The 2013 Red Sox led the majors in Runs, On Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage, wOBA, RC+. By virtually every offensive metric, from basic to advanced, the Sox fielded the best offense in baseball and it wasn’t that close. So why was it that they had only 2 players that ranked among the top 5 at their positions? Well, there’s a disturbing trend for fantasy owners among the more progressive MLB front offices and that’s to build teams with “depth”. Rather than splurge for high priced free agents, the Sox have stockpiled a parade of productive major league hitters complemented by quality bench bats which enable the team to play matchups and give their veterans regular days off. Would you believe that only 1 Boston position player appeared in as many as 140 games last year? With most of their key offensive contributors back for a defense of their title, the Sox should continue to boast one of the most prolific hitting attacks in the game, but expect again for the whole to be greater than the sum of the parts. Let’s take a closer look at how it all breaks down by position.
2014 Red Sox Hitters - Fantasy Baseball Impact
Catcher - AJ Pierzynski / David Ross
Gone is Jarrod Saltalamacchia, arrived is the mercurial AJ Pierzynski. AJ had a productive year in 2013, but with veteran David Ross in the mix, I wouldn't expect him to catch more than 120 games. And for a guy who posted a sub.300 obp last season, that’s simply not enough to be fantasy relevant.
First Base - Mike Napoli
Napoli came into 2013 as a major injury risk, having had to tear up his original 3 year contract and renegotiate a 1 year deal at a fraction of the price just months before opening day. As it turned out, Napoli remained completely healthy and produced as the Red Sox hoped he would. He slugged 23 home runs, drove in 92 runs, posted an impressive .842 OPS, and perhaps most importantly, played a very good first base. We don’t care much about defense in fantasy baseball but Napoli’s glove work allowed John Farrell to play him in 139 games. To top it all off, Nap won the hearts of Red Sox fans forever with an epic post World Series bender that had him spotted manning the bar at local watering holes, walking shirtless down Boylston street (cigarette in mouth), and guzzling Fireball straight from the bottle. Well the beard is back for another round at the Fens, but will 2014 be as successful? I’m thinking not. And it’s not just an offseason partying with BU undergrads that I’m worried about. Digging deeper into Nap’s 2013 numbers we see that his walk rate declined, strikeout rate increased, and his BABIP was an unsustainably high at .367 (.310 career). Given that he’s entering his age 32 season, its hard to expect Napoli to improve much in 2014. And with Righty killer Mike Carp looming behind him, I wouldn't be surprised to see Napoli get a few more off days this coming year. As a power bat hitting in the middle of one of the best lineups in baseball, Nap’s certainly worth drafting for a utility spot, but given his age and peripherals, in combination with the depth at his position, he simply should not be considered more than a 3rd tier fantasy first baseman.
2nd Base - Dustin Pedroia
By his own lofty standards, Dustin had a bit of a down year in 2013. While he was still a top 5 fantasy 2nd baseman, he managed only 9 home runs after hitting 15 in 2012, and 21 in 2011. To the untrained eye it may look as though Pedroia is in decline having recently crossed the wrong side of 30. And that’s certainly a possibility. But it’s important to note that Pedroia played all of 2013 with a tear in the Ulnar Collateral Ligament of his left thumb. An injury that many have speculated forced Pedroia to change his approach at the plate and prevented the laser show from really taking off (his FB % dropped to 28% after sitting in the mid to high 30%s for his career) . Dustin had surgery on the thumb in early November and all indications are that he should be completely healed for spring training. It's hard to call a top 5 guy a bounce back candidate, but I wouldn't be surprised to see his homers climb back toward the mid teens. Either way, after Robbie Cano, Dustin’s about a safe an option as you can find at 2nd base.
We covered Bogaerts and Middlebroks in depth in the offseason team review here. In short, I’m bullish on Bogaerts, bearish on Jenny Dell’s worse half, and hoping Stephen Drew finds himself elsewhere in 2014.
37 doubles, 18 home Runs, 93 Runs, 101 RBI. No those weren’t Matt Holliday’s numbers in 2013, those were the combined statistics of Red Sox left fielders last year. Merge Jonny Gomes and Daniel Nava into one player and you’ve got a top 15 outfielder. As we all know, fantasy baseball doesn't work like that. Nava and Gomes figure to be locked into your classic left/right platoon with Nava getting the nod against righties, and Gomes stepping in against southpaws. John Farrell actually strayed from this approach for much of the postseason last year playing Gomes against the likes of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Adam Wainwright because he thought the team had a different “feel” and “personality” when Gomes was in the lineup. Those are the kind of theories that drive the more analytical baseball fans nuts (not to mention the Red Sox front office) and I’d expect that Farrell reverts to a more conventional approach in 2014. And while it would be easy to say that the platoon prevents either player from carrying any value, I actually think Nava makes for an intriguing deep league late round flier. At the age of 30 he’s no prospect, but he’s hit at every level, has shown a disciplined approach (5th in AL in OBP last year), and with the departure of Jacoby Ellsbury, has the potential to see some time in the leadoff spot where he could rack up runs in bunches (as he did last year when Jacoby went on the DL). So long as John Farrell doesn't go Jimy Williams on us, I’d expect Nava to be a pretty useful bench bat to deploy against righties and potentially a bit more.
Center Field - Jackie Bradley Jr. / Grady Sizemore
As noted in the offseason team review, as recently as 1 week ago, it looked like Jackie Bradley had a clear path to an everyday job for the Red Sox in 2014 and beyond. Of course, since that time, the Red Sox went out and signed former Indians star Grady Sizemore to a major league deal. It’s impossible to know what Grady will bring to the table but the possibility certainly exists that he earns himself some meaningful playing time and eats into Jackie's value. That said, you probably weren't drafting Bradley as a starter anyway, so continue to think of him as a late round flier with some long term potential. As far as Grady goes, your guess is as good as mine. His injury history has been well documented (hasn't played in the majors since 2011 and hasn't played a full season since 2008), but he was an absolute stud for a 4 year span to start his career and is just 31. Keep an eye on him in spring training. Stranger things have happened.
Right Field - Shane Victorino
When the dust settled from last year’s offseason, several pundits declared Victorino’s 3 year, $39 million dollar deal to be the single worst contract handed out in the 2012/13 offseason. 6 regular season Wins Above Replacement and 2 postseason series defining bases loaded hits later, those pundits looked pretty foolish. Despite missing 40 games, Victorino rebounded quite nicely from a disappointing 2012. He had 15 HRs, 82 RBIs, and 21 Stolen Bases while posting a very respectable .294/.351/.451 triple slash line. And while those numbers won’t overwhelm, what was most intriguing about Victorino’s season was a 2nd half in which he hit 11 of his 15 hr and slugged over .500. A switch hitter who had perennially struggled from the left side - his right handed OPS exceeded his left handed OPS by 250 (250!) points EACH of the 3 years prior - Victorino scrapped his left handed bat in August on account of some lingering injuries that apparently hurt his swing from that side. The results were amazing. Shane mashed more home runs off righties (6) in 38 games in 2013 then he did in 146 games in 2012. Was this simply a small sample size outlier or should Victorino have been hitting exclusively right handed for his entire career? Its hard to say, but given the historical disparity between his right handed and left handed stats, I think there’s a pretty good chance his improvement against righties from the opposite side wasn’t simply a fluke. Complicating matters is the fact that the Flyin Hawaiian was recently quoted as saying he intends to return to switch hitting in 2014. I’ve yet to hear anyone from the Red Sox brass comment on the situation directly, but I’d be hard pressed to believe that they’d allow Shane to continue wasting at bats from the left side. As we move toward spring training, this is certainly a situation worth monitoring. There’s some risk with Victorino given that he recently turned 33 and is still recovering from offseason wrist surgery (though expected to be ready for opening day), but he should nonetheless be targeted as a #3 outfielder with top 30 potential.
DH - David Ortiz
Remember the Spring of 2009 when Oritz hit just 1 home run through the first 2 months and everyone thought he was done? I don’t either. David Ortiz is a Bad Man. He was again one of the best hitters in 2013 (30 HR, 103 RBI, .309/.395/.564) and showed almost no signs of slowing down in his age 37 season. Hell, he peaked in the World Series batting a video game esque .688 with a 1.948 OPS. Ortiz is no longer the 50 home run threat he was in his prime, but he appears to have sacrificed power for contact, reducing his strikeout rate to below 15% each of the last 3 years (18% career). Aging vets like Ortiz tend to be undervalued by fantasy players fearing that they will all of a sudden fall off a cliff. I do envision some regression from Ortiz in 2014, along with a few more days off, but it would be foolish to bet against the guy. There will probably be a good 30 or so hitters chosen before him and there’s a real chance Papi outperforms 20 of them.
Next week, we’ll dive into the Sox pitching staff and their 2014 prospects.