Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Taking Stock Of The Sox

You're never as good as you look when you win, or as lousy as you look when you lose. The Red Sox didn't look too good last night in losing to New York. So, bathed in the sobering gloom of a loss, its a good time to take stock of where the Red Sox are this season.

During a baseballprospectus chat yesterday, I wrote in to ask the excellent Nate Silver a question about our Red Sox, and lo and behold, Nate decided to grace me with an answer:
mattymatty2000 (Philly, PA): Simple question, but feel free to give as complex an answer as you want: Are the Red Sox this good?

Nate Silver: Guys that are going to cool off: Lowell (a lot); Youkilis (a little, but he's looking like a real power hitter now); Beckett (a little); Wakefield (a lot); Okajima (a lot).

Guys that are going to heat up: Ramirez (a lot), Crisp (maybe), Drew (probably), Matsuzaka (a little).

Right now they're on pace to win 113 games and I don't think they'll sustain that but they haven't been playing that far above their heads; they've had some hot starts but some cold starts too. I think it's probably a 100-102 win team in terms of true talent level.
I agree with Nate that the Sox likely won't win 113 games, though as I've discussed before, they could. As Nate notes, the funny thing about the Sox start is that they've done it without two of their three big offensive forces in Manny and Drew.

Manny's 50th percentile PECOTA guesses he'll hit .300/.404/.574. He's currently hitting .244/.330/.384 which is a slightly better performance than Julio Lugo. Thats under his 10th percentile projection. Manny may not end up with his normal stats this season, because he's digging himself a big hole, but at some point he is going to find himself and start hitting like he can.

Drew is in the same boat as Manny. Here's Drew's 50th percentile PECOTA: .270/.380/.460. Here's what Drew is hitting now: .244/.355/.344. Like Manny, Drew is showing patience at the plate, which is allowing Francona to write him into the lineup each night without completely deep-sixing the Red Sox offense. Last season in LA, Drew was a streaky hitter. Here are his OPS by month last season:

April: .910
May: .834
June: .768
July: .798
Aug: .871
Sept/Oct: 1.145

And for this season:

April: .768
May: .592

Neither are good, but Drew should pick up his production too.

Meanwhile, the offense has been kept afloat by Youkilis and Lowell who have pretended to be Drew and Manny. Youkilis looks to be either having a career year or developing into a legitimate All-Star (judging by Silver's answer above he isn't sure either). Right now he's hitting .342/.428/.528. PECOTA's 90th percentile projection has him hitting .297/.406/.519. His BABIP is .360 right now, even though his line drive percentage has actually fallen off from last year, so he'll probably cool off some.

Mike Lowell's BABIP and LD% are in line with what he did last year. The only thing thats a bit higher is his percent of flyballs which turn into homeruns. But thats only off by 2%, which for this is significant, but not ridiculously so.

So, you'd have to expect both Lowell and Youk to cool off eventually. But you'd also expect Manny and Drew to start hitting at some point.

My only point of contention with Silver's analysis is that he thinks Okajima will cool off "a lot." I don't think the guy is going to go through the season without allowing another earned run, but I think his performance as an excellent relief pitcher is sustainable over the course of the season. According to the Boston Globe (I can't find the link right now, but its been mentioned multiple times), Okajima has learned a new pitch which he didn't throw in Japan previously. Thats the pitch that he's been using to get right handed hitters out with regularity, and I'm not sure, but I'll wager that Silver didn't take that into account.


My day is melting away, so more later on this subject to be sure. In the meantime: lets play FPE Tempts Fate Trivia! Who has the higher ERA? Mike Mussina or Julian Tavarez? Answer after the Tavarez gets smoked tonight!

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