The Red Sox have been Major League Baseball’s biggest disappointment the last two seasons as a club with one of the highest payrolls had all sorts of problems on and off the field. One of the reasons this was so strange is that before 2011 they were projected to have one of the strongest starting rotations in the league. Funny how that worked out, because last year they finished nearly dead last in starters’ ERA.
1. Jon Lester (B-)
2.Clay Buchholz (B-)
3. Ryan Dempster (C+)
4. Felix Doubront (C-)
5. John Lackey (D+)
In the mix: Franklin Morales, Alfredo Aceves
Down the road: Rubby De La Rosa
The field has definitely thinned out. It all starts with Lester and Buchholz, especially now that Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield are long gone. Jon Lester was outstanding from 2008-11, going 65-32 with an ERA around 3.3, but along with the rest of the Red Sox staff he did not have it in 2012, going just 9-14 with an ERA more than a full run above his career average. Lester has really good stuff. And since overcoming lymphoma in 2007 he has been remarkably healthy, starting at least 31 games five straight years. His strikeout rate has decreased for three consecutive seasons so that is cause for concern, but especially with Coach and former pitcher John Ferrell as the new sheriff in town, Lester is a prime comeback candidate.
As for Clay Buchholz, I don’t really think he is a great pitcher or much different than Joba Chamberlain, so Boston’s and many people’s expectation of him as a staff leader are pretty unrealistic. When you look at it, he’s only had one good year, 2010 (it was a really good one; 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA). Other than that since 2007 he has only started more than 16 games once (last year, when he was terrible) and while he shows flashes of brilliance, his combined stats outside of ’10 are pedestrian at best (29-25, 4.51 ERA). He is always injured; a torn fingernail, pulled hamstring, stress fracture in his back, esophagitis and/or gastrointestinal problems, so he is hard to depend on. Perhaps the no-hitter he threw in his second career start was more of a testament about his opponent (the terrible Orioles) than his own stardom. He is only 28 so he’s still got plenty of time to reach his potential, but one season out of five is not a good percentage.
The one offseason acquisition in the rotation is Ryan Dempster, a 35 year old that has spent his whole career in the National League. His career record is 124-124 with a 4.33 ERA. He did get a brief whiff of the AL last year as he made 12 starts for the Texas Rangers, picking up a 5.09 ERA. He had a pretty good half-year (though injured part-time) in 2012 with the Cubs and again in 2008, but for a 15-year veteran, one and a half years isn’t much. Now jumping to the AL East, I can’t believe that he will keep that ERA below 4.80 and be better than a below-average starting pitcher.
Today in the Grapefruit League opener, John Lackey is getting his first start in 517 days since Tommy John surgery. The 517 days with the Red Sox before that were forgettable, as Lackey was the AL’s worst starting pitcher in 2011 and not much better in 2010. So what are the expectations for the 34 year old? Well, pretty low for a guy slated to earn close to $16 million. But at least he seems recovered, healthy and in better shape. Before his surgery Lackey’s strikeout-to-walk ratio had declined five straight years and he missed some starts each season, so he’s far from a certainty but at least his paycheck practically guarantees they’ll give him plenty of shots.
Felix Doubront was one of few bright spots for the Red Sox last year, although a 4.86 ERA with high walk and homer rates aren’t too bright. Doubront, 25, is a strikeout pitcher, the only Red Sox with more than 1K/inning ratio. Unfortunately, the lefty showed up to camp with a sore shoulder and out of shape for the second time in three years, so he’s not off to a good start.
Sorry, but there’s not a lot of optimism looking at this rotation in Boston, unless Lester and Buchholz both bust out with great years. And the depth is pretty poor, too. Rubby De La Rosa, the top pickup from the Dodgers in the Adrian Gonzalez/Carl Crawford deal, is recovered from Tommy John surgery (seems like everybody on the team is: Lackey, De La Rosa, Lester, Dempster, even Coach Farrell) and has impressed the staff in Spring; he will likely be called upon during the season. Franklin Morales is a lefty that will get stretched this Spring to be available as a starter. But that’s about it.
The Red Sox beefed up their bullpen, but they are still a team with a weaker lineup, low-potential rotation, and little backup for emergencies. They are in rebuilding mode, but even that is questionable as their rotation includes Dempster and Lackey in their mid-30s.
Pitching Depth: D
Biggest Strength: Jon Lester
Biggest Concern: Injury risks