Sox Offense: Contender or Pretender?
The common perception throughout Red Sox Nation is that the moves made by the Red Sox thus far this offseason have prioritized pitching and defense, i.e. run prevention, at the expense of offense.
Red Sox GM Theo Epstein disagrees however. During an appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston last Thursday, Epstein noted that with the addition of Adrian Beltre and Bill Hall, the Red Sox roster will feature nine position players who have hit 25 or more home runs in a season, including six starters.
Epstein also expressed confidence that the team’s offense would be very productive in 2010. “There are threats up and down the lineup. There are still good on-base guys throughout most of the lineup. Almost everyone in this lineup still grinds the count. I think we're still going to be a top-five offensive club in the league.”
So who’s right, you or the GM? Let’s look at the numbers and assess the impact the recent acquisitions will have on this year’s team.
Red Sox shortstops hit a combined .234, with 12 home runs, 62 RBIs and a .653 OPS in ‘09. While Marco Scutaro’s home run and RBI totals for Toronto last season are nearly identical to those produced by Sox shortstops, he hit almost 50 points higher, scored 29 more runs and recorded substantially better OBP and OPS totals than Green, Lugo, Gonzalez & Associates. Although there is concern that Scutaro’s ’09 success could be an aberration given his age and track record, hitting at the bottom of the lineup should ensure that he sees quality pitches to hit and provides good production for the Sox in ’10.
Mike Cameron will be the starting center fielder and will replace Jason Bay in the lineup. While it’s unrealistic to expect that Cameron will match the power numbers Bay posted during his one and a half seasons in Boston, several advanced metrics suggest that Cameron will measure up to Bay in more subtle ways. Both players struck out approximately the same number of times in roughly an equal number of at-bats in ’09. Further, statistics relating to plate discipline, a skill the Red Sox place a high value on, show that Cameron and Bay are similarly selective hitters.
Of all the new additions to the Red Sox lineup, Beltre is the biggest question mark. Once a perennial 20 to 25 homer, 80 to 100 RBI threat, Beltre’s production was slashed by more than half last season. The conventional wisdom is that moving from spacious Safeco Field to hitter-friendly Fenway combined with the motivation that comes from being in a contract year will result in a big season in ’10. His career .325 OBP doesn’t bode well for an offensive resurgence.
As much as Beltre is a question mark, Victor Martinez is a known commodity. After arriving in Boston at the trade deadline last July, Martinez thrived with the Red Sox by hitting .336 with eight home runs, 41 RBIs and a .912 OPS over the final two months of the season. Though not acquired this offseason, Martinez will spend all of 2010 hitting in the heart of the Red Sox lineup.
Can the Red Sox and its rabid fans trust this revamped offense to deliver another 90 plus win season? The answer to that question won’t be known until well into 2010.
You can bet though that come July, GMs around baseball will be calling the Red Sox to shop their better offensive players.
Justin Booth is a diehard Red Sox fan living in Brookline, MA and uses his above average writing skills to opine about his favorite team. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column was written on January 11, 2010.