The Red Sox Offense Will Show Up

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On March 3rd, I joined Mark Healey and Jay Ferraro on Baseball Digest Live to discuss the 2010 Red Sox. While we covered various expectations of the Red Sox, I considered an area that has received quite a bit of criticism by baseball fans and pundits alike in the early days of spring training.

While others have said the Red Sox will rely on pitching and defense this season, the reality is they will still be among the offensive powerhouses in the American League, as well as all of Major League Baseball.

Despite a power outage from David Ortiz, the Red Sox ranked second in team slugging percentage in all of MLB during the 2009 season. Despite a catcher hitting .209, a shortstop hitting .236 and a designated hitter hitting .238, the Red Sox ranked 6th in MLB in team batting average and 2nd in the American League behind the World Champion New York Yankees. They were also ranked second in the AL for on-base percentage and slugging percentage. The Yankees, Red Sox and Anaheim Angels were tops in these categories for all of MLB.

During this off-season the second best player(arguably, behind Kevin Youkilis) departed via free agency and signed a four year deal with the New York Mets. While it will not be easy for the Red Sox to replace the offensive output of a single player in Jason Bay, they have more than shored up the weak links in the lineup that were obvious throughout the 2009 season. Whereas Bay provided a great power source, the 2010 offense will provide reliable power from multiple areas and strengthen the overall lineup.

Red Sox veteran and team captain Jason Varitek’s long career was thought to be near its end when the 2009 season concluded. If not his career, certainly his Red Sox tenure. His season peaked early, when he hit .250 in April with 4 home runs. After slugging 6 more homers in May, Tek began a slow decline where he hit just 3 home runs the rest of the way. His SLG% and OPS dropped significantly in each month, and bottomed out when Victor Martinez was secured from the Cleveland Indians for Justin Masterson. Splitting time between catching and manning first base, Martinez quickly made his presence felt in the Red Sox lineup. With 200 fewer at bats in a Red Sox uniform, the new everyday catcher nearly matched Varitek in several offensive categories.

Nick Green was one of the best stories to come out of the 2009 season. Out of a major league lineup since 2006(if you discount the 7 at bats in 2007 with the Seattle Mariners), Green was not expected to compete for a roster spot behind Julio Lugo and Jed Lowrie. After injuries beset Lugo and Lowrie, Green quickly made a case for not only a roster spot in spring training, but the starting shortstop gig. Through May he played incredible ball, but he peaked in June and the Red Sox acquired Alex Gonzalez at the deadline to slide into the shortstop role.

Rather than wait for a deal from the Red Sox, Gonzalez signed with the Toronto Blue Jays during the off-season. As it worked out, the Sox ended up signing the man he replaced. The biggest concern heard in media circles is the cost of Marco Scutaro to the Red Sox for two season. Even coming off a career offensive season, it’s tough to swallow $12 million dollars over two seasons with an option for a third for a 33 year old middle infielder. However, the Red Sox signed a player who will provide solid fielding that they have lacked in the years since Nomar Garciaparra departed via trade in 2004. In addition to the defense, Scutaro provides an offense from the shortstop position that will likely at the very least match the output of Julio Lugo and Alex Cora in 2008.

As I discussed on Baseball Digest Live, I’m not a huge fan of the Adrián Beltré signing by the Red Sox. Especially considering that Mike Lowell remains on the roster. There are many supporters of Beltré that vehemently defend the potential of the new third baseman, and there’s a chance he might live up to the hype that surrounds him. I think it’s worth mentioning that 2010 will be the 6th season since Beltré’s breakout season with 49 home runs. His home run totals have since peaked at 26 for a full season. My concern is that the best we will see from Beltré will offensively worse than what we would have seen with Mike Lowell. With regard to the original argument that the Red Sox will have more focus on defense, I agree that third base defense will likely see an improvement.

In addition to the offensive improvements stated here, the Red Sox have also bolstered their bench that severely lacked reliable options in 2009. Rhode Island native Rocco Baldelli was a bust as a 4th outfielder with Boston as his physical limitations keeping him off the field more often than J.D. Drew, the man he was to back up. The acquisitions of Jeremy Hermida and Bill Hall allow the Red Sox flexibility and remove the revolving door of subpar options that have plagued the team for the last several seasons. Hermida and Hall’s previous success at the MLB level, their ability to play multiple positions, and their defined roles as bench players will be a great benefit for the 2010 season in Boston.

The 2010 season will have many ups and downs for the Red Sox offense, but the bet here is that there will be more unexpected ups than downs.

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