LONGSHOTS: Bill James and the stats for 2008 ó Take Two
by Dave Long
Itís time for part two of my little competition with sabermatician Bill James to see whoíll do a better job of forecasting Red Sox production in 2008. The timing is good too, as he was on 60 Minutes on Sunday. But the winner of our competition probably should get the gig next spring. Two weeks ago we looked at the starting pitching; today itís the starters and a couple of key relief pitchers. Jamesí forecasts follow the playerís name; mine are at the end.
Dustin Pedroia: .300, 77 runs, 40 2B, 50 RBI. Through history, rookies of the year have had a way of going south. But Iím done not believing in this guy. The big issue here is the 77 runs. Way too low considering he hits in front of Manny and Papi and that he scored 12 in 14 post-season games. I think heís better this year and with a rejuvenated Julio Lugo and Jacoby Ellsbury hitting in front of him his RBI goes up too: .313, 109 runs, 43-2B, 63 RBI.
Kevin Youkilis: .290, 89 runs, 15 HR, 89 RBI. He has staggered badly coming down the stretch in his two seasons, though he was huge in the playoffs. Was that due to missing two weeks after getting hit with a pitch in September to get a second wind? Or because he stayed in the two hole in the playoffs and got to hit fastballs in front of Papi and Manny? Still he improved over year one and I think the rise continues: .294, 103 runs, 40-2B, 18 HR, 93 RBI.
Manny Ramirez: .301, 34 2B, 33 HR, 113 RBI. The only time in his career he had lower numbers than in 2007 was his rookie year. A bad year or decline? It didnít look that way in the playoffs, but at 36 Manny is a big question mark. Heís got a $20 million option riding on a good season and heís in shape. But history says of the Top 20 career leaders in total bases, only Barry Bonds got better at 36 when he hit his 73 homers. Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron had two solid years left, but every other one followed up a decline year at 35 with more of the same. Players are in better shape at later ages today, so I think Manny has a highly productive, but not quite peak, year or two left. I predict . 296, 31 2B, 35 HR, 116 RBI.
David Ortiz: .298, 109 runs, 45 2B, 41 HR, 130 RBI. Iíve got no problem with anything here, as I see Big Papi becoming the line-upís most feared threat, as Lou Gehrig did when the Babe began to slide in 1932. So .309, 113 runs, 45-2B, 41 HR, 131 RBI.
Mike Lowell: .282, 34 2B, 17 HR, 81 RBI. No way he can be as good as last year, can he? Probably not, but he wonít slide back to his average year predicted by James, both because 34 is still a prime year and because Fenway inflates the numbers for everyone. So .287, 39-2B, 22 HR, 94 RBI.
JD Drew: .278, 90 runs, 29 2B, 20 HR, 78 RBI. Everyone expects him to be better in year two, but I bet you didnít know his horrendous 64 RBI in 2007 was still his fourth-best season in 10. Still itís not easy, as the big issue is trying to figure out how many games the Tony Eason of baseball will play. Iím going with 135 (James says 143), which should yield .283, 31-2B, 18 HR, 74 RBI.
Jason Varitek: .253, 30 2B, 17 HR, 70 RBI. Tek is a wonder at 36, but by then Yogi Berra was a left fielder. Johnny Benchís last big year was at 29 and he retired at 35, Gary Carter a part-timer after 34, Mike Piazza was done as a catcher at 33. Only the amazing Carlton Fisk was a productive two-way player (and Jorge Posada) at 36. So heís got to decline soon, though this year itíll be just a drift to .248, 21-2B, 15 HR, 62 RBI.
Julio Lugo: .264, 30 2B, 9 HR, 57 RBI. Unless he goes 0-275, he canít have a worst first half, so he takes the biggest jump. Plus his 73 RBI were more than Drew and Pedroia, so he was productive without the benefit of a lot of hits. And heís always been a better hitter, so I say .278, 35-2B, 11 HR, 73 RBI
Jacoby Ellsbury: .320, 78 runs, 29 2B, 46 RBI. I keep telling myself: even though he hit .353 after his rookie call-up and .360 in the post-season, donít get carried away. Still at 23, Roberto Clemente hit just 289, Johnny Damon .275 and Ricky Henderson .262. Nomar hit .306 with 30 homers and 98 RBI. Donít expect that, but Iíll say .296, 84 runs, 32 2B and 33 stolen bases.
Jonathan Papelbon: 4 wins, 2 losses, 2.70 ERA, 39 saves, 60 appearances. When Mariano Rivera became the closer he had three straight years under 2.00 and did it four other times after that. But in those three years he struck out 156 batters in 208 innings. So far Pap has an ERA of 1.62 and struck out 159 in just 128 innings. Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter had comparable years through their careers but the start to Papelbonís is better than any closer ever. So why does the computer have him regressing? I think 5-2, with a 2.11 ERA and 86 Ks in 63 innings.
Hideki Okajima: 5 wins, 2 losses, 3.15 ERA. He was great the first four months, but not so after that. So was it fatigue at the end of the year, or did hitters figure him out? I think itís a little of both, but more of the latter. So I say 4-6, 3.78 ERA in 70 innings.
If you want to see who wins, check out my new ďGuide to the Red Sox 2008 SeasonĒ that hits the streets on April 8. It will have a month-by-month breakdown of how the season unfolds that lets you get in on the fun by making your own set of predictions and forecasts to follow and see who among them is best.
Dave Long can be reached at email@example.com. He hosts the Absolute Sports Experience at Billyís Sports Bar in Manchester each Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon that is broadcast live on WGAM Ė The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.