Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Red Sox Rotation Key To Success In 2011

In order to be the World Series contenders that many people expect them to be this season, the Red Sox will need all five of their starters to pitch up to their potential.

Last season, Red Sox starting pitching was inconsistent, at best. Despite the rash of injuries, poor starting pitching—more than anything else—was the reason for the Sox' disappointing season.

In 2011, the Red Sox will return an intact rotation, comprised of Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Daiuske Matsuzaka.

Without question, Lester and Buchholz have become the staff aces and are among the elite pitchers in the game. Both pitchers are only 26 years old, still improving, and should contend for the Cy Young this season.

Lester finished fourth in the AL Cy Young Award voting after going 19-9 with a 3.25 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 225 strikeouts last season. He overcame a slow start (0-2, 8.44 ERA) and finished the season as arguably the best pitcher in the AL, posting a 19-7 record, 2.81 ERA and 9.89 strikeouts per nine innings.

For his part, Buchholz went 17-7 with a phenomenal 2.33 ERA and 1.20 WHIP.

However, after that young, dynamic duo, the rest of the Sox' starters were huge disappointments. Beckett, Lackey and Matsuzaka combined for over $39 million dollars in salary and an unimpressive 4.84 ERA. For comparison's sake, the entire payrolls of the 2010 Pirates and Padres were the same as, or less than, what the Boston trio made.

Beckett and Matsuzaka fell prey to injuries and never found the form that had made them successful in the past. Lackey was hardly the pitcher the Red Sox were expecting when they signed him last winter and had a lackluster first season in Boston.

Beckett posted a career high 5.78 ERA and 1.54 WHIP. Over the previous three years with the Red Sox, he was 49-23 with a 3.71 ERA and sub 1.20 WHIP.

Lackey posted a 4.40 ERA, the first time his average exceeded 4.00 since 2004. And his 1.42 WHIP was tied for the highest of his career (2003).

Matsuzaka went 9-6 with a 4.69 ERA. Though he had moments of brilliance (like his one-hitter against the Phillies in May), they were far too infrequent and he typically looked like a shadow of the pitcher who went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA in 2008.

Though the Red Sox let Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre walk, two of their premier hitters in 2010, the offense should be at least as good (if not better) with the additions of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. But after scoring 818 runs last season (good enough for second in the AL), offense was not the Red Sox shortcoming.

And the additions of Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler, should improve the Red Sox bullpen markedly this season.

For the Red Sox to win the AL Pennant, and ultimately the World Series, all five of their starters must stay healthy and pitch their absolute best in 2011. All of the starters need to consistently make quality starts and go deep into games, taking pressure off the bullpen.

As we saw last season, the Red Sox cannot get by on offense alone. Amongst AL teams, the Red Sox were first in total bases, second in homers, second in runs, second in slugging and third in on-base percentage.

Yet, the Red Sox won just 89 games and missed the playoffs. It was just the second time since 2002 that the Sox failed to win 90 games, and just the second in 13 seasons that they failed to finish in first or second place in the AL East.

All that offense in 2010 couldn't overcome the disappointing efforts of three-fifths of the rotation.

Red Sox starting pitching allowed 517 runs in 2010, fifth worst in the AL. Their 1.35 WHIP was also fifth worst in the AL. Additionally, Red Sox starters allowed a league-high 383 walks, well above the league average of 330, and hit the most batters in the league (45).

The upside is that Sox starters struck out a league-high 833 batters, held opposing batters to a .254 average (fourth-best in the AL), and gave up just 89 home runs, lowest in the league.

Unless the rotation repeats the latter statistics and not the former, the Red Sox new lineup and bullpen won't matter much.

On paper, at least, the Red Sox appear to be the team to beat in 2011. But now they actually have to go out, play the games, and win. There are always surprises. Who picked the Giants to be World Series Champions at this time last year?

It's long been said that pitching wins championships. Without it, the Red Sox may be just another in a long list of overpaid, underachieving teams through baseball history.


Jim Duggan said...

I would have thought the front office would have made a change in the rotation instead of sticking with the same three weak starters you mentioned. Especially Dice-K. A sense of dread followed every game he was slated to start. Beckett has either lost his groove from injuries or is in the process of blowing out his shoulder. He can no longer get by on the threat of his fastball. He must learn to throw a mix of pitches and locate where he wants. Let's hope they can all find themselves and stay there throughout the season!

Sean M. Kennedy said...

After Cliff Lee (who the Sox could not afford after acquiring Gonzalez and Crawford), there was a dearth of quality starting pitching on the free agent market; Carl Pavano is hardly an enticing prospect.

Joe Blanton was available via trade, but is he really a better alternative than Dice-K? I'd say no. The Sox also gave up some of their best prospects in the Gonzalez deal, so they are a bit thin in that area right now, which makes trading for an established veteran starter very difficult.

The Sox are paying Becket and Lackey big money for the next four years, and owe Dice-K $10 million in each of the next two. They just have to ride those horses at this point.

All of them have had success in the past, and each needs to rediscover whatever it was that made that possible for them in their best days.