It’s hard to see how the 2017 Red Sox can be better than last year’s team in the regular season.
That doesn’t mean the Sox won’t be one of the best teams in the American League and win the division. They probably will be, and they probably will.
They’ll just be a little worse than they were a year ago along the way.
BASEBALL PREVIEW 2017
- DRELLICH: 2017 Red Sox will be good . . . but not better
- DRELLICH: Dave Dombrowski runs the Red Sox the old-fashioned way . . . but is it the right approach?
- DRELLICH: Meet the two Red Sox decision-makers you never heard of
- BEAN: The best and worst Opening Days
- BEAN: Since Donald Trump's not throwing out any first pitches this year, here's 10 people who could
- GARY AND TRENNI: Which Red Sox player will exceed expectations?
- COMING SUNDAY: Our MLB predictions
- COMING MONDAY: Five Red Sox questions heading into the season
- COMING MONDAY: What does the opener mean as a predictor for the season?
Put Tyler Thornburg’s injury aside. Ignore the potential for a whole season of Andrew Benintendi. Even Pablo Sandoval’s possible resurgence probably won’t matter too much either.
The balance sheet comes down to another trio.
The Red Sox lost a huge piece in David Ortiz. They gained a huge piece in Chris Sale.
And then they lost, for an unknown amount in time, an equally important pitcher in David Price.
Add one, subtract two, and even John Farrell can do that math: you’re not coming out on top.
These are the mega pieces. Ortiz, per FanGraphs.com, was worth 4.4 wins above replacement last season. Price was worth 4.5. Sale was worth 5.2.
So much really does hinge on Price’s elbow, no matter how sensitive to the market the lefty may be. No matter how much he may have disappointed some fans.
He’s still one of the most valuable pitchers around if he’s healthy.
Last year’s team won 93 games. It’s easy to forget how good a 93-win team is -- and how hard it is to do again.
The Sox had the best offense in the majors in 2016, a feat they are very unlikely to replicate without Ortiz, although they should still be among the leaders.
FanGraphs constantly updates its projections, using depth charts and estimated playing time percentages. The encouraging thing for Sox fans is the fact that the Sox still look like they’re one of the top two teams in the AL.
Last year’s team well outperformed expectations of an 88-win season.
This year, Boston and Cleveland are both pegged by FanGraphs for a 91-71 record, better than every team except two in the National League, the Dodgers and Cubs (94-68).
Last year’s Red Sox carried a lot of surprises, don’t forget.
“There are two factors here, when you're looking at FanGraphs’ projections,” FanGraphs editor Paul Swydan explained. “One, the big player the Red Sox lost in David Ortiz, had a relatively modest projection last season. For one thing, he was 40, and there aren't a lot of good 40-year-old baseball players. For another, he was a DH, and DHs tend to have less robust WAR projections because they don't play defense.
“The second is Mookie Betts. Last year at this time, we were all hopeful Betts would blossom into the star he has become, but objective projection systems weren't yet projecting that output. Now, they are. Add a full season of Benintendi and Sale into the mix, and you're left with a team that looks slightly better on paper than last year’s did at this time, despite not having Ortiz and a less-than-full season projected for Price.”
And now what becomes of those surprises? How does the catcher split work out? Rick Porcello’s not going to have the same numbers he did a year ago.
Mookie Betts was amazing. How amazing is his follow-up? The list of questions like that is long.
Long enough for a projected 91-win season.
The final number doesn’t matter as long as the Sox make the playoffs, and this time, advance. They should make it to October.