Friday, March 7, 2014

Why the Red Sox Won't Repeat

The Red Sox aren't favored to repeat, nor should they be (CBSSports)
A few weeks from now, the defending champion Boston Red Sox will begin their long march towards another shot at October glory, hoping to replicate the magical run that ended with the franchise's eighth World Series championship last fall. Vegas gives them 12/1 odds to repeat, but I wouldn't bet on them. Here's why:

1. Regression
Make no mistake, the Red Sox are going to take a step back in 2014. Jacoby Ellsbury, Stephen Drew, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia took nearly 13 fWAR with them when they left via free agency. Their replacements--Jackie Bradley, Jr., Xander Bogaerts, and A.J. Pierzynski--might not cover half half that.

For all the talk about how Boston is entrusting youngsters Bradley, Bogaerts, and Will Middlebrooks to play key roles this year, the truth is that the Red Sox are an older team whose success is more dependent on its veterans not falling apart rather than its young players taking a big step forward. With so many of their returning players another year older, that could be a problem. Koji Ueheara (39), David Ortiz (38), John Lackey (35), Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, and Jake Peavy (all 33), Mike Napoli (32), Daniel Nava (31), Dustin Pedroia (30) and Jon Lester (30) are all on the wrong side of 30 and, by extension, baseball's aging curve.

I wouldn't expect any of them to be better than they were last year, and most of them are probably going to be worse. Several players in particular delivered unexpected seasons last year that they are unlikely to repeat. Victorino, Lackey, and Nava are all prime regression candidates. Coming off a historic season, Uehara can't possibly be any better.

And that's not all. Boston's two primary catchers, Pierzynski and David Ross, will be 37 by Opening Day. Sixth starter Chris Capuano turns 36 in August. Staying healthy could be a challenge for this year's outfit, and even if they do stay on the field they figure to suffer from natural age-related decline.

2. Making the playoffs is hard enough
Thanks to baseball's improved parity and revenue distribution, the sport is more competitive than ever. On top of that, the AL East is still baseball's toughest division top to bottom. It had the best aggregate record of baseball's six divisions last year, and that's unlikely to change in 2014. All five of its teams have legitimate playoff hopes this season. New York and Baltimore made significant roster upgrades that could take them from 85 wins apiece last year to over 90 this year. Tampa Bay might have the best pitching staff in baseball and several young stars (Wil Myers, Chris Archer) look ready to blossom. Toronto's too talented to lose 88 games again. The division is very much up for grabs, meaning Boston's margin for error is slim.

3. Nobody repeats nowadays
Even if the Red Sox do reach the postseason again, they still have to survive an entire month of postseason baseball to take home the prize. The added playoff rounds combined with parity have made winning the pennant in consecutive seasons nearly impossible. That explains why each of the last 13 World Series produced a different champion than the one before it--the longest drought between repeats since 1979-1992. The odds are not in Boston's favor.

Besides, the Red Sox have won consecutive World Series only once in franchise history, and it happened all the way back in 1915-1916. That means if Boston somehow wins the Fall Classic again, they'll be the first Red Sox team to do so in nearly a century (which would be pretty cool).

Basically, winning championships is really hard, and I don't think the Red Sox are going to be the best team in baseball this year (I think the Cardinals, Dodgers and National are all better). Ben Cherington didn't do enough this past winter to compensate for his team's substantial loss of talent, resulting in a roster fraught with downside and injury risks. To make up for that, Bradley and Bogaerts would have to become superstars overnight, and they might not even be serviceable big leaguers this year. After all, they played just 55 regular season games between them last year.

I'm confident saying the Red Sox will be good again and have a good shot to make the playoffs again, but I just don't see them winning the World Series again.

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