Tuesday, December 14, 2010
THE RED SOX' PITCHERS
The Sox' owners heard the outcry from the masses, and acquired some serious, marquee talent last week. The finally went out and got guys you've heard of, guys that will appear on fantasy teams, true stars. They added a slugging first baseman, and a fleet-footed outfielder. These are likely the biggest off-season acquisitions since the Sox traded for Josh Beckett in November of '05.
Speaking of Beckett, I want to talk about pitching. The Red Sox offense has improved tremendously, and should be more consistent, more exciting, and will contend to lead the Majors in runs scored. And while I love the acquisitions, I can't quite jump on the bandwagon that's been fully loaded the last week.
What about pitching?
Well at the top, the Sox have Buchholz and Lester. Our most reliable pitchers are 25 and 26, respectively. Our rocks are 25 and 26. The hopes of the rotation rest on guys who are 25 and 26.
Buchholz was 2nd in the AL in ERA. He won 17 games, and emerged as an All-Star talent. But he also goes into 2011 with only one good year on his track record. I'm not predicting doom and gloom for Buchholz, but I don't think we can just assume he'll have a similarly outstanding year. We've all sort of taken for granted that he will.
Lester also esteemed himself, with 19 wins and a 3.25 ERA. His numbers don't pop as much as Buchholz's, but he's got a fuller history of success. In each of the last 3 seasons, his ERA has been below 3.50, he's won at least 15 games, and pitched at least 200 innings. He's as solid a #2 starter as you'll find.
Then there's John Lackey, whose numbers are more than respectable for a #5 guy. He led the Sox in innings. I'm fine with him in the #5 spot. So long as he's the ONLY #5 pitcher on this team. And that's the problem. We really have no idea what to expect from Beckett and Daisuke. They too might perform like #5 pitchers.
Apart from 2007, when he vied for the Cy Young, Beckett has been disastrous for the Sox. He outright sucked in 2006 and 2008. He was off-and-on in 2009, spinning gems one day, then dropping turds 4 days later. And in 2010, one could argue that he was the worst regular starting pitcher in baseball.
"He can't possibly be that bad again." That's the argument I keep hearing about Beckett. And that may be true. But his track record suggests that he won't be very good, either. And frankly, he CAN be that bad again.
Then there's Matsuzaka. Who is this guy? Is there anything about him that's predictable or regular? Will he be healthy? Does the team know if he'll be healthy? Does he even keep in touch with the team about his off-season training?
Since 2008, when he was brilliant, he's been a mess. When he is healthy, he walks the world, and needs 120 pitches to survive 6 innings of work. Perhaps he'll redeem himself in 2011. But I'm afraid the best I see him being is a middle of the road #3 guy. Even when he is on his game, his short outings tax the bullpen far too much.
Speaking of the bullpen, the Sox have one of the leakiest in the game. They blew 22 Saves last year, the 4th most in baseball. Think about that. 22 times, the Sox had a lead late in a game, and then lost it. And that starts with Papelbon, who set a career high in Blown Saves last year, with 8. He also set a career high in ERA (3.90) and WHIP (1.27). He's not a bad closer, but he's not Mariano Jr. And there are a number of closers that are on his level.
At least he and Bard are good. After that, there's nothing but torture.
Building a bullpen is hard to do. It can also be very easy. Most of it seems to be dumb luck. There are very few "premium" middle-relievers in this world. Those that excel become closers. Most have 2 or 3 very good years, then get figured out. In other words, Mike Timlin is not walking through that door.
The best thing to do is what the Sox used to try with their rotation: sign 3 to 5 has-beens/never-was-its, and hope that 1 or 2 don't suck.
In a rare bit of optimism, I think the offense will help the bullpen by putting it in fewer crucial situations. So there will be less opportunities for it to cost the Sox games.
I also don't want to come off as too negative. With the lineup the Sox have, and the few good pitchers they have, there's no reason for them to not make the playoffs. They should win 93 to 98 games, which is very good. And certainly an improvement over last year. They should whip teams like Baltimore, which they failed to do in 2010.
Unfortunately, pitching wins in the playoffs. The Giants and Rangers showed that. The Sox showed it in '07 and '04. And I don't think the Sox have the arms to get the job done in October and November. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Beckett and Daisuke will return to '07 and '08 form, respectively. Maybe someone unexpected will emerge as a hero in the postseason, much like Derek Lowe did in 2004. But I've never been one to be hopeful for hope's sake. I'm Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh.