Spring training is starting tomorrow with the first workouts down in Fort Myers and the offseason should be just about over the Red Sox, though more moves could be on the horizon. With the season so close, Baseball Prospectus recently released their PECOTA projections and FanGraphs released their own projections, so now seems like a good opportunity to take stock of the division and a quick look at how the Red Sox stack up.
PECOTA’s outlook on the Red Sox isn’t super optimistic, especially when compared to FanGraphs. The latter has the Red Sox winning 87 games, PECOTA sees another under .500 season for the Sox at a mark of 80-82. That'd be good enough for a fourth place AL East finish, 16 games ahead of Baltimore and five games behind Toronto. Given the season the Red Sox just had this makes sense. Based on their finish in 2020, the Red Sox 162-game equivalent wins would have been 65.
Eduardo Rodriguez returning for a full, healthy season, additional outfield and starting pitching depth, and an optimistic view of Chris Sale’s return would seem to be enough to cover the 15 game increase in projected wins but, could there be room for even more? We’ll tackle that a little later but today, we look at the rest of the division.
The Yankees and Blue Jays undeniably got better this offseason. The Rays got worse but were far and away from the best team in the division last year, so there was room to fall and still be quite good. The key question is: How far back to the pack did they fall? Well, PECOTA says pretty significantly with a win total projection of 86, just one game ahead of Toronto. I wouldn’t be surprised fo the gap between Tampa and Toronto was one game but I’m more optimistic on both win totals and don’t think three 90-win teams in the AL East aren’t that farfetched. FanGraphs, for what it’s worth, actually has the Rays four games behind Boston.
The thing that's really going to define this division. particularly at the top, is the pitching. This should sound familiar as the pitching has defined the Red Sox for the last three seasons. There’s a very reasonable path to the FanGraphs outlook for the Red Sox if their pitching stays healthy, particularly we see the expected improvement from Eduardo Rodriguez and Garrett Richards being far enough removed from his Tommy John issues. However, the problem is the reality of all that happened at the same time, especially the health. The 80-win projection makes more sense to me because of the Red Sox pitching’s seeming inability to stay healthy and consistent.
In a similar fashion, the Yankees pitching outlook is somewhat similar on that front. However, there is a major difference at the top of the respective rotations as Gerrit Cole is easily the best pitcher in the division and their stacked lineup should be able to carry it to the division title. The Rays and Blue Jays pitching, meanwhile, seem to be complete crapshoots. They take unhealthy and inconsistent to an extreme and therefore have a much wider range of outcomes. But because of that, if we think they’re competing for second in the division whichever pitching staff remains the healthiest is likely to prevail.
These wide-ranging outcomes in the health and consistency of the pitching division-wide allow some seams for the Red Sox to make some gains if the Sox pitching hits and the others falter, but given each team's most likely outcomes, I think PECOTA’s projections are spot-on for the AL East and the Red Sox are looking up at another 4th place finish.
Oh, and also the Orioles exist in this division. Theoretically.