As we approach the new year, it means we are also entering into projection season. Personally, I am a big fan of this time of year, even if I acknowledge the limitations of these systems. Obviously, these projections can’t be taken as gospel and there are plenty of things that a simulation can’t know, but it’s a good way to see how/if you’re expectations are at all realistic.
So, with that in mind, head over here to check out this year’s ZiPS projections for the 2016 Red Sox. There are a lot of interesting nuggets in there, and they cover mostly every player who could even sniff an appearance in the upcoming season, and a few who don’t have a chance. Many of the numbers jumped out to me, but it would take far too long to go over every single one. Instead, I picked out a handful of the projections that I found the most interesting, and decided whether I think the player will finish over or under the projected outcome.
Mookie Betts: 5.4 WAR
We’ll start with the player that ZiPS unsurprisingly projects to be the most valuable on the roster in 2016. Even with massive expectations placed on him heading into the season, Betts came through with a great all-around year in 2015, finishing with 4.8 fWAR. ZiPS has him finishing next year with a 124 OPS+, which seems about right to me, and is an improvement over last year. This one mostly comes down to the defense, and I just don’t know how to project that. In my opinion, the metrics slightly overrated him in 2015, and while I expect improvement in his second full season in the outfield, a +5 rating seems awfully high. I don’t think the overall WAR projection is outrageous at all, but I’ll take the conservative view on this one and peg him slightly below the 5.4 mark.
Xander Bogaerts: 103 OPS+
On the surface, this seems like a severe underestimation of Bogaerts’ skills. Looking at the numbers, it looks like he had every bit the breakout year that Betts did in 2015. However, most of those numbers were built upon a strong batting average, which itself was heavily influenced by an inflated batting average on balls in play. Put another way, he didn’t really walk much and he didn’t hit for a ton of power, producing just a 4.9 percent walk-rate and a .101 ISO. So, it’s easy to see why ZiPS isn’t overly optimistic about his immediate future. To its credit, it does see a slight step forward in both of these areas in 2016. However, I know much more about the prospect pedigree of Bogaerts and his makeup than the projection system. Because of that, I foresee more of a jump forward for the Red Sox shortstop, and will confidently take the over.
Jackie Bradley Jr.: 24.5% K%
This would be a significant improvement over anything that Bradley has done at the major-league level over the last three years. ZiPS is quite confident in his ability to keep hitting after a hot second-half in 2015, projecting a 97 OPS+ in 2016, and the low K-rate (relative to past performance) is a big part of that. For what it’s worth, the Steamer projection system sees him cutting that rate down even lower. Personally, I can’t really see him cutting down his strikeouts much over a full season against major-league pitching. Even when he was tearing the cover off the ball last summer, he was still striking out at a higher clip than what we’re talking about here. Taking the over is an easy choice to me.
Dustin Pedroia: .119 ISO
In what was overall a very negative year for the Red Sox, there was some solace to be taken in the return of Dustin Pedroia’s power stroke. Obviously, he didn’t turn into David Ortiz or anything, but he got back to his old ways and finished the year with a .150 Isolated Power. ZiPS clearly doesn’t believe that was a sustainable bounce-back. As with Bogaerts, it’s easy to see why a projection system would think like this. Pedroia is coming off two bad years in terms of power, and ZiPS doesn’t know about the injury issues that plagued him over that time. I believe in what I saw from Pedroia last year, and even with some age-related regression he should eclipse that mark.
David Price: 121 ERA+
To absolutely no one’s surprise, ZiPS sees Price as being the best pitcher on the Red Sox roster in 2016. Obviously, we have much better ways to judge pitcher performance at our disposal, but there’s still something to be said about pure run prevention. If Price does indeed finish the year with a 121 ERA+, he will have had a very good season, even if it’s not quite the elite mark some may be hoping for. However, I see bigger and better things for him. His peripherals have always shown him to be a better pitcher than this very good ERA. On top of that, the Red Sox should have put together a good defensive group, with strong gloves in the middle infield and throughout the outfield. The corner infielders are a question mark, and we still don’t know how Blake Swihart’s defense will progress by next spring, but the makings are here for a plus defensive team. That combined with Price’s elite talent level makes this an over pick for me.
Joe Kelly: 101 FIP-
Now, we look at the other side of the coin. If we’re to take Dave Dombrowski at his word, the rotation is set right now and Kelly is going to be a part of it. I’ll be the first to admit I’m quite harsh on Kelly’s game, but he’s given me little reason not to be to this point. A 101 FIP- would make him essentially league-average (FIP- is on an opposite scale as ERA+. A number over 100 is bad here.), and he’s never really finished a year close to that designation to this point in his career. Looking at each of his three-true-outcome projections individually, nothing jumps out as egregious. However, it’s hard to see those improvements all coming at once. I’m taking the over here.
Craig Kimbrel: 33.3% K%
We end this little game with the first major acquisition of the offseason and the spark of a massive bullpen overhaul. I’ve already looking into how the talk of Kimbrel’s decline is overblown, but it’s worth point out that his K-rate has been falling over the last few years. However, even as it bottomed out last year, he still finished with a mark over 36 percent. Furthermore, he’s still inducing swinging strikes at a similar rate. It’s not impossible that he finishes the year having struck out fewer than a third of his opponents, but it seems more likely than not that he’ll finish over that mark.