Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Red Sox Ability to Repeat Will be Driven by Pitching

Jake Peavy, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz will be critical to the Red Sox success this year.

It's been said time after time: Pitching wins championships. That old adage certainly applied to the 2013 Boston Red Sox. How the Sox fare this season will once again rely on their starting pitching, as well as their bullpen.

The Red Sox' 2014 rotation will be comprised by mainstays Jon Lester, John Lackey, Felix Doubront, Jake Peavy (who joined the club last July 31) and Clay Buchholz.

Some of the above group carried a heavy workload en route to winning the World Series last season. The Sox played an extra month of baseball in 2013, which ultimately shortened their offseason by a month. That may have some carry over into 2014.

However, the 2013 post-season aside, this particular Red Sox rotation isn't a bunch of innings eaters.

Left-hander Jon Lester threw a career-high 213.1 innings last regular season, then added 34.2 more in the postseason. Lester was the only member of the staff to reach the 200-innings threshold.

Right-hander John Lackey worked 189.1 innings (215.1 including the postseason), his highest cumulative total since 2007.

The always fragile Clay Buchholz threw just 108.1 innings last season, and has never thrown more than 189.1 in any of his seven seasons in the majors. That's troubling.

Jake Peavy threw a combined 144.2 innings last year between Chicago and Boston, and the righty has pitched 200 innings only once since ‘07.

Meanwhile, left-hander Felix Doubront (26) is the only starter under age 29, and he threw a career high 162.1 innings last season.

The Sox will need this group to pitch a lot more innings than that this season in order to be a playoff team.

Here are the vital stats of the Red Sox starters in 2013:

Lester: 15-8, 33 starts, 3.75 ERA, 67 BB, 177 Ks, .253 OBA, 1.29 WHIP
Buchholz: 12-1, 16 starts, 1.74 ERA, 36 BB, 96 Ks, .199 OBA, 1.02 WHIP
Doubront: 11-6, 27 starts, 4.32 ERA, 71 BB, 139 Ks, .261 OBA, 1.43 WHIP
Lackey: 10-13, 29 starts, 3.52 ERA, 40 BB, 161 Ks, .247 OBA, 1.15 WHIP
Dempster: 8-9, 29 starts, 4.57 ERA, 79 BB, 157 Ks, .256 OBA, 1.45 WHIP
Peavy: 4-1, 10 starts, 4.04 ERA, 19 BB, 45 Ks, .230 OBA, 1.16 WHIP

The Red Sox had five other pitchers make at least one start, and as many as seven starts.

With that rotation, which doesn't look especially impressive on paper, the Sox won the AL East and the World Series.

While some of the above numbers may seem a bit pedestrian, what the Sox' rotation had in spades last season (notwithstanding Clay Buchholz) was good health. For the Sox to have anywhere near the same level of success this year will require more of the same.

Lester has proven to be a workhorse throughout his career, having thrown at least 200 innings in five of the last six seasons. Given his history, there's every reason to expect that he'll do it again this year.

If Lackey can repeat his performance from last year, which was customary for him when he was with the Angels, he will be a formidable presence in the Sox rotation once again. Being that his elbow woes are now well behind him, that's also a reasonable expectation.

Given his age, Doubront appears poised for a breakout season. The left-hander has the raw stuff; he just needs to harness and control it, consistently throw strikes and not issue so many walks. If he trusts himself, and the defense behind him, Doubront could establish himself as one of the best young lefties in the game this year.

For his part, Peavy, a former Cy Young winner, says he is feeling healthier and stronger than at any time since his days with the Padres. Considering that San Diego was where Peavy won his Cy Young award and had his greatest individual success, that's encouraging.

Buchholz is the big question mark. Though he may be the best pure pitcher on the Sox staff, he's never proven that he can stay healthy and consistently make his scheduled starts. It's quite telling that since Buchholz made his big league debut in 2007, he has never made as many as 30 starts in a season. That needs to change this year.

The Red Sox are going with the customary seven-man bullpen, and will start the season with the following relievers:

Koji Uehara
Edward Mujica
Junichi Tazawa
Burke Badenhop
Brandon Workman

Andrew Miller
Chris Capuano

This group looks better, on paper at least, than the 2013 pen. To begin with, both Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan, who each endured elbow surgeries last year, are now gone. Given their limited contributions last year, their absence this season is an immediate upgrade. Malcontent Alfredo Aceves is also gone. It all amounts to addition by subtraction.

The Sox also used relievers such as Pedro Beato and Matt Thornton last year. Both were ineffective, and both are now gone.

In place of those relievers, the Sox brought in former St. Louis closer Edward Mujica, who saved 37 games for the Cardinals last season, plus Burke Badenhop, who posted a 1.19 WHIP over 62.1 innings for Milwaukee last year.

Despite being a starter throughout his nine-year career, Chris Capuano also joins the Sox pen this year. The Massachusetts native gives the Sox additional starting depth right out of their own bullpen.

Lefty Craig Breslow has started the season on the 15-day DL, and should join the Sox a mid-month. So, the team's pitching depth has already come into play. Brandon Workman, who went 6-3 with a 4.97 ERA last season, takes Breslow's spot for now.

The Sox view Workman as a starter. But he was so effective last season that they are glad to have him on their roster, even if it's in a bullpen role for the time being. Most impressively, Workman fanned 47 batters in 41.2 innings last season, while surrendering just 15 walks.

The Sox also have some excellent minor league-depth options that include the following:

Rich Hill (L)
Drake Britton (L)
Alex Wilson (R)
Rubby De La Rosa (R)
Dalier Hinojosa (R)

The Sox also have additional starting depth in the minors, including righties Allen Webster, Anthony Ranuado, and Steven Wright. Webster and Ranuado are expected to assume rotation spots in the next couple of years, perhaps as soon as next year.

In sum, due to their veteran presence and bounty of youthful talent, the Red Sox appear poised to make another run at the Fall Classic. Naturally, repeating is difficult; no team has done it since the 1998-2000 Yankees.

However, if the Sox can stay healthy, they have enough quality pitching to give it another run in 2014.