The Red Sox season both began and ended with pitching problems. They had all the offense in the world, but what they lacked was first rate patching to back it up. Without the necessary changes to the starting rotation this off-season, the Red Sox will be on vacation again at this time next year.
In 2005, the Red Sox led the league in runs (910), team batting (.281), hits (1,579), doubles (339), walks (653), on-base percentage (.357), and on-base-plus slugging percentage (.811). Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz accounted for nearly a third of the runs scored by themselves. Even so, the Red Sox were bounced by Chicago's American League entrant in the first round of the playoffs.
The Red Sox relied too heavily on Ramirez, Ortiz, and their offense in general, to win games. The Sox came from behind to win 46 times in 2005, tying Cleveland for most comeback wins in the majors. Six times they overcame a deficit of four or more runs to win. Essentially, half of their wins were come from behind. The point is that their pitching often let them down and didn't keep them in games. The offense had to bail them out all too often.
The Red Sox pitching staff registered a 4.74 ERA this season, 11th in the AL. And their bullpen ranked last in the league with a 5.15 ERA - but that's another story, for another entry. The White Sox and Angels, the two teams that battled for the AL Pennant, shared the best ERA in the league, 3.75. Coincidence? Nope.
Of the 35 World Series winners since 1969, 26 had pitching ranked in the top three in the league. If the Sox want to get back to the World Series and win again, they need to improve their pitching staff, as well as their bullpen. Losing Pedro Martinez was a huge blow that the Sox didn't prepare well enough for, or recover from. Matt Clement, David Wells, and Wade MIller could not replace Pedro and Curt. They couldn't even soften the blow.
With an Opening Day average age of 36, the starting rotation clearly needs to get younger. Age and experience are important to a staff, and for those reasons, as well as for their service to the club, pencil in Curt Schilling (39 on Opening Day) and Tim Wakefield (39) for two spots in the 2006 rotation. Jonathan (don't call me Jon!) Papelbon, who will be just 25 next year, has also earned himself a spot. Wells, big game experience aside, has seen his best years come and go. Boomer, who turns 43 in May, gave the Sox a good effort every time out, but this rotation needs changes and he is the odd man out. The Sox cannot enter next season with three 40ish pitchers in their starting rotation.
That leaves Bronson Arroyo and Matt Clement; the two youngest, healthiest and therefore most tradable assets. The free agent market is thin, so a trade may be in order. And the team will likely have to give up something if they expect to get something good in return. Clement's contract, and tendency to falter in the second half, will hurt his value. But the Sox have to do something. At just 28, and after leading the club with 20 quality starts, Arroyo may have more value. The six starters from the 2005 squad - Wade Miller included - couldn't, and will not, get it done. They will not return the Sox to the promised land that is the World Series. Aside from Papelbon, the rotation still needs one other new arm.
If the Sox do go the free agency route, Kevin Millwood will garner consideration. Millwood's 2.86 ERA led the the American League. What's more, he'll be just 31 at the start of the season. Jarrod Washburn posted an impressive 3.20 ERA, also particularly good for the AL, and far better than any Red Sox starter this year. Matt Morris will be 30 next year, and his considerable post-season experience (14 appearances) might interest the Sox brass. The Giants won't let Jason Schmidt get away, and Kenny Rogers and Jeff Weaver aren't worth whatever they'll be asking for.
That leaves A.J. Burnett, the man the Red Sox considered trading for at the All-Star break, and would have pulled the trigger on if Mike Lowell and his ridiculous contract weren't part of the equation. Burnett is expected to be the most sought after free agent starter, which is odd considering that he's a game under .500 for his career (49-50). At least he consistent; he went 12-12 this year. Another major concern is the fact that Burnett had Tommy John surgery and missed a lot of action as a result. His 3.44 ERA, while respectable, would likely jump with a transition to the AL. Still, it was considerably better than the Sox best pitcher this year, Tim Wakefield, and his 4.15 ERA.
Changes must be made for the Sox to succeed. Who knows how much Schilling still has in his tank? His gutsy 2004 post-season performances may have jeopardized his future. It certainly jeopardized his performance this season, resulting in the highest ERA (5.69) he's posted since the '88-'89 seasons in Baltimore. At the time he was a kid who made a mere five starts, and a total of just nine appearances during that span. He was young, he was green, unseasoned and untested. Soon after, Schilling established himself as one of the better pitchers of his generation, posting a 2.85 ERA over the course of his next 15 seasons. Then there was this year. We can only hope, if ever so cautiously, that he will be more like the old Curt - the one who reigned from 1990-2004. But we can't count on it. Age and injury may have taken their toll. Let's hope the Sox don't naively count on him as much next year as they did in this year. At this point, all bets are off.
The Sox have plenty of depth at the back end of the rotation,. They have a number of guys who'd make great 3,4 and 5 starters. As of now, they have no ace, and no number two either. David Wells (4.45 ERA), Bronson Arroyo (4.51 ERA), and Matt Clement (4.57 ERA) could not fill out the front three spots in the rotation, and until that is addressed, the Sox won't see another World Series title for a while. And we waited long enough for the last one.
Let's just hope they address their pitching deficiencies in a more meaningful way this winter than they did last year. If they do, and they keep the heart of their offense intact while making improvements at the corners, we may just be watching the right kind of Sox in next year's World Series.
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