Truck Day, the day we all get super excited about a truck pulling out of a lot to drive down 95, is tomorrow. Pitchers and catchers report in less than a week. The first spring training game is later this month. Baseball is starting to feel real again, even if most of the things surrounding the Red Sox right now are not the happiest. But still, baseball is here and we can distract ourselves from the sad stuff and look at the players we know (or are at least pretty sure) will be on the roster and think about the season to come, which will indeed still be played.
Part of that is projections, which are starting to come out a little more now. ZiPS is always one of my favorite projection systems and Dan Szymborski, the creator of ZiPS, released his Red Sox projections last week. You can check them out in full here. Before we get to that, my normal preamble on projections because there’s always at least one person who insists on dismissing everything that follows because projections aren’t perfect. We know. Projections are just a tool to gauge your own feelings about individual players and teams as a whole. Obviously there are some things these systems just can’t know, but they also don’t have the biases which can cloud our own predictions. So, with that out of the way, let’s get into a few specifics.
I’ll get to some individual players in a second, but first I want to look at the team as a whole. I wouldn’t really say I’m surprised by how down so many people are on this roster — last season was legitimately unpleasant to watch — but I really think the general pessimism is misguided. ZiPS uses a projected depth chart and shows what the top roster would provide. Obviously this isn’t a perfect measure because injuries will happen, but it’s worth noting that this system has the Red Sox as a 93-win team by true talent, assuming a replacement level team would win about 48 games. FanGraphs’ Depth Chart projections, for what it’s worth, have them as a 96- or 97-win team, for whatever that’s worth.
Sticking with the ZiPS, 93 wins is a playoff team. They may need more than that to actually make the postseason, but A) not much and B) basically every playoff team needs a couple things to go right. I generally look at these projection totals with a margin of error around five wins, meaning they could win anywhere from 88 to 98 games. The lower number seems more likely, but that’s because it’s usually easier to see things go wrong than go better-than-expected.
One way to look at a potential Mookie Betts trade — you didn’t think we would totally avoid this topic, did you? — is that they would only be losing about four wins if they were to replace him with an average regular. (Betts is projected for about 6 WAR. An average regular is generally worth around 2 WAR.) Four wins isn’t huge. On the other hand, losing four wins on a 93-win team reduces playoff chances significantly. And that is the real rub here. By this projection specifically — and again, no one is saying this projection system or any other is gospel — they are on a crucial point on the win curve where every win matters. So, yeah. This team is good. They are less good without their best player. Groundbreaking stuff, I realize.
Now, on to some individual players, who I will cover quickly with bullet points. Again, check out the link above for a more complete picture.
- We start with Betts, who is projected to be the best player. Obviously. He is projected to be worth six wins above replacement level with all-world defense, 30 homers and a 137 OPS+.
- J.D. Martinez is not far behind in terms of pure offense, finishing just one point back in OPS+. He’s projected to hit .292/.365/.547 with 33 homers.
- ZiPS does not love the chances for an Andrew Benintendi breakout. He is projected to finish with an OPS+ of just 105 with a strikeout rate of just under 20 percent. That’s not going to be great.
- ZiPS also sees some regression from Christian Vázquez, but who doesn’t? Even with that, he is still expected to be good. They have him putting up an 88 OPS+ with really good defense, which is a good, not great, catcher.
- Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers are good. They’re projected for 125 and 123 OPS+’s, respectively.
- Chris Sale is one of the biggest keys to the Red Sox season. ZiPS sees him being very good with a 147 ERA+, a 32.5 percent strikeout rate and a 5.4 percent walk rate.
- David Price, well, they are less high on, though his projection is far from a disaster. ZiPS has him at a 114 ERA+. The rough part is the 128 innings he is projected for.
- I’m really interested to see what just about everyone thinks of Brandon Workman, including both national analysts and projection systems. ZiPS sees a reduction in walk rate, but one that is mostly cancelled out by a big jump in batting average on balls in play.
- My favorite part of ZiPS is always the comps. To be clear, these are totally for fun. No one is saying these players are sure to go down these lines. I just always like looking at them. Anyway, some good ones: Mookie Betts-Al Kaline; Chris Sale-Frank Viola; Xander Bogaerts-Cal Ripken; Rafael Devers-Ryan Zimmerman; Andrew Benintendi-David DeJesus; Michael Chavis-Bret Boone.