Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Beckett & Lackey Key To Red Sox 2011 Aspirations


After an offseason of major acquisitions, and the return of a group of star players from injury, the consensus view is that the Red Sox will field a potent offense this season.

And, on paper at least, the Sox bullpen has been upgraded with the additions of Bobby Jenks, Dan Wheeler and others.

Perhaps the most pressing question about the Red Sox as they enter this season is the strength of their rotation.

Going into last season, most observers viewed the Boston rotation as perhaps the best in the game. But Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka both suffered injuries and did not pitch well when seemingly healthy.

For his part, John Lackey came face-to-face with the relentless nature of AL East lineups.

As spring training unfolds, the big unanswered question is whether Beckett and Lackey, in particular, will have bounce-back seasons in 2011. Both are big, right-handed Texans, who under-performed in 2010.

But that's where last year's similarities end. Lackey doesn't need to bounce back so much as improve on 2010.

Lackey reported to spring training looking trimmer than last year, saying he dropped 11 pounds by doing an hour of cardio per day (20 minutes on a treadmill, 20 minutes on a bike and then 20 minutes on an elliptical trainer).

All that hard work reduced his girth from 252 pounds to 241, and hopefully that weight loss will benefit him this season.

Clearly, Lackey needed to make some changes after his first year in Boston was widely viewed as a disappointment.

The big right-hander sported a hefty 4.40 ERA, his highest since 2004. Lackey also allowed 233 hits and tied his career-high with 72 walks. That amounted to 305 base-runners and resulted in a 1.42 WHIP, the highest of his nine-year career.

Additionally, lefties hit Lackey particularly hard, going .298/.364/.438 against him.

On the upside, Lackey led the Red Sox with 33 starts and 21 quality starts last season. Consequently, the former Angel also led the Sox with 215 innings pitched.

Additionally, the Red Sox' newcomer posted a respectable 14-11 record last season. Just 14 American League pitchers won more games than Lackey in 2010. And his 14 wins were tied for second-highest of his career, behind the 19 victories he posted in 2007.

For comparison's sake, CC Sabathia, Justin Verlander, Ervin Santana and Carl Pavano were the only other AL starters who posted at least 14 wins and 215 innings last season.

However, Lackey also had the benefit of the 11th-best run support in the AL. In fact, Lackey had six wins last season in which he did not make a quality start (at least six innings pitched, allowing three or fewer runs). That amounted to almost half of his wins in 2010.

The hope is that Lackey can build on the momentum he developed in the second half of last season, when his ERA fell to 3.97 and his WHIP to 1.22. Lackey also fanned more than eight batters per nine innings in his last 14 outings, while cutting down his walk rate significantly.

Beckett, on the other hand, is coming off an utter disaster in 2010. If Beckett had only pitched the way that Lackey did last year, his season wouldn't have been such an absolute failure.

Last year, by far the worst of his nine full seasons, Beckett made just 21 starts and pitched just 127.2 innings.

The results looked like this:

Record: 6-6
ERA: 5.78
Opponent Avg: .292
Strikeouts: 116
WHIP: 1.54
Quality starts: 10

Beckett's ERA and WHIP testify to how truly awful he was last year. But the fact that he made just 10 quality starts in 21 attempts also speaks volumes.

When Beckett joined the Red Sox before the 2006 season, he was viewed as an elite, front-of-the-rotation starter who would anchor the Red Sox rotation for years to come. Over his five seasons with the Marlins, Beckett had posted a 3.16 ERA.

However, over his five seasons in Boston, Beckett owns a 4.39 ERA. Even if you exclude his disastrous 2010 campaign, Beckett's ERA from 2006-2009 was still 4.04, hardly the stuff of an ace. Additionally, Beckett has yet to strike out 200 batters in any season in the majors.

To this point, there has been just one season in which Beckett has lived up to all the hype and performed like the stud the Red Sox thought they were getting when they traded Hanley Ramirez for him.

In 2007, Beckett went 20-7 with a 3.27 ERA, 194 Ks and a 1.14 WHIP.

Due to injuries and ineffectiveness, Beckett has reached 200 innings in just three of his five seasons with the Red Sox.

It's safe to assume that Beckett feels an awesome sense of responsibility to the team and wants to live up to the four-year, $68 million contract he signed last April. The big righty is viewed as a leader in the Red Sox clubhouse, particularly amongst Red Sox pitchers.

Yet, it's difficult to know what to expect from Beckett this season. He has alternated between good and disappointing seasons since arriving in Boston. It's been widely noted that he seems to pitch well only in odd years, which may be a good omen for 2011.

The Red Sox can only hope so, because they have hitched their wagon to Beckett, who will be critical to their success and post-season aspirations this year.

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