If you haven't seen it already, first, let me direct you to the thoughtful analysis posted at Over the Monster today by Ben Buchanan called "Can the Red Sox Still Hit? Dispelling the Myth of the 'Weakened Offense.'" It's a persuasively written statistical projection, directed at bridge jumpers concerned about the apparent lack of focus on offense for the Red Sox this off-season.
This was the most compelling statement i've read yet in favor of this year's front-office strategy. That strategy has been to add power to starting pitching (John Lackey) and defense (Mike Cameron) but without similar improvement in the power of the lineup (Jason Bay now with the Mets being the primary issue).
Buchanan's analysis uses Weighted On Base Average (wOBA) translated using an online conversion tool into Runs Above Replacement (RAR) to show that the overall effect of these offseason moves on the Red Sox offense is the loss of 6.8 projected runs over last year's total. Bad as the Red Sox's offensive performance seemed at times last year, Buchanan reminds us it was good for third best in baseball in terms of overall runs scored.
Buchanan's conclusion is that the worries about next year's offense amount to "alarmism".
Even assuming that Ortiz doesn't continue his performance from the last half, but replicates his mediocre season as a whole. Even assuming that our young guys like Pedroia and Ellsbury don't improve! It doesn't take into account the advantages that fans of "small ball" might have, as both Cameron and Beltre can steal a base if they need to compared to one in Jason Bay (to say nothing of all the cries of GIDP-machine Lowell last year). The difference is all of 6.8 runs.
Still, while I admire his logic, and really can't say enough about the quality of this post overall, the last paragraph is where I part ways with him. "Last year, the Sox ended the season in a series where they failed to score more than 1 run combined in the first 2 games," he writes. "And of course, there was the long period against the Yankees where they just couldn't score any runs. It was streaks like these that set off an alarm in Red Sox Nation making everyone think that we were somehow a bad team with a weak lineup."
Despite his objective comparisons, his post still comes down to a rather subjective point: losing 6.8 RAR over a team that had significant (if transient) run-production problems last year, particularly in the postseason, isn't that big a deal.
That's where he loses me a bit. I think no matter what our statistical proclivities, we can agree that what happened in last year's ALDS was not the desired outcome. And I think that downplaying those performances as a statistical blip seized on by alarmists isn't necessarily more fair than declaring pre-emptively that the Sox are sunk heading into the next season.
While it's true that uncharacteristically weak performances from some of our best pitchers (Beckett, Lester, Papelbon) were a key factor in that series, another glaring issue for the Sox was a deep, team-wide hitting slump.
Obviously, the caliber of pitching the Sox were encountering in that playoff series was higher than what they'd seen in the regular season. And yes, preventing the Angels from scoring as many runs as they did against *our* pitching might've helped.
But at the end of the day, somebody's still got to go out there and hit effectively against a postseason pitching rotation. And I don't think it's an over-reaction to point out that while the pitching was shaky, the postseason offensive performance by the Red Sox last year was one of the worst ever.
Per Joy of Sox last October:
With only one run and eight hits in Games 1 and 2, the Red Sox have never -- in 151 post-season games dating back to the 1903 World Series -- been limited to just one run or as few as eight combined hits over two consecutive games.
The Red Sox are hitting .131 (8-for-61) in this LDS and are in danger of setting a new record for the lowest batting average by an LDS team (.141, 1998 Rangers vs Yankees).
Now, in 2010, we're not just talking about maintaining the status quo. Whether a dropoff of 6.8 RAR represents a great loss or not, it's still going into negative territory (hence, despite its title, Buchanan's post actually proves that the Red Sox offense will be weakened -- the ultimate point being whether or not that weakening is significant). Negative territory even compared with a Sox offense we saw deliver an undeniably terrible performance in its very brief postseason appearance last year.
I'm not saying I'm headed to the Tobin Bridge over any of this. I'm not saying the Red Sox won't be an improved or successful team this year. But being concerned--not a "Chicken Little", but concerned--that the Sox have lost Bay, without directly replacing his offensive production, remains legitimate in my view.