Among all those dissing the Red Sox's chances entering 2013, one optimist stood out: Bill James.
We don’t know what he was telling the Sox privately, in his role as senior adviser of baseball operations. Proprietary information and all that, although we can tell you that his influence on the Sox roster extended all the way down to Mike Carp, a complementary piece that James lobbied the Sox to sign. He wasn’t the only one -- the Sox had liked Carp for a while -- but his voice was heard.
Fortunately for fans -- and the fantasy baseball players in their midst -- James annually graces us with the publication of his handbook, in which he offers player projections for the coming season. He is very self-effacing about the process, and the newly published 2014 Bill James Handbook is no different.
“We are always right, except when we are wrong,’’ he writes. “We are always on target except when we’re off. We are always on time, except when we are early, or when we are late. We do the best we can.’’
But when it came to projecting Sox players last season, James had a very good year. He was too high on Will Middlebrooks and too low on Daniel Nava, but close on many of the team’s other key components. He predicted that nine Sox players would hit 10 or more home runs. Eight did, while three (Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Carp) finished with nine apiece. He predicted that the Sox would have five starting pitchers with an ERA under the league average (3.99). Three did, while a fourth (Jake Peavy, who didn’t join the team until midseason) just missed.
Looking at individual players, some of his projections were spooky. Ellsbury, for example. James projected a .781 OPS for Ellsbury; he finished at .782, with fewer home runs (15 to 9) and more stolen bases (52 to 37) than forecast.
David Ortiz was projected to hit 32 home runs with 103 RBIs. He finished with 30 and 103. The projected OPS was .919, the actual .959.
Mike Napoli was projected to have an .847 OPS with 29 home runs and 75 RBIs. The actual OPS was .842, with 23 home runs and 92 RBIs.
Jonny Gomes was pegged for 16 home runs and a .778 OPS. Gomes hit 13 home runs with a .770 OPS.
James said Shane Victorino would hit 14 home runs and steal 29 bases. He hit 15 and stole 21, despite season-long hamstring issues, and outperformed James’s projection for OPS, .804 to .752.
He said Stephen Drew would hit 11 home runs; Drew hit 13, and like Napoli had a higher OPS than projected, .776 to .736.
James missed on Pedroia, predicting 17 home runs and an .825 OPS, compared to the nine home runs and .787 OPS actually posted by the Sox second baseman, James’s computer models failing to anticipate that Pedroia would tear a thumb ligament in the first game of the season.
While many questioned whether Jon Lester could rebound from a 9-14, 4.82 ERA in 2012, James was not in their midst, predicting a dozen wins and a 3.71 ERA. Lester won 15 with a 3.75 ERA. Clay Buchholz’s 1.74 ERA was well below the 3.64 projected by James, but he also missed more than three months. John Lackey had a club record-worst ERA of 6.41 in 2011, the last year he pitched before undergoing Tommy John surgery. James predicted a dozen wins and a 4.05 ERA in a bounce-back year for Lackey, who won 10 with a 3.52 ERA.
So what is James projecting for 2014? He remains bullish on Middlebrooks (32 home runs in ’14) and projects strong rookie seasons for Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts, which if his opinion is shared widely on 4 Yawkey Way points to all-but-certain departures for Ellsbury and Drew.
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