I’ve said all offseason that the 2018 Red Sox are going to go as far as their pitching will take them, and I still believe that. I truly believe (and really this shouldn’t be a controversial opinion) that they are a World Series contender, and any version of this team that wins it all includes their pitchers near their peak. It includes a Chris Sale doing Chris Sale things, David Price staying healthy, Drew Pomeranz being the same guy as the last two years, Rick Porcello at least splitting the difference between 2016 and 2017, and Eduardo Rodriguez finally beginning to realize his potential. It also includes many of the relievers proving that 2017 was no fluke for this team. As much as I believe the pitching is still what makes this roster, though, the offense just got a major impact addition in J.D. Martinez. With him in tow and some expected positive regression from the returning faces, all of a sudden the Red Sox have a legitimately dangerous lineup to go with their pitching staff.
Obviously, Martinez is the catalyst of this post and he undeniably takes the lineup to a new level. We’ve gone over the numbers all offseason, but hell, let’s do it again. It’s fun! In 2014, J.D. Martinez overhauled his swing and turned himself into one of the faces of the launch angle revolution and simply one of the best hitters in baseball. Since that season, Martinez has been the fourth-best hitter in baseball by wRC+, and in each individual season he’s finished 8th, 19th, 12th and 3rd, respectively, in that same metric among all hitters with at least 400 plate appearances. There’s apparently some chatter around the fact that his 2017 was probably a fluke, and while that’s true it doesn’t really matter. Martinez is that mythical David Ortiz replacement everyone has been pining for since the legendary Red Sox DH retired, and he’s shown no signs of slowing down.
It’s not even just Martinez towards whom the Red Sox can look for offensive production, either. It would be surprising if he wasn’t the best hitter in the lineup in 2018, but he also makes the group even deeper just by moving everyone down a slot to a more reasonable place in the lineup. Before this move was made, there was almost certainly going to be a flawed hitter without much of a track record hitting in the top-third of the lineup, and now (assuming Martinez hits third, which he should despite Cora’s comments about Hanley Ramirez hitting there. I don’t buy those comments) the top three hitters in the projected lineup are all phenomenal and the rest of the lineup is malleable and contains plenty of potential.
I think we’ve been comparing this Red Sox roster to that of the Yankees and Astros so often that we forget how much offensive talent there is because we are busy thinking of the greatest offense in recent memory in Houston and one we can all imagine taking the mantle in New York. But look at each spot in the lineup and think of the realistic upside. Mookie Betts has some of the best plate discipline in baseball along with some of the fastest hands and should experience some of the most positive BABIP regression in baseball this year. Andrew Benintendi is entering his second full season and should improve his bat-to-ball skills with more experience at this level. Martinez, well, we’ve talked about him. Xander Bogaerts still has all the potential in the world and many think the presence of Alex Cora will finally get him over the hump. Hanley Ramirez is as motivated as ever and is one one year removed from being a legitimately terrifying presence at the plate. Eduardo Nuñez is at least a league-average hitter who can provide a spark on any given day. Jackie Bradley Jr. will go through ups and downs but is now a bottom-third hitter who can hit like Mike Trout for weeks at a time. Rafael Devers is as exciting a prospect in terms of pure offensive talent as the Red Sox have had in years. Christian Vazquez showed more improvement at the plate than anyone else on the team in 2017. There are so many good players in this lineup, and they finally have a superstar around which they can be built.
Of course, everything I just typed revolves around the best-case scenario for this lineup and reflects the hope of spring training. Well, for one thing there’s nothing wrong with letting yourself get excited sometimes. No one likes the guy who always has to be a bummer about everything at all times. Plus, perhaps more importantly, some projection systems believe that optimism isn’t so destined for disappointment. Fangraphs’ depth charts has added J.D. Martinez to their projections and they have the Red Sox pegged for 93 wins. More importantly, they have Boston’s lineup as one of the game’s best. They are projected to score 5.2 runs per game, a rate that is topped only by Houston and New York.
We’re coming off a season in which the Red Sox won their second straight division title despite having a bottom-third offense in the league and one of the very worst power production groups in baseball. They’ve added one of the best hitters in baseball to that group and there is reason for optimism with just about every bat on the roster right now. Everything isn’t going to go right for Boston in 2018, but it doesn’t have to. There’s little reason not to be confident in the pitching, and one addition has made their offense go from intriguing to straight-up, wildly exciting.