Red Sox projected to top the AL East by USA Today
Based on a six-person panel of reporters and editors, USA Today projected the Boston Red Sox to win 94 games in 2017, the most in the American League East and second in the AL.
Unlike analytical projection models that take into account thousands of simulations when compiling their findings, USA Today’s model relies on old-fashioned human instinct. Their model actually changed from last season, departing from their one-man prediction model to incorporate a team of six panelists. That will theoretically increase the validity of their projections, which only strengthens the case for the Red Sox.
Their full prediction for the American League East is as follows:
- Boston Red Sox (94-68)
- Toronto Blue Jays (87-75)
- Baltimore Orioles (84-78)
- New York Yankees (80-82)
- Tampa Bay Rays (75-87)
Their panel doesn’t see much change coming in 2017, with 9 of last year’s 10 teams returning to the postseason. The entire slate of NL teams is expected to be playing in October once more, while the Astros are projected to bump the Rangers into a Wild Card spot, effectively pushing the Orioles out of the postseason.
The Red Sox won 93 games in 2016, good for third in the American League East behind the Astros (94 wins) and the Rangers (95 wins). If not for a 1-5 slide at the end of the season, the Red Sox would have coasted into the postseason with home-field advantage throughout October. Instead, they were swept in the American League Division Series, playing two of three games on the road. If you doubt the Red Sox’ ability to replicate their success in 2017, given the departure of David Ortiz, fear not.
USA Today expects similar if not better results this season, with a one game bump in the win column for the Sox. If you want a more statistical outlook on the season, PECOTA (Baseball Prospectus’ projection system) similarly anticipates the team to win 90 games, also good for first in the division.
I’m not going to downplay the significance of losing Ortiz to the team. He was arguably the best hitter in all of baseball alongside Mike Trout and produced 4.4 fWAR despite playing just 5 innings in the field. Ortiz was a one-dimensional player in 2016, but far from a one-dimensional threat at the plate. He led the team with 38 home runs, 127 runs batted in, a .401 on-base percentage, and a 1.021 OPS. His .620 slugging percentage was also the best in baseball, by a wide margin.
Make no mistake, replacing Ortiz’s bat in the lineup will be next to impossible. But to cast doubt on the entire roster following his retirement is short-sighted. We can’t make up for his offensive production, but we can offset the loss in value. Adding Chris Sale, projected to accumulate between 4.7 and 6.2 WAR depending on which model you give weight to, is the easiest way to account for Ortiz’s lost value.
For the record, Steamer and Depth Charts expect Sale to be worth 4.7 and 4.8 fWAR respectively, while ZiPS is more favorable at 6.2.
There isn’t a perfectly linear correlation between WAR and actual wins, but it is close enough for us to reasonably predict that the Red Sox will be just as good in 2017 as they were in 2016. Then there’s the likelihood that David Price returns to form, Craig Kimbrel improves upon his 5.09 BB/9, the addition of Tyler Thornburg, and a full-season out of Andrew Benintendi. Not to mention the remaining core of Mookie Betts, Rick Porcello, David Price, Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley, and Hanley Ramirez.
It may seem counter-intuitive to predict the Red Sox to be better in 2017 than 2016, but the composition of this roster certainly raises the question.
Buoyed by the best offense in baseball, the Red Sox seemed to go as their lineup did in 2016. With a three-headed monster at the top of their rotation, as deep a bullpen as they’ve ever had, and a core of young but extremely talented players in the lineup, Boston will be able to win in a multitude of ways this year.
Next: 2017 Red Sox PECOTA Projections
I’ll go on the record right now: the Boston Red Sox will match their record from a year ago, if not beat it.