If you are paying attention you will note that earlier this week I picked the red sox to win the WS (although, to be fair, I was just trying to keep things fresh). Nonetheless, I would like to spend a post on tearing my pick apart.
Earlier in the month I wrote about the importance of pitching to post-season success and also how most of the teams that won in the last 10 years had a huge jump in pitching strength as a result of a major addition to the staff. The Red Sox themselves did this in 2004 (adding Schilling and Foulke) and again in 2007 (healthy Beckett, Lester, Dice-K, Okajima, etc).
We all know the big names the Red Sox have added, but they have primarily been on offense (I’ll discuss the bullpen additions a little later). I’ve also heard a lot about how injured the Sox were last year (and they were ridiculously hampered by injuries), and how being healthy this year might make them unbeatable.
I have no doubt this lineup is going to score a crazy amount of runs and I feel the Sox are a lock to win 100 games. But will they succeed in the post-season with their pitching?
Here’s what they did last year: ERA 4.20, ERA+ 104, K/9 7.5, WHIP 1.36.
That’s not bad…slightly above league average, but still possessing good stuff. The problem: when you break it down they were HEAVILY reliant on great seasons from three guys: Lester/Buchholz/Bard. Everyone else was about average or below league average.
Here’s my assessment of these five guys:
- John Lester: some in Boston still think Beckett is the ace, but come on people! At this point Lester is the only real stud in this rotation and I expect him to be great for a while. That being said, Giants’ fans would agree that 2010 was a down year for Lincecum and he and Lester had very similar years when you look at the numbers (similar K/9, ERA+, IP, K). Lester is the only guy I trust in this rotation.
- Clay Buchholz: Awesome year kid, but you were a little lucky. I agree completely with this assessment and feel that he will be good in 2011 but come back to earth a bit. I’d take any of the Giants’ first 4 over Clay.
- Josh Beckett: This is where it gets ugly. Beckett is a huge name and has a huge contract so he’s an ace, right? Nope. This article suggests that a return to form for Becket is not only unlikely it would be historically unprecedented. What’s even more alarming is that even when Beckett was dealing he struggled against the AL East (read: good teams). That said he is still only 30. But the uncertainty is startling: will he make a full season of starts? Will he stink? Will he bounce back? No one knows!
- John Lackey: as a Giants fan I really don’t like Lackey at all. That said, he’s been a good pitcher for a while. When he came over to the Sox a lot was made of his struggles at Fenway and then he went out and was below average (ERA+ of 97) in 2010. My feelings are that Lackey might look pretty good if he were on the Padres or Giants, but in the AL East he is quickly going the way of Zito (or AJ Burnett).
- Daisuke Matsuzaka: and then there’s dice-k. For whatever it’s worth I’ve never been a fan and always thought the hype WAY overstated the reality. But here’s something that is actually interesting. Japanese pitchers tend to come over, make a splash for a while, and then flame out. Matsuzaka could buck that trend, but probably not.
Every team enters a season with “ifs”…if they stay healthy, if so-and-so bounces back, if this prospect emerges, and on and on. However, the Red Sox have significant ifs with four of its five starters (the part of the team that is most closely tied to post-season success), and I think that will be a serious problem for them, especially in October.
Now, the bullpen. Aside from injuries this was the major downfall of the 2010 team. They have definitely fortified the pen: Wheeler and Jenks will help, Papelbon is back, and Bard is the man. With the depth they now have in the ‘pen there will be pressure taken off the rotation. Some would argue that a better bullpen would have especially helped Laceky who stayed in too long in too many games. (This article is more about the starters, but I also have some qualms about Pap and Jenks: signs of health issues and decline with both.)
The question, though, is are these the kind of moves that help a pitching staff make the jump that can propel a team to a championship?
Statistically the Red Sox profile almost exactly like the 2008-2009 Yankees. If they get the same production from their staff this year that they got last year, with their superior lineup they should prevail.
The key, though, is getting the similar production, and I just don’t think that’s a given. The Red Sox are locked in to two declining pitchers for a lot of time and money (Beckett and Lackey) and I just don’t see this staff holding up and dominating in the playoffs.
I may be way wrong on this one, but I do not think the Red Sox will be holding a trophy over their heads and pouring champagne on each other at the end of October.