While it’s sad that the baseball season is over, and the next time we’ll see something close to the highest level of the sport won’t be until March, the offseason can be an exciting time too. Though most moves likely won’t start happening for at least another week (Koji notwithstanding), rumors are already flying. One of the most interesting involving the Red Sox is that they are likely to trade Yoenis Cespedes. Only time will tell whether that is just talk or if there is actual substance to the rumors, but either way it’s a fascinating topic. On the one hand, it doesn’t appear likely at this time that he’ll be around beyond 2015, and the Red Sox can’t get compensation if he walks in free agency. On the other, he’s a legitimate power hitter and run producer, and it’s tough to lose that from the lineup. Is that overblown, though? Does Boston’s lineup really need his power, or is it just a nice luxury?
At this point, everyone knows power is down across the game. Watch a week’s worth of regular season contests and that becomes clear. Because of this phenomena, is it any more or less valuable to have extra punch in your lineup? To do a quick and unscientific check of this, I looked at where the ten playoff teams ranked this year in Isolated Power. Four of the teams finished in the top third, four more finished in the middle third, and the final two were in the bottom ten. Seven of the ten finished in the top half of the league, though the two World Series participants were in the bottom half. In fact, Kansas City was dead last. You can take that with whatever size grain of salt you wish, as it was just a quick rundown of a one-year sample. To me, though, it shows that teams can definitely succeed in today’s game without a ton of power, but it obviously helps to have some.
So, is this a point in favor of the Red Sox keeping Cespedes? The quick answer is no. While he’s a great luxury to have, this lineup has enough power to be potent without him, both in terms of headliners and depth pieces.
Photo Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports
The heart of Boston’s lineup is fairly obvious at this point. David Ortiz is the face of the team’s power brigade, and for good reason. Despite his age, he has remained a consistent home run threat, hitting 65 in the last two seasons. He has never had an ISO below .200 as a Red Sox, and has reached the .255 mark in each of the last three seasons. In fact, in that time period, only Edwin Encarnacion, Giancarlo Stanton and Chris Davis have shown better power.
Behind Ortiz will once again be Mike Napoli, who’s pure power cannot be understated. While Ortiz has the consistent production, Napoli has the muscle. In that same three-year span, one of every five fly balls hit my the first baseman has left the yard, a mark beat by only six players. It’s true that his power numbers dropped a bit in 2014, but there shouldn’t be too much cause for concern. It appears that it was a change in his approach at the plate, sacrificing a bit of his power to reduce his strikeouts. You just need to watch Napoli for a few games to realize the power is still there, and he’s a threat to hit one out every time he comes to the plate.
The final member of the heart of Boston’s order is the biggest wildcard in this area. Xander Bogaerts came into 2014 with sky-high expectations, but struggled much more than he flourished. Luckily, he started to turn that around in September, looking much more like the stud everyone expected him to be. After hitting just eight homers in the first five months of the year, he broke out with four in the final page of the regular season’s calendar while putting up a much-improved .177 ISO. Bogaerts went through the minors displaying all the traits to be an effective power hitter at this peak, and it showed on the stat sheets and the scouting report. He’s been unable to carry that over against major-league pitching, but with another season under his belt a breakout can be expected in 2015.
Beyond those three, the Red Sox have a number of supporting characters who can bring the power at different times. Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo figure to comprise two-thirds of next year’s outfield, and both players can display surprising power. Neither of them are likely to be winning home run derbies for years to come, but both can put 15-20 balls over the fence on a yearly basis. On top of that, both should use their legs and Fenway’s dimensions to consistently hit doubles and triples. Whoever they bring in to play third should also prove to be a huge improvement in power as well. Last year, that position ISO’d just .106, and guys like Pablo Sandoval and Chase Headley have enough pop to beat that. Finally, there’s Allen Craig, the man of many question marks. We don’t know where or how much he’ll play, or at what level. However, he has a track record of being a strong power hitter. If he can get back close to the level he was at for most of his time with St. Louis, he’s just another guy who can hit 20+ home runs.
Obviously, none of this is to say the Red Sox have to deal Cespedes. His power would be a welcomed luxury for this lineup. With that being said, the lineup can survive without him. In this era of low power, you can get by with a few core run producers, with depth pieces surrounding them. It’s a lineup that should have players getting on base all over the place, and plenty of pieces throughout the roster to get those runners home. If Bogaerts can become the hitter we all envision him to be, this could be one of the better power hitting teams in the league. If not, they should still be somewhere around average in this area. And in this new era of baseball, that’s more than enough.