Into the great unknown!
Everybody and their mom is picking the Red Sox to win the World Series, which makes for a pretty boring cross-section of prognostications.
Nuts to that. We at WEEI.com prefer to explore the minutiae that occupies the gray matter of fans for 162 games or so.
We've solicited the feedback of WEEI.com writers Rob Bradford, Kirk Minihane, Mike Petraglia and me (Alex Speier), as well as Sox booth occupant Jon Rish, to peer into the 2011 crystal ball and figure out what will transpire in 2011.
Without further ado, 25 questions facing the 25-man Opening Day roster:
1) Leading off...Who will steal more bases, Jacoby Ellsbury or Carl Crawford?
RB: Ellsbury. Crawford has settled into a 50 stolen base guy, while Ellsbury's 70 of a couple of years ago is more representative of what he currently is.
KM: To me, the biggest story of spring training (good news division) is the health and performance of Ellsbury. I think he steals 54 bases this season, 16 more than Crawford.
MP: As part of his comeback player of year bid, Ellsbury will beat Crawford...as well as Rickey Henderson's MLB record of 130 in 1982, stealing home in the season finale and digging out home plate and holding it above his head.
JR: Ellsbury - 58
AS: It's not a fair battle. Leadoff hitters simply get to take more risks, in part because they spend more time on base without anyone blocking them. So, Crawford will be using his legs to score from first on doubles, and doing a bit less thieving. Ellsbury, unless Adrian Beltre drops an anvil on him during an attempted steal of third in Texas this weekend, will run amok.
2) Where does Dustin Pedroia rank among top AL second basemen?
RB: I have not lifted tires with Robinson Cano, so I can only go with what I know. I'll take a healthy Pedroia because of a healthy dose of intangibles.
KM: Behind Cano -- and it's not that close right now -- and ahead of everyone else.
JR: Second – behind Cano.
MP: In a rich class, just behind Cano. Pedroia is a Gold Glove candidate who could win an MVP if he hits .300 and scores 100 runs.
AS: Let's not ignore that there's an element of the unknown with Pedroia returning from foot surgery, but even if fully healthy, now that Robinson Cano has improved as a fielder, the Yankees second baseman is clearly the top second baseman in the AL. Worth noting: Jed Lowrie would likely rank as the third best second baseman in the AL if given an everyday role at the position.
3) After setting a career high in homers (19) in 2010, how many times will Crawford go deep in 2011?
RB: He will hit 15. He worked on going the opposite way in the offseason, but his power is still pull-side.
KM: I'll go with 16. Crawford will put up a .292-16-76 line this year, about his career average.
MP: This is where the Green Monster hurts him. He will hit countless doubles and triples off various parts of the Monster. I'll go with 15, including 5 inside the park jobs.
JR: 14. But I think his slugging percentage will hold steady. Last year he slugged a career high .495, which was 14th in the AL – one spot ahead of Victor Martinez.
AS: I foresee a season of Tommy Herr-style awesome. Let's say he hits 14 (two of the inside-the-park variety) but drives in 90 and scores 110. I think the Sox would take that.
4) More likely: Kevin Youkilis will produce two or more triples (something he's done in four of the last five years) or he will play in 140 games (something he's done three times in his career)?
RB: Jose Offerman led the American League in triples for two straight seasons with the Red Sox. Youkilis will not. He will have one this season and play in 141 games.
KM: When I'm on my death bed, I'm pretty sure I'll want back the 15 minutes I spent pondering an answer to the above question. He'll play 144 games this season.
MP: Youk plays in 150 games, surpassed only by the 157 of AGon.
JR: 140+ games.
AS: Youkilis will become so enamored with his shift to third base that he'll push past last year's career high of five triples. Meanwhile, I'm guessing that Youkilis plays about 135 games.
5) Will Adrian Gonzalez hit more or fewer than 40 homers?
RB: Better park, but a whole new batch of new pitchers to get used to. Fewer.
KM: He's only hit 40 one time in his career, but the Petco Factor can't be ignored. If you average out Gonzalez's career road numbers to a 162-game season, he's right at 40 homers. So the question, I suppose, is this: Is Fenway suited for him as a HR hitter? Not sure yet, so I'll put him down for 38 this year.
MP: See question No. 3 above. Line drive lefty hitter at Fenway. AGon hits 33.
JR: Fewer, but not by much. My over under would be 37.
AS: Now removed from Petco, it would seem reasonable to expect that Gonzalez will be a combination of Ted Williams, Babe Ruth and Ghandi. Or maybe not. Look, he's an elite player, and he'll get a ton of doubles in his new ballpark, but the fact is that Fenway is a very, very tough home run park for left-handed hitters, even with a sweet opposite field stroke. Let's say a very strong 36 homers for Gonzalez this year.
6) Where does David Ortiz finish the year ranked among AL designated hitters in homers?
RB: He will finish just behind Adam Dunn, but finish with numbers similar to his last two seasons (with a more optimistic April). Also, getting five hits the first few days of spring training bought him some time.
KM: Forget the contract year stuff, I think settling that $5 million lawsuit with Jay-Z over the rights to a nightclub name takes all the pressure off Ortiz this year. Eerily similar to the Rocky Colavito/Vic Damone saga in 1964. Rocky hit 34 homers that year, so let's go with 34 for Ortiz.
MP: Inspired by another moronic question from a reporter about whether going 7-for-7 in his first three games with three homers means he's cured his April woes, Ortiz belts 32 more and finishes with 35, leading all American League DHs.
JR: First. I’ll say 33 for Otiz with Vladamir Guerrero second.
AS: Third, behind Adam Dunn and Adam Lind....and good enough for him to re-sign with the Sox on another one-year deal more in line with new market realities.
7) Go figure: J.D. Drew is tied for third in games played by a Red Sox during his four-year tenure in Boston, behind Ortiz (553) and Youkilis (528) and matching Pedroia (525). Anyhoo, in his fifth and presumably final season in Boston, will Drew come closer to his four-year Boston OPS (.853) or 2010 mark (.793)?
RB: Drew seems intent on deciphering what he perceived as a changed strike zone. He's a smart guy with a lot to play for. He will not only have an OPS of around .850, but will hover closer to .250 against lefties than .200.
KM: He'll play less against left-handed pitching, so expect his OPS to be closer to .850 than .800.
MP: After discovering a hidden OPS clause in his contract, Drew walks an MLB-record 100 times in September to raise his OPS to .854 for the season.
JR: Closer to his four-year average. I’ll put him at about his 2009 number: .914.
AS: To make it interesting, let's say that Drew becomes the seventh player ever to have an OPS over .850 with over 500 plate appearances in the last year of his career, joining an illustrious group that includes Shoeless Joe Jackson, Will Clark, Happy Felsch, Kirby Puckett, Hank Greenberg and Curt Walker.
8) Is Jarrod Saltalamacchia the Red Sox' everyday catcher ... in 2012?
RB: Yes. But health, not production, will be the question when '12 rolls around.
KM: Sure, why not? As long as he shows some progress defensively I don't see a problem. He can hit .230, .240 in this lineup and it doesn't really matter.
MP: Yes. If there's ANYONE who benefits from the added punch in the lineup, it's Salty. He can completely focus on catching, and there's NO ONE in baseball better to help than coach Gary Tuck. And the Red Sox do love their switch-hitting catchers afterall, right? As Francona has predicted, Salty will be a pleasant surprise in 2011 and that will carry over to next year.
JR: Yes, if by everyday you mean he plays more than Jason Varitek. Over Under for Games played is 110.
AS: Only if he gets a better twitter handle than @jarrod_salty39. Try @jsalty39. You're welcome.
9) On the subject of 2012...Marco Scutaro -- will he be back in Boston on the $6 million team option, back in Boston on a $3 million player option, or on a new club? Bonus question: does he play fewer or more than 140 games?
RB: He will not be back. Jed Lowrie is the back-up plan as Jose Iglesias gets closer, and $6 million will be too rich to justify an insurance policy. As for Scutaro's option, he will play well enough to find another everyday job, one which will reap more of financial windfall than the $3 million.
KM: Nah, he's gone after this year. And under on the 140 games -- Jed Lowrie will be the everyday shortstop by Memorial Day.
MP: Scutaro is almost certainly gone next year. As a matter of fact, Jed Lowrie might very well supplant him this season if he struggles offensively. Lowrie has shown this spring he's nearly all the way back with his bat and again a switch-hitter. And don't forget Jose Iglesias waiting in the wings. As for the bonus question, Scutaro will appear in fewer than 140 games as Lowrie becomes the everyday SS.
JR: No and yes. He will not be back in 2012 and he will play fewer than 140 games. I’m not ready to predict that Lowrie will push him out of a job this year, but he will cut into his playing time.
AS: All I know is that with a $1.5 million buyout of that team option, Scutaro will be having more barbecues this offseason. I'd actually guess that he could represent the Sox' most interesting trade chip at the deadline -- with the Sox having nearly maxed out payroll, he's the one player they could move (thanks to Lowrie) who would permit them to have a bit of money to play with and address needs. Something else to consider: If Scutaro has a decent year, it's very realistic that the Sox would exercise their option and then trade him.
10) Will Jason Varitek come closer to his OPS from his first 19 games (.991) or his final 20 (.545)?
RB: Right smack dab in the middle, with a slight tilt toward the second 20.
KM: Look, Varitek's productive start had nothing to do with a lesser workload, as we heard and read over and over. It was a fluke, too small a sample size to take seriously. His OPS was .703 in 2009 and .672 in 2008 and will fall somewhere in between this season.
MP: Right down the middle at .750 as Varitek will duplicate what he did in 2010 and finishes his career with a game-winning homer in the season-finale on Wed., Sept. 28 in Baltimore.
JR: Closer to .545, but pretty much in the middle is what I’d look for. As long as he isn’t asked to play everyday I’ll say .720.
AS: Hmmm...if the mid-point is .768, I'm taking the under -- something in the .720-.750 range. Last year, the Sox went the pick-and-choose route very carefully thanks to Victor Martinez wanting to play 200 games in a 162-game season. This year, they won't be able to make the stars align quite as well. Still, that sort of production is unquestionably above average for a catcher, so Varitek's value will be apparent in his 40 or so games.
11) How many at-bats does Jed Lowrie get, and at what position will he play the most? Bonus question: Where does he end the year ranked among Sox infielders in OPS?
RB: He will get around 350, with his primary position being shortstop. Unlike some of these other clowns, I don't think Scutaro will be unseated, although his OPS will be lower than's Lowrie (who is starting to show more and more pop as he gets further away from wrist surgery).
KM: He'll be the starting shortstop by Memorial Day (at the latest), so that would put him in the, what, 360-400 AB range? And his OPS will be .820, which is swell for a SS but finishes fourth in this Sox infield.
MP: Again, see No. 9 above. Lowrie will get 400 at-bats. He will play SS the most as he takes over in June. He finishes third in OPS at .850, behind only Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis.
JR: He’ll see the most time at short with around 350 AB and he’ll finish fourth in OPS among infielders.
AS: I'll say 250....with a chance of closer to 400 if Scutaro gets traded to free a spot for Lowrie, who was one of the top offensive middle infielders in the majors when healthy last year. Youkilis, Pedroia and Gonzalez will give away almost no playing time, but assuming Scutaro stays, it's hard to imagine that none of those three guys is going to end up on the DL, and when that happens, Lowrie is an everyday player. As for OPS, I think he'll be fourth behind Gonzalez, Youkilis and Pedroia -- no shame in that with an .850-ish mark.
12) Does Mike Cameron see more or less time on the field than in 2010, when he played 48 games and had 180 plate appearances?
RB: More. Somebody will get hurt, and he will find time hitting against about 1/3 of the lefties the Red Sox face.
KM: More. He takes at-bats away from Drew. Wouldn't be surprised -- if healthy -- to see Cameron with more than 180 plate appearances by August 1.
MP: Assuming he's healthy, Cam appears in 80 games and totals 300 plate appearances as he is the perfect player to rotate in the outfield and as a right-handed DH/PH.
JR: More time, with the most time in right.
AS: More and more. It will be fun to see Cameron in the field when he's healthy.
13) Who plays more games in 2011 -- Darnell McDonald, Josh Reddick or Ryan Kalish?
RB: I could see them dealing Cameron at some point if Drew gets on a roll, and if they do that than McDonald becomes a more valuable piece of the puzzle. Reddick and Kalish will have a noticeable impact ... in the International League All-Star Game.
KM: I don't see any of the three making a serious impact again this season, but I'll go with Kalish (22 games).
MP: Ryan Kalish is the favorite here since he combines power, defense, hustle and is the favorite in the organization right now. D-Mac is the perfect speed option off the bench late in games. Josh Reddick surprised/disappointed some in the organization by dropping out of Dominican winter ball after a spat over playing time. Reddick, still only 24, spends most of the season in Pawtucket, since Adrian Beltre is in Texas now, and won't be running into Jacoby Ellsbury.
JR: Darnell McDonald.
AS: Kalish, even if he gets three or four full months in Triple-A. Even with the Sox' starting spots (barring injuries) accounted for, he'll get in a number of games down the stretch as a pinch-runner and late-innings option, and he will be on the postseason roster. Not sure how McDonald and Reddick will get that much playing time this year.
14) Will Jon Lester exceed his career high in complete games (2, accomplished in each of the last three years)?
RB: Yes. I'll go with three, just because I can.
KM: For the third straight year I'm picking Lester to win the Cy Young, so I have to go north of two complete games, right? Give him four to go with a record of 20-10, a 2.86 ERA and 218 strikeouts.
MP: Yes. Lester finally gets his 20 wins and will throw 5 complete games, the final one coming on the last Friday night of the season at Yankee Stadium as the Red Sox clinch the division.
JR: No, but he’ll match.
AS: No way. He's a man of great consistency. Two sounds about right, especially given that his high strikeout totals run up his pitch counts.
15) More likely to have a sub-4.00 ERA: Beckett, Lackey or neither?
RB: Beckett. He will also make the All-Star team. Save that one Renee.
KM: Lackey. His ERA was sub-4.00 in the second half last year. I just think Beckett is damaged goods. I've seen nothing -- not a single thing -- to indicate that he'll be any better than he was last year. There's a better chance his ERA will be above 5.00 than below 4.00.
MP: Neither. Both will win 14 games and both will post 4.05 ERAs. They are flyball pitchers pitching in the AL East. The Lackey-Beckett dynamic will provide one of the most interesting storylines of April as Beckett looks to reclaim his No. 2 spot in the rotation.
AS: I'm going with Beckett. Even in last year's mess, he still had legit swing-and-miss stuff at times. I just don't see how Lackey can get through a full year in the AL East with a sub-4.00 ERA. (While he had a sub-4.00 second-half mark, that was largely due to kicking the AL West teams in the collective groin.)
16) More starts: Beckett or Daisuke?
RB: Beckett. Matsuzaka will have a solid season, but his bumps in the road have become a rite of passage. Kind of like fraternity kids selling Charlie Sheen t-shirts.
MP: Matsuzaka but it will take him twice as long to get there.
AS: Bolstered by the decision to have his between-starts long toss and bullpen session on different days, Daisuke will go all Koshien on the pitching staff and lead the group in starts. Because nothing he's ever done with the Red Sox has been predictable.
17) More likely for Buchholz: 175 strikeouts, another sub-3.00 ERA or neither?
RB: Neither. He will pitch to slightly too much contact.
KM: Buchholz's ERA in 2010 was more than a little fluky (walks per nine stayed the same as 2009, K rate actually went down), so I'd be surprised if his ERA was below 3.00 again this season. He wins 14 games with an ERA of 3.60, which I suspect the Red Sox would be pretty happy with. And no, he doesn't strike out 175 guys either.
MP: If he has command of his secondary stuff, Buchholz is clearly capable of 200K. One of his Texas idols, Nolan Ryan, made a career of racking up 250+K seasons thanks to his curve while hitters were trying to catch up with his 100MPH gas.
JR: Neither. Thinking along the lines of 200 IP, I’m thinking 160 K and an ERA closer to 3.50.
AS: I'll say neither. Buchholz is very comfortable with the idea that he doesn't need to strike guys out to be successful, meaning a slight increase in punchouts but no K cards. That said, there's almost no way that he can have the sort of luck with runners on base that he encountered a year ago, when every grounder was right at a fielder. So, he'll have an ERA in the low-3s, while his strikeouts will tick up into roughly the 160 range.
18) Which Sox starter will have the lowest batting average against?
RB: Lester. Because he is really hard to hit.
MP: Again, Daisuke Matsuzaka. Batters have a .240 average against over his previous four seasons. They simply get bored and tired at the plate and often swing just to get the at-bat overwith. Seriously.
JR: Jon Lester.
AS: Take the guy who has no-hit stuff in about half of his starts: Lester.
19) Of the pitchers not in the Sox' Opening Day rotation (Lester, Lackey, Buchholz, Beckett, Matsuzaka), who makes the most starts?
RB: I'll give you a hint: The one that throws a knuckleball, is over 40 years-old, and has a kick-ass goatee. Oh, and his full name isn't Robert Farnsworth Bradford. Wakefield.
KM: Wakefield will fill in (the Dale Arnold of the staff) for Beckett and Daisuke during DL trips, making seven starts.
MP: Alfredo Aceves and Felix Doubront, each with 5. Wake just behind at 4.
JR: Tim Wakefield
AS: Wakefield, ahead of Aceves. Felix Doubront's impact at the major league level this year will be as a reliever.
20) Jonathan Papelbon: Discuss.
RB: He really likes his slider, t-shirts that send messages, and Dunkin Donuts commercials. What else is there? He's an elite closer whose fastball isn't quite what it used to be, but has proven to possess the kind of gumption that a person in his position needs. There is something to be said for a pitcher who can bounce back from the depths of a blown save in Boston.
KM: As a dancer? Still terrific. As a closer? Somewhere in the bottom half of the top 10 in the league. He'll be better in 2011 than he was in 2010 -- his K rate was still over 10 per nine innings -- but the days of dominance are as dead as disco (sorry, still got dancing on the brain). He'll be good enough to fend off any real discussion of a ninth-inning change.
MP: For better or worse, he is still THE MAN at the end of games for the Red Sox. Pure and simple. Obviously, there are warning signs. Aside from his 3.90 ERA in 65 games in 2010, the most alarming numbers of Papelbon are his walks 28 and the seven homers allowed, both career worsts. Papelbon insists his two or three rough spring outings aren't a concern and not a continuing trend from last season. He maintains he's just working on his secondary pitches and feels confident. Aside from using Bard or Jenks on nights when Papelbon isn't available, what you might see occasionally is Francona keeping Bard or Jenks available behind Papelbon if his command struggles carry over to this season. Papelbon knows what's at stake this season, almost certainly his last in Boston. Expect him to pitch like it.
JR: I keep hearing about how much he likes his slider, but I don’t care. Forget about the slider. He needs to command his fastball consistently. He didn’t do it last season. I haven’t seen him do it this spring. Until he does he will remain inconsistent.
AS: Gone are the days of innocence, when as a member of the Lowell Spinners in 2003, he defeated then-Yankees farmhand Jeff Karstens in a cow-milking contest.
21) Who closes for the Sox in 2012?
RB: Jenks. Bard is a weapon, and not just because he can stand in for at least one member of the group 'Lady Antebellum.' There are few pitchers in baseball who can get out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam the seventh like Young Daniel can.
KM: Mark Clear or Daniel Bard.
MP: Daniel Bard.
JR: Daniel Bard
AS: Jenks. I just think the Sox are in love with the idea of having Bard as their most versatile -- and hence most valuable -- bullpen weapon. Tethering him to the ninth when there's another viable option just isn't the most efficient use of his services.
22) Which Sox reliever (min. 50 appearances) finishes with the most strikeouts per nine, the lowest WHIP and the lowest ERA?
RB: Papelbon. Just because.
KM: I'll go Bard (11.2 K per nine), Dan Wheeler (1.04) and Wheeler again (2.68).
MP: Daniel Bard finishes at 10.0/9 innings. Bard, who had an amazing 1.00 WHIP in 2010, follows it up with a 1.05 WHIP this season. Again, in preparation for his 2012 role, Bard finishes tops in bullpen ERA at 2.05.
JR: Bard runs the table with the lowest WHIP and ERA and highest strikeout rate.
AS: I'm going Jenks for strikeouts, Wheeler for WHIP because he'll be something of a specialist and because he always has a fantastic WHIP. And I'll go with Bard for ERA, because it's ridiculous that he's still getting better.
23) What left-hander appears in the most games for the Sox?
RB: Hideki Okajima. If not for his option, he might have made the team. He actually had a pretty positive spring training, proving his worth against righties once again. Just a hunch, but I'm running with it.
KM: Dennys Reyes. Relief pitching is impossible to figure out, isn't it? Reyes had an ERA of 5.33 ERA in 2002 and 10.66 in 2003. Eight years later he's in the bullpen -- and could play a significant role -- for a team many are picking to win the World Series.
MP: Dennys Reyes. He still has the moxie to get all types of batters out. Oki's numbers have been steadily rising (the wrong way) for three years, 2.22 ERA in 2007, followed by 2.61, 3.39 and 4.50 last year.
JR: Dennys Reyes
AS: Rich Hill. I think the Sox will have something of an early-season carousel from their bullpen lefties. And I think it's fascinating that Hill has yet to give up a run with the Red Sox -- 6 scoreless appearances last year, and more in spring training this year.
24) What player who starts the year in the minors for the Sox will have the biggest impact on the club in 2011?
RB: Okajima. See above.
KM: Again, I'll pick Kalish, though there should be little impact coming from Pawtucket this season.
MP: Ryan Kalish. He certainly impressed enough in 2010 to get another look in 2011 if injuries crop up with Drew and Cameron.
JR: Don’t have a good feel for this one, so I’ll go with a long shot: Jose Iglesias.
AS: Hill. See above.
25) What is most likely to be the Sox' area of need at the trade deadline?
RB: Nothing. They are the perfect team and always will be. If NESN says it is so, then it must be.
KM: You have any faith in Reyes or Okajima? Expect a veteran lefty and maybe a low-level starter (injuries to both Beckett/Daisuke not impossible) at the deadline.
MP: Lefty reliever. It's the area that is most undefined leaving camp and there's no pressing need to address until later if it becomes a problem. And lefty relievers are relatively easy to acquire at the deadline unless you're in the same division with the Toronto Blue Jays, who were unwilling partners last year.
JR: Starting pitcher. I don’t expect them to be desperate for one and I don’t expect them to acquire a top-three type starter. I think I’ll look at the rotation in July and say they have depth, but an impact starter could make a difference.
AS: Tiger blood. That, and I expect that at some point, they'll need to add rotation depth while dealing with injuries. Is Paul Byrd still training with his kid's team?