The Red Sox are playing baseball again! It's not baseball that counts, of course, but it does scratch the itch, and we'll get to learn some little things like "Can Hanley Ramirez play first base?" and "Will Rusney Castillo go four weeks without pulling something?", so it's not for nothing. While we wait for those items and more to sort themselves out, there is still time to check out projections for the Sox -- specifically, PECOTA projections from Baseball Prospectus.
We've picked out five baseline projections that merit diving into. Another time, we'll look at their percentile forecasts to see what kind of ranges PECOTA is expecting, but for now, let's check out the basic looks.
David Ortiz has broken PECOTA, now and forever
PECOTA makes its projections using historical comparisons. There aren't many historical comparisons for David Ortiz, who is coming off the fourth-greatest age-39 season by OPS+ in the history of baseball for a qualifying player. Ortiz's 141 mark is only behind Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, and Babe Ruth, while he's ahead of guys like Willie Mays, Eddie Collins, and his contemporary, Alex Rodriguez.
So, at this point, PECOTA has basically given up on the idea that Ortiz is going to be something besides great. His baseline projection for 2016 -- that's the "weighted mean" forecast, essentially the average of all Ortiz's projected outcomes -- is .276/.362/.509. That would be a drop from 2015, sure, but it's a projection for a 40-year-old that has him slugging over .500 while reaching base constantly.
It's not just his age-40 season, either. PECOTA might be a little broken when it comes to Ortiz -- remember that thing where Willie Mays was the last guy to be nearly as good as Ortiz at 39? That was in 1970. Players are in better condition than they used to be thanks to advances in everything from diets to workouts, so who knows when Ortiz would actually stop hitting. He's very likely stepping away from baseball before that happens, as he's retiring after this season, but PECOTA thinks he could keep on going for quite some time.
Long-term forecasts are part of the PECOTA model, and they are oftentimes harsh given all the variables involved in projecting that far out. With Ortiz, though? PECOTA has kind of just accepted that he'll be productive so long as he plays. In 2025, at age 49 -- 10 seasons from now! -- PECOTA has Big Papi batting .248/.324/.424, an almost league-average line.
Could Ortiz do that? It's unlikely, but the fact PECOTA has it there is a reminder of just how rare Ortiz's current situation is. He's done so well for so long that this projection system just doesn't quite know what to make of him anymore, not now, and not in a hypothetical future.
Jackie Bradley might be able to hit after all
Jackie Bradley has had a rough go of things in the majors, at least at the plate. Outside of the one month where he went nuclear on the opposition in 2015, he's been horrendous offensively. PECOTA sees something in that mini-breakout, though, or at least it seems to, as Bradley's baseline forecast for 2016 is a more than tolerable .246/.318/.401.
That might not seem like much, but it is: the league-average on-base percentage in the AL in 2016 was .318, so if Bradley could match that a year later, it would be huge for his value. He wouldn't even need to hit for much power for this to work. If he does hit for a bit of power, as PECOTA suggests with the .155 Isolated Power, then he's gone from "tolerable" to actively helping the Sox. It doesn't take much to make his defense worth it.
Whether Bradley can actually hit this over a full season remains to be seen, as there are questions about his ability to adjust to the pitchers who have already begun adjusting to him. Spring is the time for hope, though, and it helps that PECOTA seems to think there could be something here.
PECOTA doesn't love the bullpen as much as it should
Projecting relievers is difficult, and not just because they can seemingly go from great to terrible in an instant. Part of it has to do with what projections often are, especially in PECOTA's case: they're a mid-range guesstimate of what you can expect, so you're not going to see a ton of extremes being thrown out when you're hanging out in the middle.
So, from a projection point of view, seeing Craig Kimbrel, Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, and Carson Smith in the same bullpen is not as exciting as you know it actually can be. That's because PECOTA is forecasting Kimbrel for a 2.96 ERA, the best in the pen, when it's possible that three or four of those pitchers will not only be under that mark, but maybe well under it.
If you sit back and remember that these are the mid-range, baseline projections, though, then Kimbrel's 2.96 is amazing, as is Uehara's. Then you've got Smith's 3.02 mark, and Tazawa, coming off a disappointing 2015, is still projected for a baseline ERA of 3.54. So, what PECOTA has given us, taken at face value, looks like it thinks the pen is good, not amazing. That's hardly the case, though, as even the middle of the road forecast has some serious numbers in it.
PECOTA likes everyone more than Joe Kelly
Joe Kelly had a rough 2015 until he made some tweaks during his demotion to Triple-A. He still wasn't anything besides a back-end starter, but as Ian Kennedy's salary reminds us, there is value in having that guy already around. Maybe you aren't optimistic that Kelly will get the job done and hold onto that fifth spot all year. PECOTA has a few reasons for optimism to help you through the spring.
While Kelly is projected for a 4.44 ERA over 24 starts, PECOTA has Henry Owens, Brian Johnson, and Roenis Elias down for ERA of 4.25, 4.05, and 4.29, respectively, over a combined 24 starts of their own. It's not a huge difference, but it does help remind you that the Sox have plenty of depth behind Kelly, should he fail to work out. And given that manager John Farrell has already mentioned using his depth rather than being overly patient, if Kelly doesn't have it this time around, he won't be getting those 24 projected starts.
Mookie Betts is Boston's best yet again
PECOTA liked Betts as Boston's top offensive contributor a year ago, and after a 2015 season that saw him build on his brief rookie campaign, nothing has changed. PECOTA has a baseline projection of .297/.361/.471 for the 23-year-old Betts, and sees him being better than a four-win player. Again, that's the weighted-mean forecast suggesting as much, not one of the high-end projections.
Betts needs to be great, too, as the outfield is otherwise full of questions between Rusney Castillo and the aforementioned Bradley. Getting David Murphy should help a bit, as Murphy plus Chris Young is a more than serviceable platoon should it come to it, but Betts is the anchor regardless of who ends up in the outfield by year's end.