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Examining some interesting Red Sox ZiPS projections

One of the most prominent systems released its Red Sox projections on Wednesday

MLB: ALDS-Houston Astros at Boston Red Sox Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

As the season inches closer and closer, one of the hallmarks of this time of year is the unleashing of various projections from different systems and developers. Among the most famous and most respected of these is ZiPS, a system developed by Dan Szymborski. Every year, these projections are released on Fangraphs one team at a time. On Wednesday, the Red Sox’ projections were released, so I figured it’d be worth it to look at some of the more interesting nuggets from this list. You can check out all of the projections here. Before we get started, I’ll throw out the obligatory disclaimer that projections are not gospel and no reasonable person — even the developer of said projection — would claim otherwise. Instead, it’s just another tool in trying to figure out what to expect from any given player or team. Now, let’s get to the good stuff.

The Red Sox and Yankees have very similar projections

After the Yankees advanced farther in the 2017 postseason and followed that up for acquiring Giancarlo Stanton for peanuts, the general consensus seems to be that New York is leaps and bounds ahead of Boston right now despite the latter winning two straight division championships. ZiPS would disagree with that premise. According to the depth chart WAR totals featured at the top of every post in the ZiPS series, Boston and New York both project for 46 WAR apiece. Now, as I said above projections aren’t gospel and simple add-up-the-WAR analysis is garbage. That being said, I think this is just another point in favor of this division being much, much closer than people are giving it credit for.

Rafael Devers is the team’s best home run hitter

When people say the Red Sox should certainly have a better offense in 2018 than they did in 2017, a big reason why is that Devers is going to be at third base for a full season. It was evident as soon as he came up that he’s a special hitter, and ZiPS likes him so much that it projects him as the team’s home run leader. This was a little surprising to me at first just because a projection system — and these systems all skew more towards conservative estimates — predicting this kind of success for a 21-year-old isn’t common. That being said, I’m not sure who the other option would be. There may be a case for picking Betts over Devers in home run totals, but this projection shows both justified confidence in the young third baseman as well as a lack of confidence in power throughout the rest of the lineup.

The Red Sox rotation is really, really good

St Louis Cardinals v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

For all of the talk about the offense this winter, the 2017 Red Sox will go as far as the rotation will take them. ZiPS thinks it’ll take them pretty damn far. According to these projections, the Red Sox will get above-average production from everyone in the rotation. Among the top five starters, the worst ERA- (a metric that adjusts ERA to league-averages and park effects) belongs to Rick Porcello at 91. In other words, the worst of Boston’s top five starters will be nine percent better than the league-average pitcher. Of course, they’ll need depth, too. Steven Wright, Hector Velazquez, Brian Johnson and Jalen Beeks project for ERA-’s of: 101, 105, 107 and 110. That’s an outstanding group, and has arguably become a bit underrated as the winter has gone on.

Mookie Betts will get his BABIP back

Among the all of the disappointing hitters on the roster last year, Betts was perhaps the most perplexing. He was still showing off strong plate discipline and he was still hitting for power at times. However, he finished the year barely better than league-average at the plate and while some of that seemed to be due to passivity at the plate, a lot seemed like rotten luck on balls in play. ZiPS would agree and sees him putting up a .308 BABIP to get him back to a 123 wRC+. That seems about fair, though I may take the over on both.

We should get the Andrew Benintendi we expected

Last year, Benintendi’s expectations heading into the season were certainly out of whack, and I was as guilty about getting caught up in the hype as anyone. We were expecting a doubles machine with great plate discipline to fit perfectly into the top third of the order. That didn’t happen, though ZiPS sees it coming this year. They don’t see a ton of home runs (just 18) but that’s paired with 35 doubles and five triples, which sounds like the Benintendi we’ve come to expect.

Joe Kelly is the second-best reliever in the bullpen

This, perhaps, is the most surprising projection of all and goes the most against non-computer predictions for the roster. Obviously, Craig Kimbrel is the best reliever on the staff. Any projection system that didn’t say that would not be worth reading into. ZiPS has Kelly as the second-best reliever, though, which likely says more about the bullpen than it does about Kelly. They actually have it fairly close between Kelly, Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree and Carson Smith, but Kelly wins out due to slightly better control and a much better ability to keep the ball in the yard. Remember, though, that projection systems can only see data produced by players and doesn’t actually take into account Smith’s recovery process or how effective he looked at times down the stretch last year. I’ll go ahead and disagree with this assessment from ZiPS, though it does serve as a reminder that the bullpen behind Kimbrel isn’t exactly safe.

Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel are bananas

This one isn’t really a surprise or something we didn’t know, but I’d just like to say that Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel are both insane and it’s awesome that we get to watch them on a regular basis. Sale is projected to strike out almost ten batters per nine innings and walk fewer than two and put up a 65 ERA-. Kimbrel is projected to strike out 42 percent of the batters he faced (holy shit!) with a 53 ERA-. Absurd.