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Pessimism and the 2014 Red Sox


Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Over at Sports on Earth, a Red Sox blogger named Marc Normandin ranked the best lineups in the majors. His conclusion?

1. Boston Red Sox

Then he sat back, lit an ornate ivory pipe filled with confetti, took a puff, and said, "Come at me, bro." The comments were filled with rational discussion, as they usually are.

My first thought when it came to the Red Sox having the best lineup: Nah.

Then I circled around later and re-read it, just to make sure my knee-jerk reaction wasn't too hasty. I upgraded the reaction to a mnnnnnnah, which is still in the nah family, but a touch more ambiguous.

The stats suggest the ranking wasn't crazy at all, though. The Red Sox led the world in runs scored last year, and they beat the second-place team (Tigers) by 57 runs. They had the highest OPS+ by a wide margin, took more walks than anyone else, and made opponents throw more pitches than any other team. They lost three key contributors (Jacoby Ellsbury, Stephen Drew, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia), but they didn't exactly replace them with Yunieskys Betancourt. The Red Sox have to be on the shortlist when making a ranking of the best offenses in baseball.

They also lead the league in nah players.

A nah player is a term made up several minutes ago, and it refers to a player who:

  1. Had a good 2013
  2. Could reasonably be expected to have a good 2014
  3. Does not make you think optimistic thoughts about 2014

A team filled with nah players is a nah team. This is not science. This is gut. This is why you look at preseason rankings and have opinions, even though you don't have every statistic, every extenuating circumstance memorized. The nah player comes in different forms:

Players coming off a surprisingly successful year

You don't always have to dismiss a player who unexpectedly forced his way into your consciousness last year. But you can do so when it's convenient. Some examples:

Daniel Nava? Good story, but … nah. Mike Carp cost the Red Sox less than my student loans, and he was great once they used him strictly in platoon situations, but … nah.

Totally knee-jerk. I didn't look at ZiPS or PECOTA, didn't check out BABIP or splits. Couple of names, couple of nahs

Players over the age of 30

One of these days, I'll write about how strange it is to be in my late-30s and spend my time writing about players in their late-30s being old, creaky, and washed up. I was born a week after Rafael Furcal, yet I will probably make a joke about his one or two of his digits falling off this year. Because that dude is old.

Except for this guy. He'll hit until he's 48, like Julio Franco.
Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Until then, I'll consider every player over 30 a suspect, and I'll use their age against them when needed. Is the magic age for declining players 33? Is it 34? 35? It's different from player to player. Just listen to your subconscious. Oh, and your biases. Example:

Shane Victorino? Nah. He probably peaked last year. And A.J. Pierzynski? That guy's not just old, but he's a catcher. I'm sitting here wondering what Buster Posey's going to be like at 30, and I'm supposed to expect good things from Pierzynski at 37? Nah.

It also helps that I wouldn't jump either of their cars if they had a dead battery. That, plus their respective ages, makes for a goooood bias cocktail.

Players with perceived injury concerns

I can't remember where, but I half-remember a well-written think piece on how the players we think of as "fragile" are often not. We just assign them that label based on small samples -- two hamstring injuries in five years is good enough to get a reputation.

It was an interesting idea, painstakingly researched. Let's see how well it resonated with …

Mike Napoli has crumbled Chicken in a Biskits where his hip should be. If it was serious enough to cost him tens of millions, it's serious enough to screw him up this season.

Untested rookies

Everyone is Brandon Wood. Everyone is Ruben Rivera. Until they're Mike Trout, sure, but who's Mike Trout? Pretty much just Mike Trout, which means you're free to …

Xander Bogaerts? Nah. Jackie Bradley? Nah.

That's six or seven nah players out of the nine in the projected lineup. That has to be a personal record. And one of the remaining two is Will Middlebrooks, whom I will compare to Pedro Feliz until further notice.

David Ortiz is cool. Dustin Pedroia's probably still cool. But when you sail down the nah river, you can turn a good lineup into a bunch of also-rans quickly.

That's the story of how one baseball writer can dismiss the World Series champions with a flick of the wrist. Throughout the offseason, I thought, "nah." When I read Marc's piece, I thought "nah."

ZiPS projects the Red Sox to be one of the best teams in baseball again. ZiPS is smarter than me.