In the immediate wake of the Red Sox winning yet another World Series, someone pointed out a particularly lousy prediction from Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy last spring:
But here’s the reality, people: The 2013 Red Sox might be really bad. Worse, they might be really boring. Anybody talking about baseball in your neighborhood these days?
Fans can be so fickle, and there was an apparent drop in enthusiasm in the neighborhoods of New England last spring. If ticket sales and television ratings mean anything. Obviously, the fans will come back if the team's good, and non-boring. Which this one, as things turned out, was.
Where is there any evidence that the Red Sox have improved their starting pitching? It’s the starters who have killed the last two campaigns (starting with September of 2011 and running through all of last season).
Lester is supposed to be the ace, but he is coming back from a 9-14 season in which he gave up more hits than he had innings pitched. Next up is Clay Buchholz, who always looks good but gets hurt a lot; he strained a hamstring in the very first workout of 2013. Local pariah John Lackey is the third starter and made it to the mound Saturday for the first time since the end of 2011 when he was, statistically, the worst Red Sox starting pitcher of the last half-century.
Then comes veteran Ryan Dempster, who was cannon fodder when he moved to the American League last year. Finally, there is Felix Doubront, who is 25 years old and has managed to arrive in camp woefully out of shape in two of the last three seasons.
If any of these guys gets hurt (very likely) or don’t work out, the Sox turn to . . . Franklin Morales? . . . the maniacal Alfredo Aceves?
Basically, Lester hit his career norms this year, and I'm going to guess that Shaughenessy got too caught up in wins and losses and ERA (4.88) and bad luck that latched on to Lester in 2012. There's nothing that Lester did in 2013 that should surprise anyone. Buchholz did get hurt, but pitched well when healthy. Of course, nobody had any idea that Lackey would be as good as he was. Dempster was awful, but Doubront and late-season acquisition Jake Peavy balanced Dempster nicely.
Really, nobody was great. But everybody (except Dempster) was good enough to move the Red Sox from 12th in the American to fourth, in terms of starting-pitchers' ERA. This was their biggest problem in 2012, and the biggest change in 2013. I do think Shaughnessy missed the boat on Lester, but otherwise he had good cause for pessimism.
The first base situation is alarming. Mike Napoli is an old 31, hit .227 last year, has played only 133 games at the position, and has a degenerative hip disease. Don’t be surprised to see Lyle Overbay as an alternative.
Finally, it’s tough to feel good about Ortiz. He turns 38 this year, and is coming off an Achilles’ tendon injury — an injury he sustained running the bases in front of an Adrian Gonzalez home run last July. Ortiz doesn’t have contract incentive (he finally got his two-year deal, a lifetime achievement award from the Sox), and he is concerned that the Sox did little to find him lineup protection.
Nobody had any idea about Napoli. That's why he signed a one-year contract for $5 million (granted, with another $8 million in playing-time bonus money, all of which he wound up earning). As for Ortiz ... Well, now the pessimism/skepticism seems a little silly. And Shaughnessy's reference to Ortiz's age, while technically correct, was a bit misleading (and purposefully so, I suspect), as Papi doesn't turn 38 until next month. Still, did anyone think he would post the third-highest OPS+ of his career in a qualifying season?
I don't think I had the Red Sox in last place. I think I had them in fourth, maybe even third. But definitely behind the Jays and the Rays. So let's not be too rough on good ol' Dan Shaughnessy. Sure, he's capable of writing a terrible column -- for example, this one about Ortiz was definitely one of them -- but this wasn't terrible. It was just wrong, in hindsight. I'm giving Shaughnessy a pass. This time.