The Red Sox acquisition of 28-year-old lefty reliever Javier Lopez from the White Sox is a curious one.
Lopez is 2-1, with 12 saves and a stingy 0.55 earned run average, in 26 appearances for Triple-A Charlotte of the International League.
Lopez has held lefthanded hitters to a lowly .171 (6-35) batting average. Equally impressive, Lopez's groundball/flyball ratio is 64/25 (72%), the second best in the International League and fourth best in all of professional baseball (MLB and minors) among pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched.
The question is, why would the White Sox let go of a reliever with such impressive stats in exchange for David Riske, a reliever who proved himself to be inconsistent and unreliable (0-1 with a 3.72 ERA in eight relief appearances) for the Red Sox this season.
Lopez has not allowed a run in his last 9.1 innings over eight appearances. But of concern is his 6.09 ERA over three big league seasons (2003-05). However, as a big leaguer, Lopez has allowed just 22% (26 of 118) of inherited runners to score while holding lefthanded batters to a .246 batting average.
And since Lopez set a Rockies' rookie record with 75 appearances in 2003, issuing just two earned runs in his first 30 appearances, one has to wonder why Colorado let him go, and why he's been pitching in Triple A for the White Sox?
As for Riske, Theo Epstein said his expendability was due to the team's glut of righthanded relievers, hinting that the trade could also clear room for the eventual return of Craig Hansen.
Though Sox' relievers rank sixth in the American League with a 4.29 ERA, even Epstein acknowledged that it's hard to believe, since only Jonathan Papelbon and Mike Timlin have shown consistency. "Behind [those two] we're looking for someone to step up. We really need someone to assert themselves there and help Tito."
Something had to be done. On Sunday, Keith Foulke pitched just two innings, surrendering four runs on seven hits, with two strikeouts and one wild pitch, before going on the DL.
On Tuesday night, Julian Tavarez hit a batter, gave up a ground rule double, and intentionally walked the next batter, before surrendering a walk-off grand slam to Jason Kubel in the 12th inning. Tavarez has now allowed eight runs in just seven innings this month.
Then last night, Jermaine Van Buren allowed a single and three walks in the sixth - walking in a run - before exiting with the bases loaded. His successor, Manny Delcarmen, threw a 3-and-1 fastball to Justin Morneau which went soaring to the opposite field for a grand slam.
The two grand slams -- both hit by lefthanded hitters off righthanded pitchers -- highlighted the Sox' need for a lefthander, something their bullpen had lacked, until now.
But the pen isn't the only concern. With David Wells' status uncertain, Lenny DiNardo's ineffectiveness before going on the DL, David Pauley showing the need for more fine-tuning in Triple A, and Mattt Clement looking like a shadow of the free agent pitcher the Red Sox signed in the winter of 2004, more help will be needed in the starting rotation.
Epstein said the Sox will continue to look internally for starting pitching, but acknowledged that he will also explore options outside the organization, and look to the trade market in an effort to fulfill the team's needs.
As will every other contender.