In his landmark book Up the Organization, Robert Townsend discusses three important principles. 1) Be honest, 2) Presume the competition is listening, and 3) Don’t forecast.
The honesty principle jives with Jim Collins’ “Brutal Reality”, where one must examine a business as objectively as possible. First, we must make certain assumptions, ignoring factors like injury and extreme deviations from ‘average’. Both assumptions suffer inaccuracy woefully.
We can examine run generation, run prevention, and the combination. The upside bats (where the runs will come from) should include Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and David Ortiz. The ‘steady’ expectations can include Dustin Pedroia (at lower production), Blake Swihart, and Jackie Bradley, Jr. The GOK (God only knows) production belongs to third base, left field, and Hanley Ramirez.
Last season the Red Sox scored 748 runs, fourth in the AL, but 143 runs less than the Blue Jays. The problem for the Red Sox was that they allowed 753 runs, second worst in the league, and entirely supportive of mediocrity.
Part of that mediocrity related to ineffective pitching and part to the twelve slot in errors. Pablo Sandoval at third and Hanley Ramirez in left both served as embarrassments. The excellent to spectacular defense in the outfield and middle infield can be undone by first and third and uncertainty behind the plate. Swihart is not an accomplished receiver or thrower and the love of his potential offense may be fool’s gold relative to better backstopping of Christian Vasquez when he becomes available.
Having excellent outfield defense doesn’t impact pitchers who cannot keep the ball in the ballpark (e.g. Rick Porcello). Clay Buchholz has averaged just over NINE wins per year for the past five seasons and time will reveal whether his health or pain tolerance improves in a contract year. Expecting much more than .500 baseball from some combination of Joe Kelly, Steven Wright, and Eduardo Rodríguez lies somewhere between the height of vanity and ambitious.
The ‘hope trade’ is extrapolating from the Royals and the Yankees to the already depleted combination of Junichi Tazawa, the injured Carson Smith, Koji Uehara, and Craig Kimbrel. Uehara’s age and declining velocity are worrisome. The expectation is that 3-2 or 4-3 leads or even tie games in the sixth are ‘more sure’ things. I’m from Missouri. Show me.
The Wild Card is the return of John Farrell. I wish Farrell abundant success. “If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.” Whether Farrell can lead young players and not crush them with soulless loyalty to veterans is highly speculative. The rise to prominence of Bogaerts, Betts, Bradley, and Swihart all correlated with Farrell’s departure.
Add in these trends, uncertainties, aging veterans, and the potential toxicity of Sandoval and Ramirez and the Red Sox will need great, not good, fortune to develop a winning chemistry. Even without Dick Williams, I think the Red Sox will win more than they lose. But unlike the 1967 Sox, the 2016 version will win 84 games.
Check out more from Ron at Red Sox Reality Check.