<
>

Crunching numbers of newest Sox

USA TODAY Sports, Getty Images

With the offseason starting to pick up, several themes have emerged from the transactions made by the Boston Red Sox.

What do these deals reveal about Boston's philosophy? And what does it all mean for the rest of the offseason?

Let's take a closer look at the early lessons of the offseason.

The Art of Buying Low

In 2011, both Mike Napoli (5.3) and Shane Victorino (5.2) had a higher wins above replacement than Albert Pujols (5.1).

After Napoli and Victorino endured poor 2012 campaigns, it seemed clear that both reached free agency one year too late.

Napoli's batting average dropped from .320 to .227. He suffered the steepest drop in OPS in the majors.

Overall, his WAR fell to 1.4, which was about on par with Daniel Nava's. If each point of WAR equates to about $4 million in value, Napoli was worth about $16 million less in 2012 than the year before.

Victorino's OPS fell .143 points, the largest drop among National League players. He still managed a 2.4 WAR, a number propped up mostly by his defense.

The Red Sox have a strong history with buying low.

Adrian Beltre and Cody Ross both stumbled in contract years, and then signed discounted one-year deals with Boston to rebuild value.

A more apt comparison would be Johnny Damon. In 2001, he had a notably poor contract year. His batting average fell by .071 and his OPS was down .190.

Boston still signed Damon to a four-year, $31 million contract that made him the fourth-highest-paid player on the team. Apart from Manny Ramirez, Damon was Boston's best major free-agent signing in the past 20 years.

Of course, there are significant differences. Damon was 28, while Napoli and Victorino are on the wrong side of 30. Yet, neither is at an age where 2012's woes should be interpreted as anything more than a down year.

The Red Sox are counting on a return to 2011 form for both Victorino and Napoli -- so much so that the Sox paid them as if 2012 never happened.

Loading Up On Lefty Mashers

Napoli, Jonny Gomes and Victorino all share a reputation for hitting left-handed pitchers hard.

All three rank in the top 30 active players in career slugging percentage against lefties (minimum 750 plate appearances).

Victorino is a switch-hitter who performs far better from the right side. That split was particularly pronounced in 2012, when his OPS against lefties (.906) was far higher than it was against righties (.627).

With a long history of struggles against righties, Gomes is a strong platoon candidate if the Red Sox can find the right partner.

Napoli has the least pronounced career split, although he's traditionally fared better against southpaws. That was not the case this past season, when he posted a career-low .179 batting average against lefties.

There's no doubt that Boston chose to add hitters who should be tough on opposing lefties. Perhaps it's the result of playing in a division in which the two best pitchers (CC Sabathia and David Price) are lefties.

Based on these recent moves, you'd think Boston flailed against southpaws this past season. Not so.

The Red Sox went 26-25 against left-handed starters last season. But against righties, Boston was an American League-worst 43-68.

As it stands now, 2013's lineup will be loaded with righties.

Beyond bolstering the rotation, adding a lefty-hitting outfielder should remain an offseason priority.

Josh Hamilton remains by far the most prominent name. Among many other attributes, he has posted monstrous numbers against righties.

More realistically, the Red Sox could check in on Lance Berkman and Grady Sizemore. Both have strong career numbers against righties and might be open to accepting a reduced role.

The Character Assessment

The statistical revolution will never account for character.

Whether it's David Eckstein's grit or Derek Jeter's calm eyes, the sabermetric community loves to poke fun at intangibles.

It's often justified. Yet, a player's personality can't be ignored in assessing his value.

WAR is a terrific tool for assessing a player's overall worth, but WAR can't possibly factor in character.

That sounds like something an old-school curmudgeon would say in "Moneyball." But, it's true.

At the risk of handing in my stat nerd identification card, it's impossible to put a single number to a player's overall value.

Kevin Millar posted a 2.5 WAR in 2004, as did Carlos Pena. Does that mean Pena would have been equally valuable to the Red Sox that year?

Was Jason Varitek really less valuable that year than Gary Sheffield?

The 2004 Red Sox possessed a resilience and camaraderie that bred success. If adversity reveals character, there was no better example than being down 3-0 to the New York Yankees in the AL Championship Series.

The adversity faced by the 2012 Red Sox revealed a different kind of character, as the clubhouse devolved into chaos.

So are Gomes, Napoli and Victorino the cure?

That's the thing about intangibles. It's pretty difficult to predict the effect of something you can't measure.

That said, it's clear Boston prioritized character -- perhaps even incorporating it into value.

Victorino has won numerous awards for character and community service. Gomes has drawn comparisons to Millar. Napoli is thought of as a "clubhouse guy."

Perhaps those three will help change the culture in Boston.

Then again, nothing brings harmony like winning.