October 8, 2009


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LONGSHOTS: Predictable ending to 2009 baseball prediction game
by Dave Long

After a 12-7 rout of the Indians on Sunday — when Clay Buchholz gave The Nation a little more angst heading to the playoffs by getting ripped again — the 2009 regular season went into the books. It was not an uneventful year with its share of highs, lows and unpredictable occurrences.

For the fifth time in Terry Francona’s six Boston years they won over 90, and 95 for a third time. The other times they won 95, they (gulp) lost to Chicago in the 2005 ALDS and Tampa in last year’s ALCS. They finished eight games back of the resurgent Yankees, something many in baseball expected after they committed nearly half a billion dollars to three free agents.

Given that my policy is to stand up and show one and all, good or bad, what I predicted for a season after it ends, here’s what I said about the key issues facing the team counting down from worst to best  in my column from the Hippo’s April 8 edition. And, while I’m editing a bit for space, if you think I’m fudging check the Web site as it’s still there.

#7 - Will Age Start To Show? Yes. So don’t expect 50 and 140 from Papi or the Lowell you saw in 2007. But still, they’ll be productive.

Prediction: Oritz’s projected full season homers and RBI numbers during his injury-riddled ’08 would’ve been 32 and 127. Expect something similar. For Lowell, 20-83-.280.

Reality: Lowell at .290, 17-75 in just 119 games, while Papi fell far short in RBI — but after the slump he hit at that pace. So give me a B-.

#6 - The Five Hole. I just don’t get the fascination with J.D. Drew. Whether he’s brittle, soft or just has bad luck to quote Coach B, he is what he is — a guy who plays 135 games and has been over 90 RBI twice. Take out his two contract years, the number drops to zero and his per year average is around the 64 he’s had each year in Boston. So why in the name of Trot Nixon is he batting fifth? The 3-4-5-6-7 in the order should be this: Youk, Ortiz, Jason Bay, Drew and Lowell.

Prediction: If Mother Francona makes the adjustment Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia will score more runs than in 2008.

Reality: Though close, neither did, helped by Papi’s slump, Lowell going to the DL and Ellsbury getting dropped to the bottom of the order in June. And while Drew set Boston highs with 24 homers and 68 RBI, 68 doesn’t cut it at number 5 and his real value is when he hits eight. Plus I have to make an adjustment now with Victor Martinez on board. So I’m now happy with Victor, Youk, Bay, Papi, Lowell, Drew to go left-right-right down the line-up.

#5 - Will Jacoby Ellsbury Take The Next Step? When last we saw him he was on the bench in lieu of Coco Crisp as they were eliminated in Tampa. That followed an uneven year that started OK, fell off the cliff in June and July and closed with a rush in September when he hit .340 and scored 20 runs. Maybe he’s just a good September hitter, as ’08 was like the September 2007 that had everyone agog. At the root of his problem was an inability to hit/layoff the low inside fastball and a .336 OBP that was exactly 100 points lower than league leader Milton Bradley. Both need to improve.

Prediction: I love the guy, so my judgment is clouded, but after seeing the OBP was just .329 in the spring I’m wary. So while he’ll be a bit better to around .285 with more consistency and improved power numbers, he won’t make a big leap until he gets greater control of his at-bats.

Reality: He did take that step by improving in all offensive categories except runs  (94 from 98), hit .301 and led MLB in steals with 70.

#4 - Injury Risk: The roster is a disaster waiting to happen and is the biggest negative issue they have, given the recent injury history of John Smoltz, Brad Penny, Wake, J.D. Drew, Rocco Baldelli, Julio Lugo (already hurt), Mark Kotsay (on DL), Mike Lowell and David Ortiz. Throw in the Varitek question and age issues and it could be 2005 or 2006 all over again, when Wade Miller, David Wells, Wake, Varitek, Curt Schilling, Keith Foulke and others hurt (’05) or decimated (’06) the team. On the good side, they do have depth everywhere, outside of catcher, to with stand it.

Prediction: Half of these guys do time on the DL, which challenges them. 

Reality: The only two not to go on the DL or not last the season were Drew (who for him played a Ripkenesque 137 games) and Big Papi, who had the worst two months of his life to start the year.

#3 - Wakefield vs. Buchholz: This depends on whether Buchholz continues as he did this spring – a big maybe. But if so, he should get the fifth spot when ready. For all the nice things I just said about Wake, he’s a supposed innings eater who’s done 200-plus once since 2002, who needs his own catcher and is 5-7 in the playoffs with a gruesome 6.75 ERA.

Prediction: It’s all moot if Smoltz is healthy and Penny is what Theo hopes.

Reality: They weren’t. While Wake was a savior early, he got one win after July 8 while Buchholz was nearly as big a life-saver in the final seven weeks. 

#2 - Will It Be the 2007 or 2008 Josh Beckett? Injuries were an issue for him, as they’ve been in all but two years of his career. That track record makes you wonder. But he seemed injury-free in the spring and looks poised to get back on track.

Prediction: 17-9, 3.46 ERA.

Reality: The vaunted Bill James computer had him at 13-8, 3.57 and he actually was 17-6, 3.86. I win.

#1 - Will Varitek Bounce back? Many believe after hitting just .220 overall and .201 left-handed he will. But history says he won’t. Only Carlton Fisk and Mike Piazza among top catchers have been productive hitters at 37. On his side is that players today are likely to last longer than earlier models. 

Prediction: He’s a little better, but not much in hitting .237 with 13 homers and knocks in 51.

Reality: He hit .207 with 14 homers and 51 RBI. Back to my blood war with baseball over Bill James value for a second. He has V at 13 and 52. I had V at 13 and 51 — and we both had him hitting .238. And I didn’t look any of his up until Monday, Oct. 5, at 2:53 p.m.

Do-do-do-do-do — that’s Twilight Zone material. All in all, not perfect — but not bad.

Dave Long can be reached at dlong@hippopress.com. He hosts Dave Long and Company from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.

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