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Top stats analyst: 97 W's for Sox, 96 for Yanks

HOUSTON -- Joe Sheehan, the highly regarded statistical analyst who left Baseball Prospectus and publishes his own subscription newsletter (sheehannewsletter@gmail.com), is picking the Red Sox to win 97 games this season, one more than the Yankees.

Here's what he had to say about both teams:

1. Boston Red Sox (97-65, first in AL East, 882 RS, 718 RA). The best team in baseball, and it's not really about what they did this winter. Adrian Gonzalez replaces Adrian Beltre on a PA-for-PA basis. Carl Crawford is an upgrade of course. The real gains, though, should come from having Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury around all season long. It was their absences, even more than the struggles of Josh Beckett or the bullpen's issues, that ruined the 2010 season for the Sox. With those players healthy, the Sox would have been one of the top three teams in baseball and likely have reached the postseason again. Even without them -- the three missed 321 games and started together just eight times -- the Sox won 89 games. This is not a perfect team -- there's no catcher, the bullpen still generates concern, the right fielders are injury magnets -- but it's the best one we have right now.

2. New York Yankees (96-66, second in AL East, AL wild card, 863 RS, 724 RA). We focus so much on the Yankees' problems -- an aging shortstop, no catcher (by choice), maybe 60% of a starting rotation -- that you can lose sight of what is here: an enormous amount of baseball talent, particularly power. The bullpen is so deep that Joba Chamberlain is going to be throwing the sixth and seventh innings of 6-1 ballgames. There's a fair amount of talented starting pitching about 2/3 to 1 1/3 seasons away. No matter what you may think of the practice, there's a lot of money available to be used to solve problems. There's management talent that does things like get Chris Dickerson for waiver bait. Picking them for 96 wins is about picking Rodriguez and A.J. Burnett for bounceback seasons, and calling for Derek Jeter to arrest his decline mildly; it's seeing Jesus Montero having an impact on this roster one way or another; it's seeing a lot of Brett Butler in Brett Gardner. It's acknowledging that getting caught up in roster marginalia -- which I do -- tends to distract from the core talent, which is overwhelming.

I can't recommend Sheehan's newsletter enough.