Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The 2012 Red Sox: Proof that Pitching Wins Games

Every team goes through their ups and downs with their pitching staff, it’s going to happen, there’s no getting around it. There are always going to be teams who look great on paper, and are really only one hamstring injury from missing the playoffs. Let’s talk instead about the Boston Red Sox. To start this discussion with nothing but full disclosure, I am a Yankees fan, and I do have my biases. I do however try my best to respect other teams and their players. I play fantasy baseball, I have drafted Red Sox players, I will draft them again, they have helped me do very well before, and their front office for recent years deserves a lot of credit for putting together a very solid 1-9. Theo Epstein, the new GM of the Chicago Cubs, and former GM in Boston has not left the team with a strong starting rotation, and their bullpen isn’t exactly looking stellar yet either.

I would normally relish in this fact, that the Red Sox are underperforming as though they were starting last year’s John Lackey 3 nights/week, but there’s no sense in being another New York fan who rips on their Massachusetts counterparts whenever possible, there are enough of them out there, I really don’t need to contribute. Instead I’d like to look at what kind of pitching staff the Sox have this season, what worries me about it as an analyst, and what worries me about it as a Yankees fan.

What worries the baseball analyst in me:

Josh Beckett - He’s given up 5 home runs in 2 starts so far and only has 4 strikeouts over 12.2 innings. This isn’t the Beckett that the Red Sox signed, I wouldn’t expect the numbers to stay this bad, but he has had trouble with home runs in the past, and if he continues to pitch like this he’ll be a sore spot in the rotation that has already seen 2 rough years from the ace in 06 and 2010.

Daniel Bard & Felix Doubront - Not because either of them is a bad pitcher, but because neither is an established starter, both being converted to the starting rotation from relief roles. Bard has the stuff to be a very good back of the rotation guy, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to dominance as a starter. Doubront is more of an unknown, having made appearances with Boston over the last 2 years putting up less than impressive numbers in those stints with the big league club largely in his WHIP and walk rates being far too high to sustain any success.

Clay Bucholz - After 1 & ½ stellar years, Bucholz might be coming back down to earth, or he might be dealing with some bad luck, and 2 rough starts early. It’s far and away too early to tell, and his strikeout rate suggests his command isn’t gone.

Mark Melancon - He hasn’t actually done anything “wrong” but I question the judgement to hold him out of the closing role while the Sox wait for Andrew Bailey to return. His ERA is unsightly at the moment, but it’s far too early to look at a reliever’s stats with any credibility.

Alfredo Aceves - He is not a closer, yet he’s closing games. He had an incredible year last year but that doesn’t make him a closer. He is a very effective spot starter and middle/late innings reliever, but if the Red Sox have the faith in him to close, why not use him in the rotation rather than Doubront?

Vincente Padilla - He made 9 appearances last year as a reliever with the Dodgers but hasn’t really been an effective member of a team for a full season since his ‘03 season with the Phillies. I can’t see this being a good full season situation for Boston.

What Worries the Yankees fan in me:

Jon Lester - He’s a great lefty starter, and a great story after his battle with cancer, but more importantly, he’s just dominant. Lester has started off the year strong, and looks to keep building on an already very solid career. I look for Lester to continue his dominant ways, and is maybe the only real “sure thing” in the Red Sox starting rotation this year.

Clay Bucholz - I can’t really believe this start will stick, and yes I realize he’s in both lists. He’s young, he’s strong, and has the potential to really dominate as a starting pitcher. Just because I am comfortable with how his season has started with a 3 game set against the Yankees coming up doesn’t mean I look for this type of performance to continue.

The mid-season trade deadline - Really the only other thing that the Red Sox have going for them in terms of pitching, at the moment is that there will be teams out of contention at mid-season who will be happy to cough up a rental or a solid starter for prospects and/or expendable position players, and a big market team with such high aspirations for their season will not go quietly. If the Red Sox can hold to being a .500 team around the middle of the year, they’re going to make moves, and they’ll get better. With Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka both on the DL for the time being, fans were talking about addition by subtraction, but the Red Sox might really be looking forward to Dice-K’s (potentially June)  return if the rotation doesn’t start to take shape sooner.

With a lineup as potent as Boston’s, regardless of the loss of Jacoby Ellsbury, the Red Sox will compete this year despite their early pitching woes. I have no real doubt about that; the biggest question is if they’ll be busy vying for the new 5th wildcard, or if they will be battling to be the AL East champions this season.

1 comment:

  1. In an interesting twist of fate, the BoSox give up 14 runs tonight through the 8th with men on first and third.

    Small sample of course, but still interesting.