Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Thursday, February 22, 2007

THE ROATION SITUATION

On Paper This Staff Looks Very Good. But Now They Have To Go Out And Prove It.

The overhauled Red Sox starting rotation needs to make a significant improvement over last season's staff, which went 61-56 with a 5.00 ERA, the 11th highest in the league and the team's second highest in the last 50 years The only Sox staff that was worse, though marginally so, was the 1996 staff headed by Roger Clemens, which posted a 5.01 ERA.

The pitching staff, as a whole, had had the fifth-worst team ERA in all of baseball (4.83), the sixth-worst opponent’s batting average (.278), and only six teams in the American League allowed more home runs. Injuries certainly played a part, as the Sox trotted out AA pitchers and cast-offs from other clubs in a desperate attempt to keep the ship from sinking.

While Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett each topped 200 innings last season, the only other Red Sox pitcher to log more than 100 innings was Tim Wakefield. And that led to a lot of improvising, and using a cast of not-ready-for-prime-time characters.

The Sox used 14 starting pitchers in 2006, their most in a season in 40 years, including names like Jason Johnson, Kyle Snyder, Lenny Dinardo, David Pauley, Kason Gabbard, Kevin Jarvis and Devern Hansack.

The Red Sox needed to add two solid, front-line pitchers to their rotation this year, and they may have succeeded in doing that. The additions of Daisuke Matsuzaka and Jonathan Papelbon should help the club overcome the weaknesses of an aged 2006 staff. Both pitchers are younger, and hopefully healthier, than the pitchers they're replacing.

The Red Sox biggest offseason prize, Matsuzaka, will have to make numerous adjustments in the transition from Japanese baseball to the potent American League: A different strike zone. Talented batting orders that can run nine-deep. Making starts on four days rest instead of five. In short, the pressure's on.

On paper this team looks good, but they have to go out and prove it. Questions remain.

While Josh Beckett led the team with 16 wins last year, he also tied Tim Wakefield for the most losses with 11. Will Beckett develop into a frontline starter? Among the 40 qualifying pitchers for the American League ERA title, Beckett ranked 36th. Among the 83 qualifying pitchers in the majors, Beckett ranked 75th. The powerful righty has to develop more pitches in his repertoire, other than his fastball, and has to be able to change speeds and locations at will to reach his true potential in the challenging A.L.

And with two starters over the age of 40, injuries, breakdown, or inconsistency have to be expected. And the team seems to realize this.

Schilling was recently informed that the Red Sox will not offer him a contract extension in spring training.

Sox President Larry Lucchino said, "Out of respect for him, we met and discussed it, considered it, and thought at this age and stage it was probably more appropriate to make that contract decision at the end of the season."

Epstein and Co. are to be commended for showing reason and restraint in not offering a 40-year-old pitcher a $13-$14 million contract extension when the grind of another 162-game season could affect him physically. Schilling is just two years removed from a lengthy rehab following ankle surgery. Returning from the injury in 2005, the right-hander went 8-8 with a 5.69 ERA. Then last year, Schilling struggled down the stretch, finishing with a 15-7 record and 3.97 ERA.

The more sensible approach, especially with such a young staff and another 40-something pitcher in Tim Wakefield, is to wait and see how Schilling performs this season. Looking ahead, the Sox are well-positioned with the youthful bunch of Beckett, Matsuzaka, Papelbon and Jon Lester.

Last year, Lester displayed just how much upside he possesses and how bright his future could be. Though he's young and still has some rough edges, he showed why the organization was so high on him. He has the potential to be a vital part of the rotation for years to come, and he'll be a lot cheaper and offer much more flexibility than Schilling.

For his part, Schilling said he understood but was disappointed. "It is a business," he said.

Copyright © 2007 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.


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