The last of a four-part series, Rival Roundup has been an overview of the Yankees’ American League East rivals. As stated throughout the series, almost half of the Yankees’ games will be against these four rivals. This last installment looks at the Boston Red Sox. Like the first three in the series, we have enlisted the thoughts of member sites of The ESPN SweetSpot Network. For this installment, my good friend, Jeff Polman, of Fire Brand of the American League will provide some insight throughout the piece.
Of course the last installment had to be the Boston Red Sox. Cue the bad-guy organ music! Actually, a lot of steam has gone out of the antipathy between the two teams. They spend too much time respecting each other these days. Even so, the bottom line for both teams and the teams’ fans is that both ends of the “rivalry” are shooting for the same prize. Only one can win the division. And as we have seen, it is not like the rest of the division is going to stand by and let this be decided by the Red Sox and Yankees.
No matter how much the teams respect each other, both would gladly take a series win for the season over the other. The worst case scenario for the Yankees is that the series ends up tied for the season. It did not go well for the Yankees last season as the Red Sox took 13 of the 19 games for the season. Think about it this way: If the Yankees could have won nine of the nineteen instead of six, and done the same thing against the Rays, the Yankees would have been at least a wild card team.
This is going to sound like sour grapes, and it is not. The Red Sox deserved everything they accomplished last season. But a whole lot of things went right for the Red Sox and a whole lot of things went wrong for the Yankees. How many times will that happen two seasons in a row? Things could easily reverse. Who knows.
Jeff Polman understands such things and when asked for an over/under on the Red Sox’ win total this year compared to last year, he said, “Slightly less. Tampa and the Yankees have improved, and a bunch of things need to go right, though you can probably say that about most teams.”
But projections do not look at luck with good or bad fortune. Well, they do in a way with playing time projections. But anyway, putting all those things aside, what kinds of teams are these two AL East combatants putting on the field in 2014?
According to the projections, the Red Sox will score 4.54 runs per game compared to the Yankees’ 4.36 and the Red Sox will allow 4.05 runs per game compared to the Yankees’ 4.25. The difference according to the calculations leads to a prediction of 88 wins for the Red Sox and 83 for the Yankees. That is nine less wins than a year ago for the Red Sox, which is encouraging, but also two less wins for the Yankees when it seems the Yankees are much improved from a year ago.
Are the Red Sox much improved from a year ago? Let’s look at the additions and subtractions. The biggest loss was Jacoby Ellsbury to the Yankees. Gone also are Jarrod Saltalamacchia–which means that your friends from IIATMS will have a whole lot less spelling to do–and Stephen Drew.
Let’s start with the starting rotations. The projections rank the rotations almost dead even with the Red Sox’ rotation worth 15.4 WAR and the Yankees’ 15.1. Let’s break it down a little with an over/under:
Red Sox front five, projected WAR, William’s WAR:
- Jon Lester – 3.7, 3.7
- Clay Buchholz – 2.2, 3.2 Projection WAY conservative
- John Lackey – 3.0, 2.5 He won’t be better than last year.
- Jake Peavy – 2.7, 2.0 I just don’t see the optimism
- Felix Doubront – 2.2, 2.2
The Front Five with William’s WAR are at 13.6 (the rest of Boston’s back up starters get the rest)
Now the Yankees:
- Masahiro Tanaka – 4.4, 4.0
- CC Sabathia – 3.7, 3.2
- Hiroki Kuroda – 2.9, 2.9
- Ivan Nova – 2.2, 2.7
- Michael Pineda – 1.0, 2.0
The Front Five with William’s WAR comes in at 14.8. Therefore, according to William’s WAR, the Yankees’ rotation is a win better if these were the only guys that started all season. Both teams have rotation depth in case something happens to the front five.
When asked about the Red Sox’ pitching, Jeff Polman said:
“-I would say just as good (as 2013). Dempster won’t be there, but Chris Capuano will, and he’s from Springfield so maybe that will motivate him some more. Rubby De La Rosa has a lot of talent and is just 25, and if he can rebound from injuries he can add to a stocked pen that also includes newcomer Edward Mujica. Peavy and Lester can still be forces for good. Expecting Lackey to continue his resurrection and Buchholz to have a great year.”
Much has been made of how the Red Sox struggled at the closer position last year until Koji Uehara took over. But what should not be forgotten is that Uehara did take over and put together a season for the ages. If you were asked how old Uehara was, what would you guess? Would you guess that he is 39? Can such a magical season happen again? The odds are against it. The same can be said for Craig Breslow who finished with a 1.81 ERA without striking out more than five batters per nine innings. Therefore, the bullpens of both teams should be a wash.
Now let’s look at the position by position rankings. The obvious difference will be Dustin Pedroia who no longer has Robinson Cano as a comparison in the Bronx. Polman believes Pedroia will get some of his power back, but that would take some seeing to believe. Even so, he is three wins better than anyone the Yankees can put at second.
The projections give Xander Bogaerts a two-win advantage over Derek Jeter. One comment from the series asked if every shortstop has the advantage over Jeter. Well, the guy is 40-years-old. But he is our Jeter playing his last year, so we’ll take it.
Third base is Jeff Polman’s biggest worry. If the Red Sox kept Drew, they would have had the luxury of putting Bogaerts at third for a year. Polman says this is a make or break year for Will Middlebrooks and Polman is right. The belief here is that Middlebrooks will never be the consistent hitter the Red Sox crave. Garin Cecchini is a right-handed Wade Boggs and if his defense can come around, he could be at third by mid-season. The Yankees, of course, are no great shakes themselves at third, so this position is a wash.
Brian McCann is a two win advantage for the Yankees at catcher over Pierzynski and Francisco Cervelli looks incredible thus far and can be every bit as effective as the Red Sox’ backup, David Ross. Both teams have catching depth in the minors if things go wrong.
The outfield starts in left with Brett Gardner at least a win advantage over any combination of Jonny Gomes, Daniel Nava or Mike Carp. The Yankees also have a three win advantage in center field if Jacoby Ellsbury stays healthy over Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Grady Sizemore. Bradley has yet to prove he can hit at the Major League level and Sizemore is a nice story, but let’s see how he holds up.
The projections give Shane Victorino a one and a half win advantage over Carlos Beltran. The feeling here is that Beltran will beat his projection and Victorino is a concern for regression over last year.
Then there is the Designated Hitter. All props have to go to David Ortiz for how he has performed over the last three years and nobody can take away his post season from 2013. But you have to ask the question as to when age catches up to him. It has to happen some time. The projections give him a two win advantage over Alfonso Soriano. But is that realistic? Soriano should be better than his projection and there is no guarantee that Ortiz can keep up this pace year after year. We’ll see.
The respective benches seem a wash as well. Both teams have a slick fielding, weak hitting infielder (Herrera / Brendan Ryan). Both have extra outfielders (Ichiro / Gomes) and the wild cards (Nava / Nunez).
So where did we end up with this exercise? If you add up all of the thoughts here on both teams, The Yankees feel like a half a win better than the Red Sox with how they will start the season. But all this is paper talk and you have to play the games to find out what happens. Other factors such as injuries, depth in the minor leagues, strength of schedule and the strength of the other teams in the AL East will all play a roll.
The Yankees will play the Red Sox in Fenway:
- Apr 22-24, three games
- Aug 1-3, three games
- Sep 26-28, three games (the last three games of the season!)
The Yankees will play the Red Sox at home:
- Apr 10-13, four games
- Jun 27-29, three games
- Sep 2-4, three games
The Red Sox are a very good team that does not feel as good as last year. The Yankees feel like a team that should not finish twelve games behind this season. It will be an extremely interesting season and the anticipation is building!
The author would like to thank Jeff Polman, Matthias Koster, Tommy Rancel and Jon Shepherd for their contributions to this series.