a list of backups, this is pretty impressive. If this was a team’s starting lineup it would not be a terrible hitting club. The average wOBA for the group (.322) would have ranked 16th in the majors last year, just ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals. Marcel projects the league average wOBA at .319 for 2011, putting only three players on this list below average. Of course, these are just projections and given the limited amount of playing time for these players, these numbers carry more uncertainty than usual. Even so, you have to tip your hat to our front office for finding such a capable group of backups.

Their strategy here is fairly simple. You have a few declining veteran players (Cameron, Varitek, McDonald) mixed with young players who are just getting acclimated to the majors (Kalish, Lowrie, Anderson, Reddick, Navarro) and a few players near their prime who have been overlooked or discarded (Bates, Sutton, Nava). The young players are not great yet, but likely will be soon. The old players are not what they once were, but still capable of playing in the show, and the others are role players, limited in their abilities, but still very useful as part time players.

Looking at these projections, the first thing that stands out to me is that the plate appearances for JedI are too low. While Scutaro may be the nominal starting shortstop, he will certainly have to share time there to some degree. In addition, Lowrie will see time at third spelling Youk, at second whenever Tito can stand to rest Pedroia, and even at DH, should Ortiz struggle against lefties. I think that means at least 400 plate appearances and I would not be surprised to see him exceed that. On the flip side, I think that Darnell McDonald will struggle to reach 300 plate appearances next season as a healthy Mike Cameron will get the majority of fourth outfielder work.

Aside from plate appearances, there are several other interesting numbers in these projections. I assume that the very bullish projection for Aaron Bates is a quirk in the system. Bates is a useful player and put up average-ish numbers in Pawtucket for a full season in 2010, but Marcel has him with a wOBA one point higher than Derek Jeter in his very limited time with Boston. That seems pretty far-fetched, but smarter people than me created that system so we shall just have to wait and see. At league minimum salary, I wouldn’t complain about that type of production. Yankees fans should be very upset though.

The projections for Jed Lowrie are fairly conservative, but they still have him out performing Marco Scutaro (and Jeter for that matter, but I digress…). I think Lowrie will outperform the .258/.338/.427 line shown above, but even if he merely duplicates that line, it will put pressure on Terry Francona to play him at short as often as he can.

Ryan Kalish endeared himself to both Red Sox fans and the front office last season, filling in when every outfielder not named J.D. Drew was on the DL. It appears he also endeared himself to Marcel. Not only does he have the highest wOBA of any bench player in the projections, but they also have him hitting seven home runs and stealing 10 bases in just 290 plate appearances. Over a full season, that would mean around 16 home runs and 22 stolen bases. Like Lowrie, Kalish is going to be a key player to the Red Sox in the coming years. He may not be quite ready to take playing time from Mike Cameron or Jacoby Ellsbury now, but I would not be that surprised if he claimed his spot as our starting center fielder before the year ends. He is an excellent all around player and the team is fortunate that they do not have rush him to the majors.

Mike Cameron’s projection seems just about prefect. I think he gets a fair number of at bats platooning with Drew and taking some time from Ellsbury in center. He has always been a high strikeout guy with plus power, so his 12 home runs and .240 batting average look spot on. However, both he and Jason Varitek will be primarily used against lefties and that could give them both a boost.

Overall, the bench is impressive. There are a few guys here who could rival starters on the weaker teams, but the group as a whole is excellent insurance. Beyond the quality at bats we can expect from players like Lowrie, Cameron and Kalish, this group can also play solid defense. While we all hope that most of these players see very little time, we can be a little more at peace knowing even our reverses would make an above average team.