Not many teams will be better offensively than the Boston Red Sox in 2007, and that is clear when you see that the only players on the team in the "Top Tier" are position players/Designated Hitters, and that the only players that are deemed as "question marks" are both pitchers. While Boston's pitchers hold the potential to be great, most of them are risks as opposed to many of thier position players of whom most can be relied upon to be average-to-above average.
The Top Tier:
Manny Ramirez (LF): We're talking fantasy baseball here, so I don't want to hear anything about Manny's attitude and what not. All that matters here is stats, stats, and more stats. Whether you're playing in a "traditional" stats league, or one with more advanced metrics Manny will be worthy of a high first round pick. Even though he missed roughly a month last season due to injury, Ramirez still hit 35 HR's and drove in 102 runs! Actually, before his injury Ramirez was having the best season he's had since 2002 with his .321/.439/.619 batting line. Also, for what it's worth, he drew 100 walks last season for the first time in his career--against an almost identical 102 strikeouts!
David Ortiz (DH): Another Red Sox who will be worthy of a high first round pick in 2007 is David Ortiz. Since joining the Red Sox in 2003 he has batted .294/.391/.609 with 173 HR's and 525 RBI! Last season he set a career high in HR with 54, and slugging percentage with a mark of .636. He's too good a hitter to start declining at age 31 so don't be scared to draft "Big Papi."
The Second Tier:
J.D. Drew (RF): I've pointed out in this article that I do not expect Drew to stay healthy for an entire season, but if he does he is clearly worthy of a "second tier" designation. His 162 game average throughout his career is .286/.393/.512 with 27 HR and 86 RBI. Though he shouldn't be expected to play 162 games, this gives you an idea of what Drew is capable of. With all the "injury prone" labels that have been thrown upon him, though, he actually was healthy last season and hit .283/.393/.512 with 20 HR and 100 RBI. As you can see, if he's healthy Drew is a second round pick. With the risk that he carries, though, he's more like a 4th or 5th rounder.
Curt Schilling (SP): Schilling doesn't walk anybody. Why do I open up my take on him with that statement? Because that fact, by itself, let's you know that Schilling will never be a horrible pitcher. In 2007 Schilling issued only 28 free passes in 204 IP! On top of that he also had 183 strikeouts, showing that he can still blow hitters away. That doesn't mean that Schilling is the same pitcher he once was, though, as he is more "hittable." If you disregard his 2005 season, since he was injured and pitching in a relief role, 2006 was the first season since 1994 that Schilling allowed more hits than innings pitched (220 hits allowed in 204 IP). Schilling is still better than average, and will continue to be in 2007. Even though all signs point to him "falling off a cliff" and becoming a 4.50 ERA pitcher, I wouldn't bet on that happening to a pitcher like Schilling. A season similar to last season--maybe a tad worse--should be expected.
The Third Tier:
Coco Crisp (CF): Hindered by a broken finger that sapped his power and ability to drive the ball all last season, Coco Crisp turned in an extremely disappoining 2006 campaign. With full health expected in 2007, though, a rebound to Crisp's pre 2006 numbers can be expected (2003-2005: .290/.333/.428, 34 HR, 167 RBI and 50 SB). It's easy to forget that Crisp will only be 27 years old this season, and that at the age of 25 he hit .300/.345/.465 with 16 HR, 15 SB's and 69 RBI as a Cleveland Indian in 2005.
Kevin Youkilis (1B): The forgotten man in Boston's lineup had a very good season in his first as a full time player in 2006. Living up to his reputation as the "Greek God of Walks" Youkilis drew 91 free passes last year against 120 strikeouts. He hit 13 HR's, and drove in 72 runs to go along with a batting line of .279/.381/.429. Now that he's experienced, and survived, the rigors of a full season at the MLB level (he hit .258/.347/.381 in the second half last season after hitting .297/.407/.467 in the first), improvement isn't out of the question. If your league uses OBP Youkilis becomes much more valuable.
Mike Lowell (3B): The "throw-in" from the Josh Beckett trade last season ended up actually having a better season than the man he was "thrown-in" with. After batting .236/.298/.360 in 2005 as a member of the Florida Marlins, Lowell rebounded in a big way as a Red Sox in 2006 batting .284/.339/.475 with 20 HR and 80 RBI. It seems like the move to the American League, and into the more right-handed hitter friendly Fenway Park worked out well for Lowell. His numbers won't wow you like they did back in 2003 and 2004--he will be 33 years old next season--but they shouldn't disappoint either.
Jason Varitek (C): Last season was disgusting, end of story. Before injuring his left knee and ending his season Varitek was batting .238/.325/.400 with 12 HR and 55 RBI. It is not inconceivable that Varitek started a decline last season that he should have started years ago. You see, Varitek has already cheated the typical "aging curve" that catchers go through by having three of his four most productive seasons after the age of thirty when he should have been declining. I won't say Varitek's numbers will be as bad as they were last year, but a return to pre-2006 Jason Varitek should in no way be expected.
Julio Lugo (SS): Lugo was a very good hitting shortstop last year ...when he was a member of the Devil Rays. When in Tampa Lugo batted .308/.373/.498 with 12 HR, 27 HR, and 18 SB's. After he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the trade deadline he hit .219/.278/.267 with 0 HR, 10 RBI, and 6 SB's. So which Lugo should be expected in 2007? Neither. Look for a mix of both. Over his career his 162 game average is .277/.340/.402, with 12 HR, 59 RBI, and 24 SB's. This is closer to what you should expect, and actually isn't bad production for a shortstop. Lugo's ability to steal a base is what differentiates him from the rest of the "average-to-below-average" hitting shortstops.
Josh Beckett (SP): What the heck happened? After posting a 3.46 ERA and a 2.72 K/BB ratio through 2005 as a Florida Marlin, Josh Beckett went all "Eric Milton" last year and allowed 36 HR's last season on his way to a 5.01 ERA and 2.14 K/BB ratio. Was it the move to the American League? Was it the move into the more hitter-friendly Fenway Park? Probably a little bit of both. Factor that in with what was just an "off" season, and everything starts to make a little more sense. A rebound from Josh Beckett is all but guaranteed as he pretty much cannot be any worse. Plus, quite simply, he is far too good a talent to post a 5.00 ERA again. Normally he'd be on the second tier of these fantasy rankings, but until the rebound actually does happen, he drops a tier lower.
Daisuke Matsuzaka (SP): I know there are Red Sox fans out there who, when they see that I have "Dice-K" listed as a question mark, immediately begin to conjur up images of me falling off a thirty story building. But this is the only way to define Matsuzaka...I'm sorry. How can I list him as anything but a question mark? He's never thrown a pitch in the Major Leagues, isn't that the definition of a question mark player? While we all know that "Dice-K" has the potential to be a great pitcher, it is far from a guarantee. All we have to look at are Matsuzaka's great numbers that he posted in Japan which include a career record of 108-60 to go along with a 2.95 ERA in 1402.7 IP and a 1355/502 K/BB ratio (2.70). Remember, though, Josh Beckett had a better K/BB ratio against actual Major Leaguers before he came to Boston last season (See above), and we all know what happened to him.
Jonathan Papelbon (SP): Here is another player that I'm sure Red Sox fans refuse to believe should be listed as a question mark, but he is. While Papelbon was a great closer last year, this season he moves into the rotation and in case you didn't know, starting and relieving are two different animals. Just because somebody succeeds in one, in no way means that can succeed in the other. All we have to look at for some sort of glimpse into what Papelbon can do as a starter is his minor league numbers--he was brought up through the Red Sox' farm system as a starter--which are encouraging. In 48 games started (58 total games) at all levels of the minor leagues "Paps" was 19-13 with a 3.05 ERA in 277 IP with a 299/78 K/BB ratio (3.83). These numbers are undoubtedly good, but aside from three late season starts at a Major Leaguer in late 2005 we have no evidence of what Papelbon will do in a starting role, and that is why he is a question mark.
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