Projecting the 2008 Red Sox

Last year, we received plenty of good feedback on my attempt to project the 2007 Red Sox and Yankees.  As I’ve described earlier this offseason, one of the methods I used came up with a remarkable 105 wins — four off the Red Sox’ 2007 Pythag record. That was a flawed prediction, and I won’t be repeating the method for reasons I’ll detail below. But the other, more accurate method came up with 99 wins — just three off the Sox’ actual total and two off the Pythag — basically splitting the difference. Not bad.

Since you all seemed to enjoy it — and since the projections didn’t fall flat on their faces — here is Part 1 of our second annual Predictions Special, projecting the Red Sox. The Yankees’ projections will be forthcoming.

Last year, I started by using a hybrid of Bill James and PECOTA, but determined that the difference between the individual projections was negligible on offense, and James was far too optimistic in projecting pitchers. This year, let’s try only PECOTA, which has been determined time and again to be the most accurate of the projection systems out there anyway.

The Offense

First, a look back at the Sox’ 2007 lineup:

Name

2007 stats

Pedroia .317/.380/.442, 8 HR, 48 XBH, 47 BB, 42 K, 86 R
Youkilis .288/.390/.453, 16 HR, 53 XBH, 77 BB, 83 RBI
Ortiz .332/.445/.621, 35 HR, 88 XBH, 111 BB, 117 RBI
Ramirez .296/.388/.493, 20 HR, 54 XBH, 71 BB, 88 RBI
Lowell .324/.378/.501, 21 HR, 60 XBH, 191 H, 120 RBI
Drew .270/.373/.423, 11 HR, 45 XBH, 79 BB, 64 RBI
Varitek .255/.367/.421, 17 HR, 35 XBH, 122 K, 68 RBI
Crisp .268/.330/.382, 6 HR, 41 XBH, 60 RBI, 28 SB
Lugo .237/.294/.349, 8 HR, 46 XBH, 73 RBI, 33 SB

This was your typical lineup — Lowell and Drew flipped back and forth, Crisp was in and out as Ellsbury heated up, Manny missed a month, etc. But on any given day in 2007, this was the lineup trotted out there — and it was largely a top-heavy beast, a gaping hole beyond Mike Lowell in the five spot until Drew got hot in August.

Using the Lineup Analysis Tool, that lineup should have scored 5.80 runs per game, or 940 runs. The best iteration could have scored 5.94 (if you want to bat Ortiz second and Drew ninth, with Lowell at cleanup). The worst would score 5.48 (with Lugo leading off). In fact, the Red Sox last year scored 867 runs, or 5.35 per game — a loss of about seven wins. That’s what giving Wily Mo Pena, Eric Hinske and Alex Cora a season’s worth of at-bats will do for you.

How does that compare to PECOTA’s projections for 2008?

Name

2008 projection

Ellsbury .287/.346/.395, 5 HR, 41 XBH, 52 RBI, 32 SB
Pedroia .295/.361/.430, 10 HR, 51 XBH, 53 BB, 50 K, 81 R
Ortiz .282/.402/.541, 35 HR, 74 XBH, 111 BB, 119 RBI
Ramirez .281/.381/.486, 21 HR, 51 XBH, 72 BB, 84 RBI
Youkilis .272/.373/.448, 17 HR, 55 XBH, 79 BB, 81 RBI
Lowell .285/.345/.437, 14 HR, 50 XBH, 146 H, 79 RBI
Drew .267/.346/.421, 11 HR, 39 XBH, 65 BB, 60 RBI
Varitek .255/.352/.420, 11 HR, 29 XBH, 86 K, 49 RBI (384 PA)
Lugo .275/.337/.384, 6 HR, 36 XBH, 46 RBI, 21 SB

Well, that doesn’t look as good as I’d have predicted. A continuing fall-off from Drew that would make his contract one of the worst in memory, no bounce-back from Ramirez, regressions from pretty much everyone, with the only improvements coming from Lugo and by Ellsbury replacing Crisp. Such a lineup putting up those OBPs and slugging percentages would score 881 runs (5.44 runs per game) — marginally better than the Sox’ actual 2007, but not nearly as good as the 5.8 the 2007 lineup "should" have scored (which is what really matters, as you have to assume injuries and bench time will remain constant). The best lineup would score 5.52, the worst 5.27. That puts the Sox’ 2008 starting lineup at 57 runs worse than 2007’s — nearly six wins.

For comparison’s sake, Dave Pinto has looked at Boston’s projections using the lineup tool and the Marcel and Bill James systems, and came up with 5.78 RPG in Marcel (essentially no change from 2007), and  5.95 runs per game under the Bill James numbers (a slight increase). It should be noted that Pinto uses Pedroia at leadoff, Youkilis second, Drew fifth and Ellsbury eighth in his lineups, which probably would result in a better-scoring scenario (but not by a significant margin).

So, unlike last year, when PECOTA and James were very close (three runs apart), the projections seem to vary on how to treat the poor years from Ramirez, Drew and Lugo, as well as how much to regress (or progress) youngsters like Pedroia and Ellsbury. The Sox could gain two or three wins (Bill James), see no change (Marcel) or lose six wins (PECOTA) on offense. Averaging the three gets us 931 runs, about one win down.

The Pitching

Now, let’s take a look at the pitching staff, obviously the Sox’ bright spot — it’s fairly young, getting younger and was the best in the league last year. Could it possibly improve?

Name

2007 stats (ERA/WHIP/BAA)

Beckett 20-7, 3.27/1.141/.239, 200.2 IP, 194 K, 40 BB
Matsuzaka 15-12, 4.40/1.324/.237, 204.2 IP, 201 K, 80 BB
Schilling 9-8, 3.87/1.245/.267, 151 IP, 101 K, 23 BB
Wakefield 17-12, 4.76/1.349/.252, 189 IP, 110 K, 64 BB
Tavarez 7-11, 5.15/1.500/.272, 134.2 IP, 77 K, 51 BB
Lester 4-0, 4.57/1.460/.244, 63 IP, 50 K, 31 BB

And the top four bullpen arms:

Name

2007 stats

Papelbon 1-3, 1.85/0.771/.146, 58.1 IP, 84 K, 15 BB
Okajima 3-2, 2.22/0.971/.242, 69 IP, 63 K, 17 BB
Timlin 2-1, 3.42/1.084/.217, 55.1 IP, 31 K, 14 BB
Delcarmen 0-0, 2.05/1.023/.175, 44 IP, 41 K, 17 BB

The Red Sox allowed 657 runs in about 1,439 innings, or 4.06 runs per game. It received a Cy Young-caliber performance from Beckett, decent seasons from Matsuzaka and Schilling, more of the same from Wakefield, and an overall excellent line from Tavarez and Lester, considering they were the fifth pitchers. The bullpen, of course, was amazing, adding a solid performance from Kyle Snyder with the four excellent ones listed.

This year, one assumes Lester will be in the fifth spot full-time, splitting innings at some point with Clay Buchholz. Here’s what that rotation would look like:

Name

2008 projections

Beckett 14-8, 3.64/1.22/.237, 205 IP, 176 K, 60 BB
Matsuzaka 13-8, 3.90/1.29/.238, 191 IP, 170 K, 67 BB
Schilling 8-6, 4.18/1.29/.264, 123.1 IP, 87 K, 26 BB
Wakefield 8-7, 4.86/1.44/.263, 131 IP, 76 K, 49 BB
Lester 8-8, 4.93/1.56/.259, 128.2 IP, 92 K, 65 BB
Buchholz 8-7, 4.08/1.35/.235, 130.2 IP, 119 K, 56 BB

The uptake of these results is that the sooner the Red Sox get Clay Buchholz into the rotation, the better. PECOTA thinks he’ll be better than Curt Schilling this year, putting up K/9 numbers on par with Beckett and Matsuzaka, who is projected to have a very nice sophomore season (eighth among AL starters in projected ERA). In fact, these projections have four Sox starters in the top 16 in ERA for 2008. So not bad at all.

The top four bullpen arms:

Name

2008 projections

Papelbon 5-5, 2.55/1.06/.202, 67.1 IP, 81 K, 21 BB
Okajima 3-3, 3.71/1.29/.242, 56.1 IP, 50 K, 19 BB
Delcarmen 3-2, 3.81/1.34/.234, 58.2 IP, 53 K, 25 BB
Aardsma 3-2, 4.22/1.38/.238, 48 IP, 42 K, 21 BB

Hello, David Aardsma, beneficiary of the fact that PECOTA isn’t a big fan of Timlin’s chances in 2008 (4.46/1.36). Papelbon’s ERA is the lowest of the 976 pitchers projected for 2008. Semirelatedly, the ZiPS system set a record with its ultralow projection for Papelbon’s 2008 ERA, as well. PECOTA, conservative as ever, sees Okajima as being the real deal, another step forward from Delcarmen, and Aardmsa being a key part of the pen. It’s obvious that if the ’08 Sox have any holes, they’re not among the hurlers.

Projecting those projections (heh) over the 1,439 innings thrown by Sox hurlers in 2007 results in 648 runs allowed — nine fewer than 2007, for a whopping one-win gain.

One of the biggest critiques brought up by commenters last year was that this method assumes the entire pitching staff will perform at the level of its top 10 or 11 arms. Figuring that was valid (after all, the starting nine over 162 games clearly produces a lineup about seven or eight wins better than what actually occurs when you include the bench), I adjusted the numbers for the 11 pitchers I profiled last season, giving them all 1,439 of the team’s innings to see how much less scoring they allowed. Hopefully, I reasoned, that would give us an idea how much to adjust this year’s projections. The answer? They would have allowed one fewer run. That may be a fluke caused by the superior backup pitchers the Sox had (Gabbard, Buchholz, Snyder and Romero all had very low ERAs), but I think it allows us to trust that the staff projections aren’t affected as much as one might think by the 300 innings or so thrown by other pitchers whose use we can’t foresee.

On offense, the dropoff caused by the use of the bench is included by focusing only on how much the lineup should score from year to year and determining runs gained or lost solely on the starting nine. That tells us whether the starters will perform better (presumably having the most effect), and we can assume that 70 or so fewer runs will be scored by using bench players.

Last year, I provided a straight prediction based on the Pythag record produced by the projections, without a comparison to the previous season. That’s what produced the 105-win prediction. I’ll pass on doing that this year, as it clearly fails to take into account a pretty significant drop from the starters to the reserves on offense.

Conclusions

To recap, here’s a chart giving last year’s lineup "shoulda-scored" runs for the starting nine, this year’s projected runs for the top nine, last year’s actual runs allowed and this year’s projected runs allowed based on the 10 pitchers’ projections I posted above:

2007 2008 Diff
RS 940 931 -9
RA 657 648 -9

Talk about consistency. The Sox are projected to score nine fewer runs — but give up nine fewer runs, as well. On the surface, that looks like we should expect another 96-66 season, but not so fast.

This is based on run differential, after all. And last year, the Red Sox were, believe it or not, an unlucky team, going 22-28 in one-run games and finishing five games behind their Pythagorean record. Based on their run differential in 2007, the Red Sox should have finished 101-61.

So there you have it. The projections for 2008 say the Red Sox should be a 100-win team — just like they should have been in 2007. The key, in both halves of that sentence, is should.

21 comments… add one

  • What’s the rationale for projecting Big Papi’s batting average a full 50 points lower than last year?
    That’s a bit extreme.
    Speaking of extreme, I wonder what the lineup might produce if Papi dropped to fourth, Manny to fifth, and Ellsbury was added to either the leadoff or #2 slot (i.e., Jacoby, Dustin AND Youks batting in front of Ortiz and Manny)?

    Hudson February 3, 2008, 12:48 am
  • “In fact, the Red Sox last year scored 867 runs, or 5.35 per game — a loss of about seven wins. That’s what giving Wily Mo Pena, Eric Hinske and Alex Cora a season’s worth of at-bats will do for you.”
    The 500-odd AB given to those three still doesn’t seem to account for the Sox missing their Pythagorean projections by so much. Even throwing in Cash, Clayton, Kielty, Bailey, and other bad performances, I’d still expect more total run production. Most teams have terrible backups / bench players.
    My guess is that the problem was offensive inefficiency. Anecdotally, the Sox would put lots of men on base, but they would fail to capitalize in scoring opportunities.

    Andrew F (Sox Fan) February 3, 2008, 2:02 am
  • “Based on their run differential in 2007, the Red Sox should have finished 101-61.”
    You can probably chalk those 5 “missing” wins up to the Gagne Effect…

    KJC February 3, 2008, 9:26 am
  • Here’s to hoping this is a massive over estimate, 90 W sounds better to me!
    Nice post Paul…

    sam-YF February 3, 2008, 9:38 am
  • “What’s the rationale for projecting Big Papi’s batting average a full 50 points lower than last year?”
    Local rumors suggest that Papi won’t be juicing this season out of fear of being hit with a 50 day suspension since he’s already been busted twice.

    TruthSayer February 3, 2008, 11:21 am
  • I assume that’s just an awful joke, since it’s not even accurate. You get the 50-gamer for your second bust.
    I agree with Hud that there seems to be little reason for Ortiz to go from .330 to .280, even if you accept that he’s unlikely to re-create the .330. I guess they’re figuring he’s always been within .290-.300, and then adjusting downward for age.
    That Drew projection is really scary though. The best part is that even if you only do PECOTA’s lineup and don’t average it with others, the Sox still come out to 96-66 — and I would consider that lineup to be a wprst-case scenario.

    Paul SF February 3, 2008, 12:01 pm
  • What’s the rationale for projecting Big Papi’s batting average a full 50 points lower than last year?
    Ortiz hit forty-five points lower in 2006 and 2007 was his first season over .301 — fifty points might be slightly extreme, but so was his ’07 average.

    Sky February 3, 2008, 12:02 pm
  • If I’m remembering correctly, PECOTA was pretty pessimistic about Drew going into 2007, especially his power numbers, which was a bit surprising because he was moving to Fenway.
    Anyway, great work again, Paul.

    Nick-YF February 3, 2008, 12:20 pm
  • This is a great read. Thanks for the awesome work, Paul.

    attackgerbil February 3, 2008, 12:24 pm
  • On the bus to the Super Bowl now. Its raining and cold here. Anticipate a closed roof. Hope all is well in YF/SF nation.

    John - YF February 3, 2008, 12:33 pm
  • The Gagne effect and the Sox’s OBP approach (lots of walks, less slugging) both seem like rationale explanations to me.
    But hey, what about my crazy lineup suggestion?

    Hudson February 3, 2008, 12:47 pm
  • > what about my crazy lineup suggestion?
    It’s crazy.

    attackgerbil February 3, 2008, 1:15 pm
  • I dont think Youk is good enough to be a 3 hitter yet. He’s an excellent hitter dont get me wrong, but he isnt the best hitter on the team. Call me a traditionalist but I do believe this one…

    sam-YF February 3, 2008, 1:39 pm
  • I agree Sam. I love me some crazy-bearded Youk, but I like him better at #2. He sees a lot of pitches and wears down pitchers, which is invaluable in front of Ortiz and Manny.

    Atheose February 3, 2008, 2:07 pm
  • Here’s Ortiz BABIP and BA for the last 3 seasons:
    2005 .300 BA, .309 BABIP
    2006 .274 BA, .287 BABIP
    2007 .332 BA, .358 BABIP
    His K% was also down last year, and his LD% slightly up. I’m not sure what Ortiz’s career BABIP average is, but considering the league average is right around .300, I would say that he was a bit unlucky in 2006, and very lucky in 2007. Mix in a little bit of age and regressing back to that .300 might be why you are seeing his BA go way down. He’s still got the strong OBP and SLG, though.

    j February 3, 2008, 2:33 pm
  • Excellent (and encouraging) analysis.
    Now when do we see this done for the Yanks?

    Carl Jeffries February 3, 2008, 3:18 pm
  • I guess my thought process with that lineup idea was:
    (a) If people believe that Ortiz and Ramirez are sure to regress, and
    (b) Considering how on fire Ellsbury, Pedroia/ and ouks were at the end of the season, then
    (c) Might it not make sense to put the three youngsters in front of the aging sluggers?
    I have a lot of faith in MannyOrtez still. But I also know that trio is a basestealing/OBP machine which might rarely go down 1-2-3 in the first.
    More likely, I suspect, is for either Ellsbury or Peroia to start out as far down as #9, which could give a similar effect the second time through the order.
    One could stack the Sox lineup practically any way, I suspect, and get pretty good results — if Lowell and Drew can produce. If they fall way off and Tek/Lugo don’t hold their end up, things could get ugly.

    Hudson February 3, 2008, 10:53 pm
  • Thread-jack:
    http://gothamist.com/2008/02/06/look_out_for_a.php
    This is kind of funny.

    Lar February 6, 2008, 5:26 pm
  • Saw that photo over at Deadspin. Pretty hilarious, but I don’t remember Topps ever editorializing (or doing anything at all similar really) like that when I was collecting cards in the 80s-90s. Are they under new management?

    FenSheaParkway February 6, 2008, 5:59 pm
  • Looks like this projection may need to change and that Clay is gonna be in the rotation full time….
    http://www.bostonherald.com/blogs/sports/red_sox/index.php/2008/02/07/schilling-issue-serious/

    sam-YF February 7, 2008, 1:56 pm
  • thanks, Sam. I put up a thread.

    Nick-YF February 7, 2008, 2:11 pm

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