If you're a regular reader of this site then you're familiar with the work of Marc Normandin. You've seen his work at Baseball Prospectus and Marc is also the self proclaimed father of Beyond the Boxscore. He's also a huge Boston Red Sox fan, and his newest venture is Red Sox Beacon. To help better gain some insight on our opponents, Marc was kind enough to answer a few questions for us regarding the Sox, the Rays, and the 2011 season.
Erik Hahmann: The Red Sox have obviously had a great winter. In what area do you think they upgraded the most?
Marc Normandin: Despite the additions of stars like Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, the most significant upgrades were in the bullpen. Boston had one of the worst pens in the majors last year--though much of the blame was placed at the feet of Jonathan Papelbon (and deservedly so), there were other problems, like the fact they didn't have a legitimate third option out of the pen all seasons, and replacement level pitchers like Scott Atchison were soaking up a lot of innings because the other options were even worse. Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler, who your readers may be just a tad familiar with, give Boston a few more arms out of the pen. While it may just end up being average or a bit above, and not stellar, that is still a massive improvement from 2010.
EH: It's been said by some people that the acquisitions of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford are offset by the losses of Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez. I know you're one that disagrees strongly with that school of thought. Care to explain why one more time?
MN: Beltre's move to Texas affects more than the third base situation in Boston. Kevin Youkilis, who didn't play a full season in 2010 due to injury, moves over to his old position of third. While he isn't the glove Beltre is, he is the superior hitter, and an excellent offensive first baseman moving to a less-offensively oriented position is going to be miles ahead of the average. Youkilis vs. Beltre is a downgrade, but the combination of Gonzalez and Youkilis is better than, or at the least, equal to, Beltre and Youkilis.
Victor Martinez might be one of the better catchers in the game, but Carl Crawford is the superior player, and Martinez missed a month with injury as well. Coming off of 2010, when so many players like Youkilis and Martinez missed time, it's going to be hard not to get an automatic upgrade simply by having Gonzalez, Crawford and Youkilis show up to play.
EH: What do you think the Sox's biggest weakness is?
MN: The rotation is still iffy. With Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka, there is a lot of potential for a shutdown rotation in at least four of the five spots. But if Beckett's back acts up, Lackey doesn't retain the command of his breaking pitches he showed in the second half of 2010, and Dice-K continues to flounder, the Red Sox don't really have anyone else to step in. Felix Doubront might be the most capable, but he's not exactly ready to pitch every five days in the majors yet, and Tim Wakefield is somewhat of a question mark. It's not a serious weakness, but it's the part I'm most worried about.
EH: The Sox have one of the best starting pitchers in the American League in Jon Lester, but after him the four remaining starters all have questions marks. What do you expect from Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, and Dice-K in 2011?
MN: I think at least one of the latter three is not going to work out. Beckett's back is worrisome, Lackey may be able to perform well, but he faced a weak schedule and took advantage of it in the second half of 2010, and Dice-K does more frustrating things that keep him from succeeding than I have the space to cover in this interview. Buchholz is fantastic though--his ERA from 2010 may be the lowest he ever posts, but don't be fooled by his SIERA or xFIP. He is a different pitcher than he was just a year ago, as he now has a 90 mph slider with excellent movement to go along with his heater and his wonderful change-up. I expect his strikeout rates to climb
EH: As a Red Sox fan, what is your opinion of the Matt Garza trade?
MN: Garza is a good pitcher, but it's not like the Rays can't replace him internally. I can't say I'm excited to see Jeremy Hellickson a few times a year rather than Garza, especially when all this upgrade "cost" the Rays was the taking on of a few prospects who will more than likely help the team in the near future. Great deal by the Rays, in my opinion, and one that doesn't prohibit them from competing and also helps them in the longer-term, big-picture view.
EH: Obviously it's going to be constructed differently than last season, but what part of this Rays team worries you the most?
MN: The rotation can still be devastating even without Garza, and the bullpen, even with all these new faces, is full of intriguing names that could come together into a productive unit. The lineup doesn't worry me as much without Crawford, at least in 2011 terms, but Evan Longoria is still there, Reid Brignac and Matt Joyce will have larger roles, and they may end up with better DH and first base production than in 2010, so it's not like it can be ignored. The pitching and defense are better than the hitting though, and those are the portions of the team that worry me the most.
EH: Daniel Bard has shown he can be very effective, and the Sox signed Bobby Jenks this winter. With that said, will Jonathon Papelbon be closing games for the Red Sox all season long?
MN: Papelbon will be closer throughout the season, as the Red Sox would much rather use Jenks and Bard as "Relief Aces" they can employ in high-leverage situations, while Papelbon gets to pitch in the relative safety of the ninth. You've been through this with Troy Percival, and Papelbon, for all his warts, is a superior pitcher to the Rays' version of Percival.
EH: What are your thoughts on the Rays pursuit of a DH? How would a Sox fan feel if they signed Manny and you had to face him 19 games a year?
MN: Honestly? I would be excited to see Manny 19 times a year again. He's one of my favorite hitters to watch, ever, and it would be great to see him helping out the Rays. Sure, the Rays are a rival of Boston, but it's more of a fun rivalry than a heated one, in my mind anyway. I enjoy this competition, and getting someone like Manny, who I have a history with as a Red Sox fan, would make it even more intriguing to me.