Third in a series (Part 1, Part 2)
Coming off the close-fought but ultimately disappointing 2005 season, the Sox and Yankees had dramatically different offseasons, emphasis on the drama, at least in Boston's case.
The Theo Epstein saga shook Boston for weeks, as the GM feuded with Larry Luchhino, quit the team, left in a gorilla suit, was rumored to be advising his interim replacements while he vacationed in the tropics (with Pearl Jam? Is this some kind of weird dream where I end up naked on the last day of school?), then came back in triumphant glory, or something like that. In the meantime, the Sox traded four prospects for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell, and it remains debated to this day whether Epstein had a hand in the deal, tacitly approved it or would have vetoed it had he been fully in charge.
In less dramatic moves, the Sox replaced Mark Bellhorn by trading Doug Mirabelli for Mark Loretta and dumping Edgar Renteria on the Braves for Andy Marte and signing Alex Gonzalez. In an effort to revamp the bullpen, the Sox signed Rudy Seanez and Julian Tavarez and traded for David Riske as part of the deal that brought in Coco Crisp (and sent Marte to Cleveland).
Of course, bringing in Crisp was necessary because the Sox' incumbent center fielder, Johnny Damon, signed with the Yankees. We won't go into all the recriminations and drama, but needless to say, there were and there was. It was the biggest move in a relatively quiet Yankee offseason, as the Yanks signed Mike Myers, Kyle Farnsworth and Octavio Dotel in an effort to address their own bullpen issues but otherwise stood pat.
That March, SG ran the Diamond Mind simulations, adding a third 1,000-run set for PECOTA, which at the time was actually reliable because it was still run by Nate "Midas" Silver, who is now the best political blogger not named Ezra Klein or Jonathan Chait.
Diamond Mind's projections came out thusly (I'll add the Jays since they were in the race this season):
- Yankees: 93-69, 883 RS, 766 RA, 69% Div, 11% WC
- Red Sox: 86-76, 841 RS, 774 RA, 22% Div, 14% WC
- Blue Jays: 83-79, 792 RS, 779 RA, 8% Div, 9% WC
- Yankees: 92-70, 889-774, 62%, 15%
- Red Sox: 88-74, 854-766, 28%, 24%
- Blue Jays: 83-79, 764-751, 9%, 10%
- Red Sox: 94-68, 880-734, 78%, 7%
- Yankees: 85-77, 841-815, 12%, 16%
- Blue Jays: 82-80, 759-756, 9%, 9%
Which one of these does not belong? ZiPS clearly did not like what the Yankees were offering, while Diamond Mind returned the favor for the Sox. PECOTA saw the clubs as closer. Averaging the three resulted in this:
- Yankees: 90-72, 871-785, 48%, 14%
- Red Sox: 89-73, 858-758, 42%, 15%
- Blue Jays: 83-79, 772-762, 9%, 10%
It looked like another dogfight between the Sox and Yanks in the AL East, with the Blue Jays lurking safely behind. But what happened?
Well, for one, the Red Sox simply underperformed their projections on offense by a huge amount — five wins from the projection averages and six wins off the ZiPS projection — and on pitching and defense by an even larger amount — nearly seven wins. They allowed more runs than they scored, yet managed to be five games over .500 for the season, so they were actually lucky, at least based on their actual in-game performance.
Why? Well, age, underperformance and injuries on offense. Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz were the only offensive threats as five of the nine starters finished below average with the bat, four of them below 85 OPS+. The bench was no better, with only Wily Mo Pena — acquired in spring training for Bronson Arroyo — above average. As injuries to Crisp, Trot Nixon, Ramirez and Jason Varitek decimated the lineup, the weak bench was dreadfully overexposed: Alex Cora and Doug Mirabelli and their mid-50s OPS+ received more than 400 plate appearances.
On the mound, Curt Schilling and Beckett avoided the injury bug, which was good in the one case, maybe not so much in the other, as Beckett struggled all year in the tougher AL East. Meanwhile, Tim Wakefield's effective season was cut short by injury while Matt Clement called it a career after 12 horrendous starts and major shoulder surgery. David Wells underwent knee surgery, then toughed his way back only to take a liner off that knee in his first start. He was a nonfactor all year. To replace Clement, Wells and Wakefield, the Sox turned to the likes of Kyle Snyder (79 ERA+), Lenny DiNardo (61), David Pauley (61) and Jason Johnson (65). Together, they received 25 starts.
It wasn't all bad for the Red Sox, as 2006 featured the emergence of Jonathan Papelbon as an ace reliever and the debut of Jon Lester after missing most of the season recovering from cancer.
Things went much smoother for the Yankees, though an early season injury to Hideki Matsui led to Melky Cabrera's rocky initiation in left field. Likewise, first base was something of a revolving door, as Gary Sheffield's injury led to Andy Phillips and Craig Wilson spending a lot of time there. But a huge resurgence by Jason Giambi, a solid debut by Robinson Cano and more of the same from the likes of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez helped the Yankees easily outperform their projections on offense.
Likewise, the pitching stabilized, though not quite to the extent the Yankees probably would have liked. Mike Mussina rebounded from a down year, and Chien-Ming Wang emerged as a solid starter, but Randy Johnson had his worst season as a full-time starter, Jaret Wright was merely average, and Shawn Chacon turned back into a pumpkin. The bullpen was decent enough, though Fansworth was inconsistent; the emergence of Scott Proctor arguably kept the pitching staff afloat. The pitching projections turned out to be fairly accurate in this case.
The Yankees again were kicked out of the playoffs in the first round, meaning the wild 2006-07 offseason began early for both clubs.