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Looking at some outfield projections

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With the new year comes new expectations, which expectation is more reasonable regarding our outfielders?

World Series - Boston Red Sox v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Three Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

In a little less than a month, pitchers and catchers report for spring training and this is the time of year I feel speculation and expectations about specific players starts to hit its peak. I also believe it is no coincidence that ESPN Fantasy Baseball posts its projections for the 2019 season at around this time.

This post will be the first in a series that looks at the projections for each of those players, and asks which we believe to be the most reasonable projection. Keep in mind, I’m going to take each of these projections with a grain of salt, and infer some of my own thoughts. For example, Craig Kimbrel is projected to somehow get a ton of saves, and average 0.0 points per game somehow at present. That doesn’t really make sense. If he returns to the Red Sox pen, I would hope he does better than 0.0.

The first section of the team to get a look is the outfield. The Red Sox have four qualified outfielders that are worth mentioning. They also have Gorkys Hernandez and Sam Travis, but if they get significant time in the majors this year something has gone wrong.

Mookie Betts

Where do you go after an MVP season? What about after you set a new second-year arbitration record with a $20 million payday? Both of these are good questions, and to both we’ve seen a lot of different responses by players over the years. We haven’t had to ask the first question of a Red Sox player since 2008 when Dustin Pedroia won the top award in the league, though.

Betts, by all accounts, is an incredibly talented human being in all aspects of life who can bowl, solve Rubix Cubes blindfolded, and probably recite the dictionary backwards from memory. That last one is made up, but would you really be surprised if you found it was true? His best talent, however, is playing baseball. He’s incredibly good. To no one’s surprise, ESPN also thinks this. They project him to hit .316/.396/.561, which sounds ridiculous but is actually a step back from his 2018. They also think he’ll fall just shy of the 30/30 club again (with 30 dingers and 29 thefts).

Otherwise, none of his numbers stand out from last year. They mostly expect Mookie will continue to be an MVP contender, and I think that’s probably fair. Most people would expect a great baseball player to be great at baseball.

As for where I stand, I agree. I do think Mookie takes a small step back in 2019, but continues to be in that MVP discussion with real potential to be the first back-to-back MVP since Miguel Cabrera in 2012 and 2013. For him to do that he’ll have to beat superhuman Mike Trout again, but I’m never betting against Mookie again. I did that once and severely regretted it.

Steamer - .303/.385/.536, 29 HRs, 26 SB. 144 wRC+, 7.4 fWAR

World Series - Boston Red Sox v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Five Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Andrew Benintendi

The Red Sox are reportedly trying to extend someone in the organization, and popular speculation is that it is Benintendi they are trying to extend. It’s pretty easy to understand why. For starters, he’s not Betts, who has already expressed zero interest in a long-term extension and is playing year-to-year. Additionally, Benintendi is also one of the best young players in all of baseball,, let alone on the Red Sox.

That said, he does have his flaws. He hits these cold spells that last far too long for some people, though he usually counteracts these with a huge month that get his season-long numbers back on track. The former first round pick also has weird power droughts that don’t make a lot of sense, since he often pulls the ball, and generally doesn’t tap the ball meekly. I may be misremembering, but he had a heck of a lot of long fly outs last year. (Ed. Note: He was 97th in average flyball distance among the 332 batters with at least 150 batted balls.)

This upcoming year Benintendi will be shifting to the leadoff spot, according to Alex Cora. This feels like a pretty natural move to me since he’s great at getting on base, and this gives Mookie a chance to actually drive runners in. It didn’t make as much sense to me the other way around.

ESPN has him hitting .286/.363/.461, which is almost a carbon copy of his 2018 line. They also have him being basically the same at hitting home runs and stealing bases, 17 and 20 respectively. If your leadoff hitter is hitting that well, you are going to go places. The best leadoff in the game last year was Betts (min. 200 PA in at the top of a lineup), so we should expect a little less production out of the top spot. Still, Benintendi was pretty close to Lorenzo Cain in terms of overall production (Cain hit .296/.376/.436), and Cain put up a very good year for the Brewers. We can probably expect a lot of runs early in the game, especially with Betts and J.D. Martinez close behind him.

Steamer - .286/.365/.464, 18 HR, 17 SB. 122 wRC+, 3.6 fWAR

J.D. Martinez

Speaking of J.D. Martinez... Betts may have won the MVP award, and deservedly so, but there may be no more valuable player in the short term than Martinez. Remember, he may be responsible for helping change how the Red Sox offense functions. His effect on other players seems unquestionable, as several of them have noted his impact on their own approach to hitting.

Beyond his ability to help others, his own ability to murder baseballs is nothing to sneeze at. This time last year, before he signed, there were questions about whether Fenway would sap his power. The answer to that question was a resounding “NOPE”. And boy howdy, was it a bigger nope than all-caps can express. Martinez put up MVP-caliber numbers in his first season with the Red Sox, and entering a possible contract year, he has every incentive to do so again. By fWAR, this past season was the slugger’s best of his career.

Milwaukee Bucks v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

A big part of that was that he simply stayed healthy. Entering last year, he had only played 130 games at the MLB level once in his career. With Martinez transitioning to primarily playing out of the DH Spot, his risk for injury dropped significantly. He still played in the outfield (far too often in this writer’s opinion), but less than any other point in his career. With the added rest of not having to chase down fly balls, you would think he’d murder baseballs harder, but the inverse was true. When J.D. played in the outfield, he hit .384/.450/.680 in 57 games. He hit 16 HRs in those 57 games. No, none of that is a typo, he only hit .297/.372/.597 as a DH.

So I’m probably wrong. Let him play wherever he wants if he’s going to hit .384/.450/.680. Yes, that’s a small sample size. Yes, even Mike Trout can’t hit that well. He hit a pedestrian .312/.460/.628 in comparison.

Martinez swings a big bat and he’s unquestionably valuable to the Red Sox. Everyone is probably hoping he waits at least one more year before opting out. But one more huge year, and it’s possible he could make more than his current contract promises. Let’s just enjoy him while he’s here.

ESPN projects him at .323/.393/.616, with 41 HR and 5 stolen bases. This might be the projection I disagree most with, because it felt like we got the best season possible from J.D., but maybe he’ll surprise us with round two. Second verse, same as the first.

Steamer - .297/.371/.568, 43 HR, 6 SB. 146 wRC+, 3.8 fWAR(!)

Jackie Bradley Jr.

I’ve saved what I think is the most interesting debate for last. With the above three players, I think you more or less know what you are going to get: a stud player who hits well and is in general going to perform acceptably at the bare minimum. None of that is really true about Bradley, who gets calls from many a fan for a trip to the bench when he goes on one of his cold streaks.

It’s understandable. Of the four outfielders on the roster, Bradley’s offense is the weakest. He’s always made up for it with exceptional defense, but with Mookie’s emergence as the best thing since sliced bread, sometimes Bradley’s defense gets a little overshadowed. And with both Mookie and Benintendi making phenomenal catches in last year’s playoffs, and several important contract decisions on the horizon, it may be now or never for Bradley to establish his value to the Red Sox.

Since his breakout 2016 season, Bradley has taken to being an average player who contributes but isn’t a highlight of any roster. He’s flashed plenty of power (and if you watched in the postseason, you’d definitely see some reason to be excited about a possible step forward!) and with a second season of Martinez’ tutelage, it’s possible Bradley can tap into it on a more consistent basis.

One thing that took a significant step forward for Bradley was his running game. He stole 17 bases last year, a career high. Better yet, he only got caught stealing once. It wasn’t just aggression and being riskier, it was better decisions, educated attempts at stealing, and utilizing the roster around Bradley that made it possible. To this, I credit the coaching staff, as well as Bradley himself, who made several good calls on the basepaths over the course of the 2018 season when the ball was in play. His defense is also still ridiculous.

ESPN thinks he takes a step forward offensively, something I definitely agree with. They have him pegged for .246/.325/.418, with 16 home runs and 14 stolen bases. That’s pretty close to being 2018 George Springer. I know last year was a down year, but I do like myself some George Springer.

Steamer - .248/.329/.421, 17 HR, 12 SB. 100 wRC+ (!), 2.8 fWAR.


Poll

Which Player is MOST likely to achieve their projection for 2019?

This poll is closed

  • 34%
    Mookie Betts
    (299 votes)
  • 29%
    Andrew Benintendi
    (251 votes)
  • 14%
    J.D. Martinez
    (128 votes)
  • 21%
    Jackie Bradley Jr.
    (182 votes)
860 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which Player is LEAST likely to achieve their projection for 2019?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    Mookie Betts
    (79 votes)
  • 6%
    Andrew Benintendi
    (42 votes)
  • 37%
    J.D. Martinez
    (256 votes)
  • 45%
    Jackie Bradley Jr.
    (314 votes)
691 votes total Vote Now