The release of Baseball Prospectus's PECOTA projections is always a time for joy, celebration, and in the case of Royals fans, polite Midwestern fury. It's a reprieve from an entire winter without any vaguely concrete baseball numbers to kick around, and an opportunity to respond to predictions that aren't generally based on whether Murray Chass's knee is acting up.
A great deal of time, effort, and thought goes into the PECOTA system, and arguably the least meaningful aspect of every player's card is their predicted comparables. But they're also the most fun to play with. So today, we'll look at the likely starting lineup for the Red Sox, and their best-case and worst-case top-ten comp, by TAv. The resulting teams are... well, they're what would happen if the inventor of Strat-O-Matic Baseball ate the stranger mushrooms.
Catcher: Blake Swihart
Best-Case Comp: 2006 Adrian Gonzalez (.304 TAv)
Worst-Case Comp: 2013 Austin Romine (.189 TAv)
No, really, Adrian Gonzalez. Who hit .304/.362/.500 with 24 HR in San Diego that year. Likely for Swihart? I'm going to go out on a very short limb and say no. But damn, isn't it pretty to think so? Romine in 2013, meanwhile... Yeah, that's just about the perfect "this dude is a backup catcher" season. Quite a range for Blake.
First Base: Hanley Ramirez
Best-Case Comp: 1970 Billy Williams (.325 TAv)
Worst-Case Comp: 2011 Juan Rivera (.255 TAv)
If Blake Swihart's comp range was substantial, this one is fully ridiculous. Williams hit .322/.391/.586 in 1970 with 42 home runs. Rivera hit .274/.333./.406 in a third of a season for LA. The former would toss Hanley's 2015 right down the memory hole. The latter wouldn't be good for anyone not drawing a drivetime radio salary.
Second Base: Dustin Pedroia
Best-Case Comp: 1951 Jackie Robinson (.341 TAv)
Worst-Case Comp: 2014 Aaron Hill (.234 TAv)
In 1951, Jackie Robinson had arguably the best season of his too-short career, batting .338/.429/.527 and leading the Dodgers to within a Bobby Thomson home run of the NL pennant. In 2014, Aaron Hill collected a regular paycheck from the Diamondbacks.
Third Base: Pablo Sandoval
Best-Case Comp: 2007 Aramis Ramirez (.307 TAv)
Worst-Case Comp: 2011 Jorge Cantu (.184 TAv)
How bad is a .184 TAv? Well, Pablo had a .229 last year. 2011 was the last gasp of an occasionally impressive but generally mediocre career for Cantu. Ramirez's 2007, though, was a damn fine year. 27 HR is well out of Sandoval's range, but a .310 average doesn't seem quite so impossible if you can look past last year.
Shortstop: Xander Bogaerts
Best-Case Comp: 2007 Hanley Ramirez (.310 TAv)
Worst-Case Comp: 2013 Ruben Tejada (.203 TAv)
This one's really remarkable. Tejada played 57 games in 2013, OPSed .519, and put up 0.1 WARP. A 20-year-old Xander, that same season, OPSed .684 and produced 0.5 WARP in 18 games. 2007 Hanley, though... Oh, these are pretty numbers. 29 HR, 48 2B, 51 SB, and a line of .332/.386/.562. Xander won't steal 51 bases, obviously. He'll likely not steal 10. But the rest of those numbers we can at least dream on a bit.
Left Field: Rusney Castillo
Best-Case Comp: 2015 Charlie Blackmon (.272 TAv)
Worst-Case Comp: 2013 Felix Pie (.167 TAv)
Behold, PECOTA shrugs.
Center Field: Jackie Bradley, Jr.
Best-Case Comp: 2007 Curtis Granderson (.303 TAv)
Worst-Case Comp: 2008 Brian Anderson (.239 TAv)
Hanley Ramirez's plate discipline needs to improve in 2016
Although his defense was startlingly bad last season, Hanley Ramirez's offense as bad in almost every way as well.
This is actually the set of comps that inspired this piece. Brian Anderson makes complete sense. Basically the definition of replacement-level, which is where we're all terrified JBJ's offense is destined. But the best-case comp... 20+ home run power is not really a thing anyone's expecting from Bradley. But a high-double, high-K player with heavy defensive value? That doesn't seem silly to expect.
Right Field: Mookie Betts
Best-Case Comp: 2006 Joe Mauer (.307 TAv)
Worst-Case Comp: 2010 Gordon Beckham (.244 TAv)
Joe Mauer hit .347/.429/.507 as a 23-year-old catcher. Great good Goddang. As for Beckham... Well, here's a fun thing about prospect projection. Beckham was the salvation of the White Sox, tagged at least once as "the next Chase Utley." Now, at 29, after 865 games in the majors, he's accumulated 6.0 WARP. Mookie's already got 7.3 in 197 games.
Designated Hitter: David Ortiz
Best-Case Comp: 2011 Jason Giambi (.324 TAv)
Worst-Case Comp: 2010 Ken Griffey (.176 TAv)
Important caveat on both these comps: Giambi only played 60 games and Griffey only 30. Because there just aren't that many sluggers who've gone into their age-40 season with any chance at all of still slugging. Or even playing half the season, let alone into October.
So having gone through this, let's look at the lineups (obviously ignoring actual position):
Boston Red Sox (Puppies-and-Rainbows Universe)
C: Adrian Gonzalez
1B: Billy Williams
2B: Jackie Robinson
SS: Hanley Ramirez
LF: Charlie Blackmon
CF: Curtis Granderson
RF: Joe Mauer
DH: Jason Giambi
That's not a bad historical fantasy team at all. Just don't ever let an offense hit a baseball at them.
Boston Red Sox (Lemon-Juice-In-My-Eye Universe)
C: Austin Romine
1B: Juan Rivera
2B: Aaron Hill
3B: Jorge Cantu
SS: Ruben Tejada
LF: Felix Pie
CF: Brian Anderson
RF: Gordon Beckham
DH: Ken Griffey
Hey, they still might outscore the Rays.