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Scouting the AL East: Boston Red Sox 2024 ZiPS projections

Picking apart the projections for the predicted cellar-dwellers of the AL East

Boston Red Sox v Chicago White Sox Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

At the beginning of the offseason, Red Sox chairman Tom Werner made some weighty promises to a disgruntled fanbase that has watched their team finish last in three of the last four seasons.

“We know that we have to be competitive next year. So we’re going to be competitive next year. We’re going to have be full-throttle in every possible way... Let me just say that we don’t have any built-in restrictions.”

Fast forward three months and ownership has yet to deliver on those promises. Agitation has only increased around a frayed fanbase who at the very least expects their team to compete for a playoff spot year in and year out.

With that backdrop, let’s start to look toward the 2024 season by examining the ZiPS projections for the Yankees’ rivals, starting with the Red Sox:

Courtesy of FanGraphs

Starting rotation in crisis

The Red Sox rotation was already looking thin before they dealt Chris Sale to the Braves, but now there are legitimate questions about whether they have enough arms to cover the roughly 800 innings you would expect to receive from your starters across a regular season. Signing Lucas Giolito to a two-year, $38.5 million contract likely represents a like-for-like swap from a rate-based perspective for what Sale would have contributed in 2024, though ZiPS does view the righty as an upgrade despite a disastrous 2023 campaign that saw Giolito finish with the fourth-worst FIP (5.27) among qualified pitchers. That’s because ZiPS expects a rebound to a 3.93 figure in 29 starts with 181 strikeouts across 165 innings, while Sale is only expected to be available to pitch 90 innings.

Behind him in the rotation, Brayan Bello is the only starter whose 50th-percentile outcome projects him to be better than league average by ERA (4.28 ERA, 104 ERA+). He performed admirably enough in his sophomore season to carve out the number-two spot in the rotation, but even his 80th-percentile outcome places him at a three-win player with an ERA not much less than four. Things get pretty ugly after that, with the median projections for Nick Pivetta, Kutter Crawford, and Tanner Houck falling into fifth starter or worse territory. In fact, ZiPS projects them for just over 340 innings combined, each with an ERA well into the fours. The projected starts and innings for this unit just don’t add up, and injury to or underperformance from any of the five could spell disaster.

Strong production from left side of infield

If the Red Sox are going to have any hope of contending for a Wild Card spot, they need the left side of their infield to form the cornerstone of their offense. ZiPS expects Rafael Devers to repeat his performance from 2023, his 50th-percentile outcome seeing him slash .280/.351/.517 with 33 home runs, a 131 OPS+, and 3.6 fWAR across a full season. More importantly, ZiPS projects a rebound for Trevor Story from his injury-marred 2023 that saw him post a measly 48 wRC+ in 43 games, with the shortstop’s median projection ticketing a .246/.314/.441 triple slash line with 15 home runs, a 102 OPS+ and 2.2 fWAR in just over 400 plate appearances.

That being said, the 80th and 20th-percentile outcomes paint a less optimistic picture. Devers’ and Story’s 80th-percentile projections of 5.1 and 3.3 fWAR, respectively, fall well below their peak seasons of 6.7 and 6.3 fWAR. What’s more, should both players regress to their 20th-percentile outcomes in 2024 — 2.1 fWAR for Devers, 1.2 fWAR for Story — it would be utterly disastrous for the Boston offense.

How will trade acquisitions fit in?

Boston has completed a trio of trades since Szymborski released the team’s projections, acquiring outfielder Tyler O’Neill from the Cardinals, middle infielder Vaughn Grissom from the Braves, and catcher Tyler Heineman from the Mets. O’Neill likely replaces Alex Verdugo as the team’s everyday right fielder. The Red Sox are hoping that he can rebound to his breakout 2021 campaign when he slugged 34 home runs and a 143 wRC+ to be worth five-and-a-half wins, but even his median projection of .268/.344/.482 with 18 home runs, a 120 wRC+ and 2.3 fWAR in 107 games is better than what ZiPS expects Verdugo to offer, especially if O’Neill can stay healthy for a full season — by no means a forgone conclusion given the 28 year old has appeared in just 168 games over the last two seasons.

Grissom looked like another off the Braves’ conveyor belt of homegrown position players but failed to follow up an impressive rookie cameo in 2022 with anything resembling a major league player, so the Braves had no problem kicking him in as part of Boston’s Sale salary dump. It wouldn’t surprise to see him penciled in as the everyday second baseman out of the gate, and if he hits his 50th-percentile outcome of .266/.336/.392 with ten home runs, a 97 OPS+ and 1.8 fWAR, it’s hard to see him getting bumped out of the role. Lastly, the Red Sox added some veteran insurance behind the plate bringing in Heineman, and he likely slots in as backup behind incumbent Connor Wong, with ZiPS projecting just 209 plate appearances for the 33 year old.

Fast-tracking the kids?

The Red Sox’s latest crop of graduated top prospects have returned mixed results. While center fielder Jarren Duran (120 wRC+, 2.4 fWAR) and corner infielder Triston Casas (129 wRC+, 1.7 fWAR) broke out in 2023 to become legitimate big league starters for 2024, catcher Wong (78 wRC+, 0.5 fWAR) and first baseman Bobby Dalbec (51 wRC+, -0.2 fWAR) have not exactly hit the ground running. Of the quartet, only Casas is projected to be better than league average at the plate in 2024.

The question now is whether the next wave of youngsters can get off to faster starts and carve out roles as cornerstones of the offense of the future. The acquisitions of O’Neill, Grissom, and Heineman likely allow the front office some added patience before aggressively promoting their top prospects. However, should their more veteran players fail to deliver, Boston has an intriguing pipeline of position players who could all be playing roles for the big league club in 2024.

Middle infielder Marcelo Mayer, outfielder Roman Anthony, center fielder and shortstop Ceddanne Rafaela, catcher Kyle Teel, and utilityman Wilyer Abreu are all knocking on the door of the majors, with Rafaela and Abreu getting some valuable late-season experience at the bigs last year. ZiPS thinks that all five should get significant run-outs in the majors in 2024, and with the 80th percentile outcomes pegging each of the quintet to produce over two wins, the Red Sox could be looking at the foundation of the roster of a future that could arrive sooner rather than later.

The Chaim Bloom era in Boston drew to a close with the team finishing last in three of his four years in charge. Fans had hoped that his replacement, Craig Breslow, signaled a shift away from the cost cutting measures and mediocrity that characterized his predecessor’s tenure. Through the early going, that does not appear to be the case, with the team making marginal additions rather than big splashes, and ZiPS is not confident that they can avoid a third-straight last place finish with their current cast of players.