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Playing Over/Under with some Steamer projections

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It’s projection SZN, baby!

Boston Red Sox v Los Angeles Angels Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

The early part of the offseason is known more for Hot Stove speculation and the start of prospect SZN, but we are getting a head start on projection SZN this year as well. Over at FanGraphs, the Steamer projections for 2020 have been released. You can see all of the Red Sox projections here. As we do every year with every post relating to projections, we have to throw in the caveat that projections are not gospel. Nobody thinks they are. They are at best a tool with which we can set a baseline for a given player and at times just a fun way to pass the time in the winter. Do with projections what you will. With that out of the way, I picked out a handful of projections for the most interesting Red Sox players and want to play some over/under with them. You can play along in the comments, and on the off-chance I remember to look back at this next October we can laugh about how right/wrong we were.

Mookie Betts

WAR: 6.6

The only thing sillier than thinking about WAR down to the decimal is thinking about WAR projections down to the decimal. We’re playing a game, though, so lighten up you weirdo. Anyway, Steamer is projecting Betts to finish the year with 6.6 WAR, which is the second-best projection in baseball behind Mike Trout (at 8.7!). It is worth noting this was the exact mark at which Betts finished this past year and is about a full win lower than his average over the last four years. It’s hard to project any non-Trout player to finish with at least seven wins, but I cant in good conscience take the under here. This is not at all a scientific argument, but I think Betts goes into 2020 with something to prove amid trade rumors (if he’s still in Boston) and his upcoming free agency.

Pick: Over

Xander Bogaerts

Home Runs: 25

You know baseball is in a good place because my first thought here is to hedge my predictions with the caveat that I have no idea what baseball they are going to use next year. If they bring back the 2019-style ball, I’ll take the over without really thinking about it that much. If they don’t, it becomes much more difficult. Remember, for as great as his 2018 was he only hit 23 homers, though that was also in 136 games. I’ll take the over, but I feel like the baseball will be more 2019 postseason than 2019 regular season and that will make this much closer than one may think following what Bogaerts did this past year.

Pick: Over

Rafael Devers

OBP: .354

This is one of the most interesting projections to me given how different Devers was in 2019 compared to 2018. The young third baseman had a true breakout season and was much more in control at the plate, upping his OBP from .298 to .361. This is a surprisingly aggressive projection, with Steamer seeing Devers keeping almost all of his gains from 2019. It certainly makes sense and I would not be surprised to see him even build on said gains, but I’m going to be conservative here and say Devers has another big year but with a slightly worse OBP.

Pick: Under

J.D. Martinez

Games: 150

It’s probably disingenuous to look at a projection system’s games played since a computer cannot predict injuries. Neither can we, obviously, but we know about Martinez’ back spasms from last year and that he had a rough time with health despite playing in 146 games. So, I’m taking the under here, though again there’s not a ton of rigorous analysis for me to get there.

Pick: Under

Andrew Benintendi

wRC+: 108

This coming year seems like a big one for Benintendi. The former top prospect has been at least solid for his entire short career to this point, but he’s rarely shown much close to the star power many were hoping for after he was drafted. In his three full seasons, he has wRC+’s of 102, 122 and 100. In other words, he has one very good season and two pretty “meh” ones. I’m still a believe in Benintendi, but it’s hard to ignore the steep downturn in his plate discipline last year and the general lack of power throughout his career. I’m taking the over here, but it’s more of a leap of faith because based on the numbers 108 might be a little high.

Pick: Over

Christian Vázquez

ISO: .154

The leap Vázquez took at the plate in 2019 was one of the wildest stories of the year for the Red Sox, and his jump in power was particularly eye-opening. As with the Bogaerts prop, it’s hard to really say what will happen in the coming year without knowing what the run environment will be. I will say that, while Vázquez seems like a guy who was heavily impacted by the new baseball it might not be by as much as you think. It obviously helped, but he hit a lot of balls that would have at least gone for doubles with a normal baseball. I’m really on the edge with this one and I’m going to take the under, but I think it will only be very slightly under this.

Pick: Under

Chris Sale

ERA: 3.19

Well would you look at that, it’s time for another caveat about the baseball. Without knowing which baseball is used we have no idea what a 3.19 ERA is. It’s always going to be good, but it can range from good to elite depending on the environment. That said, I’ll say Sale is going to be better than this. I don’t know how many starts he’ll make, but for as long as he’s on the mound I’m going to call another season in which Sale’s ERA starts with a 2.

Pick: Under

David Price

FIP: 4.19

This one is really surprising to me, as Price hasn’t had a FIP this high since his rookie year in 2009. He’s obviously getting older and a lot of his performance depends on how his wrist feels, something we can’t really know at this point. That said, I can’t in good conscience predict his worst FIP in over a decade, particularly with his strikeout rate trending way up even in what was a disappointing year.

Pick: Under

Eduardo Rodriguez

Innings: 193

Another playing time projection! Rodriguez getting up over 200 innings and staying healthy all year was one of the big developments for the Red Sox in 2019. Pro-Ed momentum is on the rise as we shift our focus to the coming season, and Steamer sees a similar number of innings for the lefty. I’m taking the under, though. I liked a whole lot of what I saw from Rodriguez in 2019, but I want to see it again before I totally buy the workhorse-ness we saw last year.

Pick: Under

Brandon Workman

WHIP: 1.31

Workman’s ability to limit hard contact was one of the wildest and most underrated positives from the 2019 season. In a year where batters were crushing baseballs all year long, opponents hit just one homer against Workman and put up a BABIP of just .209. Those numbers are going to go up in 2020, but Steamer is calling for his WHIP to increase from 1.03 to 1.31. A lot of this hinges on his control, as he can counteract the BABIP regression if he brings his 15.7 percent walk rate significantly down. I certainly don’t see a repeat performance from Workman in 2020, but I think his WHIP will be more in the 1.15-1.20 range.

Pick: Under

Matt Barnes

K/9: 12.39

Barnes is a tough pitcher to figure out, as the stuff is dominant and he goes through stretches where he looks like a legitimately elite reliever. Then, he’ll lose his control for long enough and give up enough hard contact that you don’t even want to see him in the sixth. The strikeouts are there throughout the ups and downs, though, as he’s emerged as an undeniably elite strikeout pitcher. It’s hard to see him continuing to improve after setting down 15.39 batters per nine in 2019, but this projection is a long way to fall.

Pick: Over