And so we reach last offseason, the infamous "Bridge Year" for Theo Epstein and the Red Sox.
The Sox signed Marco Scutaro to keep shortstop warm for Jose Iglesias, picked up Adrian Beltre to play third on a make-good, one-year deal, and signed Mike Cameron to play center field while Jacoby Ellsbury, Ryan Kalish and Josh Reddick continued their development.
The Sox parted ways with Jason Bay, perhaps looking more toward the 2010-11 offseason than was believed at the time, though the defensive upgrade to Ellsbury in left and Cameron in center was (or should have been) significant. The Sox also threw a plate of spaghetti at the bullpen wall to see what stuck. But the Sox also made a big-name signing, as well, locking up John Lackey. Other signings didn't make much of a splash at the time, but the Sox picked up scrap heap bench players Darnell McDonald and Scott Patterson, as well.
Finally, in the feel-good move of the offseason, the Sox signed Nomar Garciaparra to a one-day contract, whereupon he retired as a member of the Red Sox.
The Yankees, obviously didn't need to make as many moves. But they did trade for Curtis Granderson to replace the departing Johnny Damon, re-signed Andy Pettitte after he considered retirement (again), released Chien-Ming Wang, signed Nick Johnson to replace Hideki Matsui and traded Melky Cabrera to Atlanta for old friend Javier Vasquez, giving Brett Gardner room to roam in center. Bench and bullpen moves included picking up Marcus Thames and Chan Ho Park.
SG's projections that March, which dropped ZiPS because it went behind the ESPN paywall, didn't see the respective changes making much difference in the AL East:
- Yankees: 95-67, 902 RS, 747 RA, 38% Div, 23% WC
- Red Sox: 94-68, 822 RS, 690 RA, 36% Div, 20% WC
- TB Rays: 87-75, 815 RS, 744 RA, 19% Div, 17% WC
- Yankees: 97-65, 898 RS, 729 RA, 49% Div, 20% WC
- TB Rays: 90-72, 816 RS, 725 RA, 23% Div, 20% WC
- Red Sox: 89-73, 820 RS, 727 RA, 23% Div, 20% WC
Oliver (Hardball Times):
- Yankees: 99-63, 915 RS, 715 RA, 44% Div, 25% WC
- Red Sox: 94-68, 806 RS, 668 RA, 29% Div, 24% WC
- TB Rays: 92-70, 816 RS, 699 RA, 24% Div, 22% WC
- Red Sox: 92-70, 833 RS, 709 RA, 33% Div, 20% WC
- TB Rays: 92-70, 818 RS, 706 RA, 31% Div, 19% WC
- Yankees: 90-72, 877 RS, 772 RA, 28% Div, 19% WC
- Yankees: 98-64, 881 RS, 708 RA, 41% Div, 24% WC
- TB Rays: 94-68, 783 RS, 655 RA, 30% Div, 24% WC
- Red Sox: 94-68, 824 RS, 685 RA, 28% Div, 25% WC
Here is how those five systems averaged out:
- Yankees: 96-66, 895 RS, 734 RA, 41% Div, 22% WC
- Red Sox: 93-69, 821 RS, 696 RA, 30% Div, 23% WC
- TB Rays: 91-71, 810 RS, 706 RA, 25% Div, 21% WC
How close were these teams projected to be? 0.3 wins separated the Rays and Sox in CAIRO's simulations, while 0.5 separated them in Marcel, and 0.6 separated them in PECOTA. For the first time since we started this study, no projection system gives any team even a 50 percent chance of winning the division or a 70 percent chance of making the playoffs. The PECOTA projections, though getting the standings exactly wrong, probably most accurately projected the closeness of the three teams in talent.
But of course, that assumes everyone stays reasonably healthy, and that did not happen in 2010. Here's how the three teams ended up:
- TB Rays: 96-66, 802 RS, 649 RA
- Yankees: 95-67, 859 RS, 693 RA
- Red Sox: 89-73, 818 RS, 744 RA
I'm not sure we need to rehash the calamity that befell the Red Sox in 2010. Suffice it to say that the Opening Day lineup appeared together the first four games of the season, and that was it. And it was still the Sox' second-most used lineup of the season. The most common defensive lineup featured McDonald in center and Hermida in left. Just four players — Beltre, J.D. Drew, David Ortiz, Scutaro — played 107 or more games at their expected positions. And for all that, the Sox still scored 818 runs, second in the league to the Yankees, thanks to strong seasons from Victor Martinez and Ortiz and an MVP-caliber season from Beltre. Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Jed Lowrie also turned in excellent performances in injury- and illness-shortened campaigns.
For Boston, it was the pitching that truly disappointed. Lackey struggled badly in the first half, Daisuke Matsuzaka was inconsistent in returning from injury, Josh Beckett's performance was awful heading into a DL trip in June and merely mediocre upon his return in August. That left Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester as the rotation's anchors, both turning in tremendous performances, including Buchholz's amazing league-leading 187 ERA+. Meanwhile, the bullpen was atrocious: Tim Wakefield couldn't seem to adjust to his new swingman/spot starter role, Hideki Okajima's magic ran out, and Manny Delcarmen and Ramon Ramirez were gone by season's end, leaving the likes of Scott Atchison and rookie Felix Doubront to fill in the gaps. Youngster Daniel Bard solidified his spot as closer-in-waiting to Jonathan Papelbon, who regressed significantly and blew eight saves, equaling his total from the previous two years combined.
The defending champions, meanwhile, had their own set of problems. After a hot start, the Yankees coasted/slid into the postseason, losing the division to the Rays. The Yanks' pitching handily beat the projections, thanks mostly to another excellent season from CC Sabathia and an incredible bounceback from Pettitte. Vasquez and A.J. Burnett both struggled, and Pettitte's late-season injury put the New York staff into a bind. Phil Hughes showed flashes of promise but faded as the season went along, and 19 starts went to the likes of Dustin Moseley and Ivan Nova, who pitched capably at the back end of the rotation. In relief, the bullpen combination of Mariano Rivera and Kerry Wood was a late-season, late-inning juggernaut after Joba Chamberlain struggled to post a league-average ERA.
The offense, though underperforming the projections, was the best in the league (I suspect the projections simply didn't anticipate the overall pitching dominance we'd see in 2010). Outside of Derek Jeter's career-worst season and disappointing campaigns from Mark Teixeira and the recuperating Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees received adequate offensive performances across the board, including an MVP-caliber season from Robinson Cano, a breakout year from Gardner, a career-best season from Nick Swisher and healthy DH production from Thames/Jorge Posada once Johnson's body shattered into millions of pieces upon making contact with the baseball field.
The Yankees couldn't stop the Texas Rangers from charging into their first World Series, however, as the Red Sox plotted how best to orchestrate a return to the postseason.