The Boston Red Sox go into the 2014 season as the defending American League East champions. Not only do they have the World Series target on their backs, they also have four divisional foes trying to unseat them. During the next few days, we will compare the champs to each challenger within the division in a "Tale of the Tape" format. All listed player projections are from Dan Szymborski's ZiPS machine. We did the Blue Jays here and the Yankees here. Next up, the Baltimore Orioles.
2013 Final Record
2014 Projected Standings from Baseball Prospectus
Boston decided to move on from Saltalamacchia and replaced him with Pierzynski (.312 wOBA). Pierzynski and David Ross (.288 wOBA) give the club a very experienced -- as well as aged -- duo at the position. Pierzysnki has played at least 125 games for 12 consecutive seasons and is coming off the best two-year run at the plate of his career. When he has been catching, opposing baserunners have converted 71 percent of their stolen base attempts, going 125 of 176.
Baltimore asks a lot of Matt Wieters (.319 wOBA) from the catching position. He has played in at least 130 games in each of his four full seasons at the major league level. Perhaps the increased playing time wears him down, as his wOBA has declined each of the past three seasons, ending in a career-low .298 in 2013. Wieters finished 11th in the Fielding Bible voting awards for catchers, despite allowing more defensive runs than any other catcher in 2013. Opposing runners have converted 63 percent of their stolen base attempts when Wieters is catching. Steve Clevenger (.288 wOBA), who has just 83 games at the major league level, serves as the backup.
Advantage -- Baltimore
The Baltimore infield saved 41 runs last season, led by the Fielding Bible Award and Gold Glove-winning work that Manny Machado (.327 wOBA) did at third base before his season was ended with the unfortunate knee injury. Reports on Machado's recovery have been positive, and he appears likely to start the season on the roster rather than on the disabled list. J.J. Hardy (.315 wOBA), also a Gold Glove winner, is in the final year of his current contract. Who his double-play partner at second base will be is undecided. Ryan Flaherty (.296 wOBA), Jemile Weeks (.289 wOBA), Alexi Casilla (.283 wOBA) and Jonathan Schoop (.306 wOBA) all come to camp with an eye on the job. Chris Davis (.370 wOBA), still without a long-term deal, anchors the lineup and is the key piston in the offense.
The strength of the Boston infield is on its right side. Mike Napoli (.350 wOBA) and Dustin Pedroia (.340 wOBA) combined for 25 runs saved defensively while providing above league-average production at their respective positions. The left side of the infield is a larger question mark as Boston let Stephen Drew leave via free agency and is entrusting the shortstop position to the talented yet inexperienced Xander Bogaerts (.333 wOBA). Bogaerts earned that role with an impressive showing late in the season and throughout the postseason. Will Middlebrooks (.312 wOBA) showed excellent power but struggled to get on base and cost the team eight runs defensively at third base.
Advantage -- Baltimore
The Baltimore outfield lost 12 runs defensively last season. Adam Jones (.342 wOBA) was awarded a Gold Glove despite finishing 16th in the voting at his position in the Fielding Bible awards. Jones has missed just 11 games the past three seasons and is the other vital part of the offense. Nate McLouth, whom many considered the team’s best defender in the outfield, is replaced by an equally adept defender in David Lough (.306 wOBA) in left. Nolan Reimold (.305 wOBA), Henry Urrutia (.329 wOBA), Francisco Peguero (.301 wOBA), Delmon Young (.316 wOBA) and Steve Pearce (.320 wOBA) will fight for playing time there, as well as in the designated-hitter role. Nick Markakis (.333 wOBA) has played at least 160 games in four of the past five seasons, but is coming off his worst offensive season in that stretch.
Boston is asking a lot from Jackie Bradley Jr. (.308 wOBA) to fill Ellsbury's shoes in center. Ellsbury, who was worth 9.1 and 5.8 wins above replacement in his two most recent full seasons, also saved 13 runs defensively last season. Manager John Farrell platooned Jonny Gomes (.327 wOBA) and Daniel Nava (.322 wOBA) as they managed the intricacies of playing left field in Fenway Park. Shane Victorino was everything the club expected and more in right field, fighting through injuries to save 24 runs in right field while providing above-average offensive production during 122 games. Reclamation project Grady Sizemore and Mike Carp offer depth from the bench.
Advantage -- Boston
Baltimore entered the offseason wishing to add to the front of its rotation to help Chris Tillman (207 IP, 4.26 FIP) and Bud Norris (168 IP, 4.37 FIP), but were rebuffed by the likes of A.J. Burnett and Bronson Arroyo. They recently added Yoon, but he is well below the previously stated goal. Tillman, coming off a career season, is the only starter projected to pitch at least 200 innings. Miguel Gonzalez (180 IP, 4.50 FIP) won nine of 19 decisions after Memorial Day, limiting batters to a .237 batting average and a .289 on-base percentage. Wei-Yin Chen (174 IP, 4.34 FIP) returns, but has issues against right-handed batters. Talented youngster Kevin Gausman (140 IP, 3.77 FIP) will battle with Yoon and Liam Hendriks (28 IP, 4.57 FIP) for the final spot in the rotation.
Boston enjoys the rare luxury of being able to return its entire starting rotation a season after winning it all. Jon Lester (197.2 IP, 3.77 FIP), John Lackey (166 IP, 4.10 FIP), Clay Buchholz (128.2 IP, 3.89 FIP) and Jake Peavy (149.1 IP, 3.67 FIP) give the club a formidable foursome. There are a few names in play for the final spot, such as Ryan Dempster (149 IP, 4.44 FIP), Felix Doubront (137.1 IP, 4.15 FIP) Brandon Workman (124 IP, 4.49 FIP) and Drake Britton (110 IP, 5.05 FIP). Boston enjoys depth at this position in the upper levels of the organization.
Advantage -- Boston
The trade of Jim Johnson to Oakland leaves a sizable hole in the back of the Baltimore bullpen. Johnson was one of just three relievers in the past three seasons to save at least 100 games. Tommy Hunter (65 IP, 3.76 FIP) becomes the new closer and has been as effective against right-handed batters as he has been ineffective against left-handed batters. Darren O'Day (65 IP, 3.99 FIP), Brian Matusz (55 IP, 4.08 FIP) and Ryan Webb (55 IP, 4.15 FIP) give manager Buck Showalter a few tools to use as matchups and leverage dictate the situation late in games. Brad Brach (15 IP, 4.52 FIP), T.J. McFarland (45 IP, 3.96 FIP), Steve Johnson (20 IP, 4.20 FIP) and others will compete for the final spots.
Boston's bullpen is anchored by Koji Uehara (52.1 IP, 2.10 FIP), who has a 1.93 ERA in the past four seasons and has struck out 35 percent of the batters he has faced. The only concern with him is that he has yet to throw more than 50 innings in consecutive seasons. Perhaps that is why Boston signed Edward Mujica (63 IP, 3.54 FIP) to give them a strong insurance policy a season after watching both Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan go down with injuries. Junichi Tazawa (73.1 IP, 3.41 FIP) should again play an effective role. Craig Breslow (57 IP, 4.01 FIP) and Burke Badenhop (63.2 IP, 3.63 FIP) give the club a strong left/right combination to use in matchup situations to help get the ball to Tazawa, Mujica and Uehara.
Advantage -- Boston
Baltimore had the type of offseason reminiscent of those of its previous non-competitive era. The Orioles courted free agents who went elsewhere, and they even signed two players -- Grant Balfour and Tyler Colvin -- who later failed their physicals. There was talk that they were working on a long-term deal with Davis, but nothing has materialized. At the individual level, Boston has an overwhelming advantage at second base and designated hitter. That, along with its strong advantage on the pitching side of the ledger, makes it a clear favorite over Baltimore.