A couple weeks ago, Matt Provenzano went over how the Yankees looked according to Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections. Spoiler alert: they look good. Projections are not a fail-safe, and reality will always diverge from what is forecast. That the Yankees project demonstrably better now than they did in recent years, however, can only be taken as a good sign.
There are other teams the Yankees must contend with, however. Chief among them are the Red Sox. Indeed, Boston has won the AL East each of the past two seasons. No matter how good the Yankees look moving forward, the Red Sox are still here, and they must be taken seriously.
Just how seriously? It helps to once again turn to ZiPS to get a feel for how strong they are after reeling off a pair of division titles:
We spend a lot of time, rightfully so, fawning over the Yankees’ great young core of hitting talent. There’s Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. A healthy Greg Bird could run wild on the division. Plus, Giancarlo Stanton recently joined the fold.
It should be noted, though, that Boston has a similarly excellent core of young position players. Per ZiPS, their top four projected hitters are Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi, and Rafael Devers. Their ages, respectively: 25, 25, 23, and 21. The foundation upon which Boston succeeds is almost startlingly youthful, especially given this core has been in place for a little while now. That quartet projects for over 14 WAR, a quality total from a group of young players.
The 2017 Red Sox were dogged by an offense that under-performed after an outstanding 2016. The team only managed a .258/.329/.408 slash line and a 92 wRC+. They were dead last in the American League in home runs with 168, a total which Judge, Stanton, and Sanchez could theoretically approach on their own in 2018. ZiPS, however, calls for positive regression for the Red Sox offense.
Bogaerts projects to bump his wRC+ from 96 in 2017 to 105 in 2018. Betts makes a leap from 108 to 123. Benintendi goes from 103 to 111 while Hanley Ramirez from 93 to 104. It doesn’t look like they will reach the heights of two seasons ago, but the offense no longer profiles as a liability.
The only real weakness ZiPS sees is at first base. Mitch Moreland is pegged for a 95 wRC+, a paltry number at a position that last year averaged a 113 wRC+. The Red Sox could certainly still upgrade, with big names like Eric Hosmer or even J.D. Martinez still unsigned, as well as lesser options like Lucas Duda or Logan Morrison. With a clear weakness and ample resources at his disposable, it’s somewhat surprising that Dave Dombrowski hasn’t moved aggressively.
On the pitching side, the Red Sox also look potent. This may come as a surprise to some, especially given the staff’s struggles in the 2017 playoffs remain in most observers’ minds. Yet Boston’s staff ranked 4th by fWAR and 5th by RA-9 WAR in 2017, and ZiPS sees the current staff as just about as good.
It all starts with Chris Sale, who earns a 6.1 WAR projection and a comp to prime Johan Santana. He’s followed by David Price and Drew Pomeranz, who earn projections very near to each other, at roughly 160 innings and three WAR.
Rick Porcello just seems like a bit of a punchline at this point, after seeing his ERA balloon to 4.65 directly after winning the AL Cy Young, but he’s still a durable performer forecast for 189 innings with a better than average ERA. In fact, with the inclusion of Eduardo Rodgriguez at the five-slot, the Red Sox have five starters, four of them southpaws, projected for over two WAR and a better than league average ERA.
With Craig Kimbrel as the headliner, the bullpen is no slouch either. Kimbrel is forecasted for an eye-popping 178 ERA+. Joe Kelly, Heath Hembree, and Matt Barnes profile as the main members of the bridge to Kimbrel, and all project for solidly better than average ERA’s.
Overall, the Red Sox project to have a star to head each position group with Betts in the lineup, Sale in the rotation, and Kimbrel in the bullpen. They are surrounded by pretty good players almost everywhere else. No one other than Betts and Sale projects for over 3.5 WAR, but outside of first base, nowhere does Boston profile for worse than average production.
Like the Yankees, the Red Sox have a number of young players that could very well perform better this year than they did last. The teams are just a good match for each other at this point. Both project similarly well on the strength of several good young players. To the dismay of the rest of the AL East, it really does appear that the division is set to be dominated by the newest iterations of these age-old foes.