Red Sox will be AL’s best team in 2016


FanGraphs projects the Boston Red Sox to go from worst to first in their division, while leading the American League with 92 wins in 2016.

A busy offseason has set expectations that a vastly better season is ahead for the Boston Red Sox, but how high will they climb in the standings? All the way to the top, according to at least one projection model.

FanGraphs has updated their projected standings to peg the Red Sox for an American League best 92 wins, giving them a comfortable margin in division over the second place New York Yankees (86 wins). The site takes their individual Steamer projections and mashes it with playing time projections based on depth charts to project the records for every team in baseball.

An increase from 78 wins to 92? What, are they getting extra credit for the added motivation of sending David Ortiz off into retirement with one last winning season? We can assume that doesn’t actually factor into this projection model, even if certain intangibles can make at least a slight difference.

The optimistic outlook comes in part due to massive upgrades the franchise has made to their pitching staff, with David Price now leading the rotation and Craig Kimbrel joining Carson Smith as the new additions to the bullpen. Boston allowed 4.65 runs per game last season, second most in the league. FanGraphs expects a significant improvement this year with a projection of 4.12 RA/G, putting them behind only the Cleveland Indians and Tampa Bay Rays in the AL.

Will these new additions really improve the Red Sox pitching staff that much? Adding Price to the rotation is certainly a tremendous upgrade, but he alone does not explain this drastic change. Yet we also have to consider that Eduardo Rodriguez will have a full season in the rotation and has the potential to make a leap in his second year. It’s also reasonable to expect that Rick Porcello and Joe Kelly will be more successful this year when you consider their second half improvements.

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Then there’s the bullpen, which went from being one of the league’s worst a year ago to potentially being among the best this year. Kimbrel taking over in the ninth inning allows manager John Farrell to pick his spots more carefully with 40-year old Koji Uehara, while the added depth should prevent Junichi Tazawa from running out of gas down the stretch.

We already saw signs of improvement in the second half last season, when the Red Sox posted a 4.15 ERA after the break that ranked seventh in the league. The overall numbers from last season may look ugly, but if we take the pitching staff the Red Sox had at the end of last season and include these new additions, a top-three staff may be within reach.

The Red Sox offense is expected to improve as well, but they don’t have nearly as far to climb after scoring the fourth most runs in the league last year. FanGraphs projects Boston’s bats to improve form 4.65 RS/G to 4.75 this season. The front office did little beyond adding some outfield depth with the signing of Chris Young to bolster the bench, but there are still reasons to expect a slight uptick in offense.

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Flourishing young players like Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Blake Swihart should continue to improve, while disappointing veterans such as Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval can’t possibly be as dismal as they were a year ago. Fine, so maybe they can, but they each have track records that tell us they are capable of much more.

Boston’s run differential is expected to improve from -5 to an AL best +103, which would be the highest increase in the majors. The Chicago Cubs (+126) are the only other major league team projected to have a run differential in the triple-digits, which is fairly conservative given that four teams eclipsed that mark a year ago, led by the Toronto Blue Jays at +221. FanGraphs has the Jay crashing down to earth with a +28 run differential this year. That’s a steep drop even for a team that saw Price leave for a division rival and is relying on several aging veterans in the lineup.

Will the Red Sox end up meeting this lofty projection? Several similar models projected Boston to be among the league’s best at this time last year following splashy free agent signings, only for them to end up as one of the biggest disappointments. This year somehow feels different. The winter that doomed the tenure of former general manager Ben Cherington was highlighted by questionable moves aimed at beefing up the offense without any regard to how those players would fit on the roster. Under the reign of Dombrowski we have seen more calculated moves that address the team’s greatest needs.

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We still have a ways to go before the season even begins, so these projections are likely to change as the remaining free agents find homes and teams continue to discuss trade options. You can’t win your division in January, but from where we stand now it’s looking like a very promising season is coming for the Red Sox.