Can Boston Replace Dice-K In-House?

by Marc on April 12, 2011

in Red Sox

Photo courtesy of televisadeportes.esmas.com

Saying Daisuke Matsuzaka needs to be relieved of his rotation duties is easy enough, but replacing him may be more difficult. The Red Sox didn’t just go with Dice-K in the fifth spot because they felt obligated to due to his contract; the problem had more to do with the lack of alternative options for the role.

The Red Sox have options, but all of them have their own set of question marks. At this point, though, with Matsuzaka struggling as much as he has over the last few months he has pitched, Boston may need to explore one of the other questions and hope that the answers provide acceptable alternatives.

The most obvious candidate to replace Matsuzaka is the man who has done so many a time in the past. Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield has been in and out of the rotation over the past few years, pitching in whatever role or inning the Red Sox need him to based on the rest of their roster or his injury status. He is the oldest active major leaguer now that Jamie Moyer was forced to sit out with an injury, and, for that reason, he is risky as a full-time starting pitcher, too.

Wakefield is a huge injury risk, as he has suffered back problems since the 2003 season. It has been much more of an issue of late, as he has four entries in the Baseball Prospectus injury database since 2009 for his back, including back surgery this past winter to repair a herniated disc and nerve root decompression. Prospectus’s injury forecasting system, CHIPPER, understandably rates Wakefield as a high risk to miss at least 15-30 days during the 2011 campaign.

When on the mound and healthy, though, he fares well enough. From 2008-2010, Wakefield has posted an ERA+ of 99, a K/BB ratio of 1.9, and averaged just over six innings per start. That is nothing special by any means, but if he can be average or a little below, then he is doing his job  as the fifth starter. PECOTA projects him to be worth a little over a win if he were to reach the 150 inning mark.

Wakefield would need to remain healthy for that to happen, but if they can squeeze a few months worth of innings from Tim Wakefield: Starting Pitcher, then it could be worthwhile.

If Wakefield is injured–or, even before Wakefield goes in to the rotation to begin with–the team also has Alfredo Aceves. The former Yankee has had his own back injuries that have kept him off of the mound, but he has pitched very well whenever he does make it to the mound.

Aceves, in 131 2/3 career innings pitched, has an ERA+ of 142, a 2.9 K/BB ratio, 1.2 homers per nine allowed, and an ability to strike out more batters than his career rate indicates. He also has as extensive of a back injury history as Wakefield, with four entries in the database for it from 2009 to the present. That ERA isn’t going to hold up (especially if he moves to the rotation full-time) but chances are good he will out pace anything Matsuzaka puts out there–assuming he lasts the year on the mound, of course. PECOTA agrees, forecasting Aceves for a 4.10 ERA and a win worth of production in just 62 innings, and as we’ve discussed, the Rule of 17 likes Aceves as a starter as well.

As much as I would love to include Felix Doubront on the list of replacements for Matsuzaka, I don’t think it is his time just yet. He threw just 37 innings in Triple-A last year, and wasn’t so good that he is a no brainer for a big league gig. I’m a huge Doubront fan in the long-term–I think he should step in to the rotation in 2012, for instance, and I think highly of him as a potentially dominating reliever as soon as now–but I’m not convinced that letting him in the role now when he could be further refining his occasionally iffy command in Triple-A is a superior move to just letting Wakefield and Aceves duke it out as long as their backs allow them to.

One thing to remember when considering Wakefield or Aceves in the rotation over Matsuzaka is that Dice-K has his own extensive injury history. Regardless of who Boston selects for the fifth spot, there will be a high risk of injury, but if Matsuzaka is sent to the back of the line, and is allowed to pitch in the role again only after Wakefield and Aceves have had their turn, then the Red Sox will likely be better off.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

dwinspear April 12, 2011 at 9:44 am

I don’t see why people haven’t thought of the obvious. If it looks like Papelbon is back as a closer, just let Bard pitch again as a starter. Don’t torture Sox fans with more of the Wakefield melodrama. Let’s face it, the only time his knuckleball has movement on it, is when the wind is blowing out.

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Marc April 12, 2011 at 9:48 am

Bard has, for all intents and purposes, two pitches. I don’t like the idea of him as a starter. This isn’t a C.J. Wilson situation–Bard was moved to the pen for a reason.

His bringing up the idea of being a starter had more to do with the fact that being a setup man–which appears to be his gig for the next few years–pays a lot worse than closing or starting, even if you’re as good as Bard.

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BigNachos April 12, 2011 at 11:45 am

Bard was moved to the bullpen more because of control issues than lack of secondary pitches. I don’t know if he’s worked on any of those secondary pitches on the side for any of them to be major league quality though, and I’m not particularly confident in his control as a starter.

In order to stretch out Bard as a starter, he’d probably need to spend a month in the minors, which would obviously hurt the team in the short term. He’s also the most likely candidate to be closer next season since Papelbon will likely sign elsewhere as a free agent. It probably just isn’t worth trying to convert him now.

It’s probably worth noting that Andrew Miller is being used as a starter in Pawtucket. It’s a long shot, but it’s possible he’ll finally get his mechanics under control enough to move into the rotation at some point this season.

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Matt April 12, 2011 at 11:57 am

I think we have enough data to conclude Matsuzaka is not a very good pitcher, but similarly I think we know Wakefield isn’t really much of an improvement if at all. Aceves might be better if he can stay healthy, but I keep coming back to the fact that the pitching-starved Yankees dropped him for nothing. I guess three or four starts followed by an injury is better than none, but it doesn’t strike me as a long term solution.

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Lauren April 12, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Bard is NOT strong enough for the rotation.
But anything is better than Dice-K. He is not getting better.
I like the Wake option. I like any option, really. We’ve given Dice-K over a year of chances. Can’t do it anymore.

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Jake April 12, 2011 at 12:58 pm

Yeah, I just can’t think of a single argument for why we shouldn’t replace Dice-K with Aceves. I know that going into the season there were some projection systems that were weirdly optimistic about Dice-K, but is there anyone, at this point, who really thinks Aceves would be *worse*?

The only knock on Aceves as a 5th starter is his health, but as Marc is saying (only more eloquently), so what? You run him out there until he gets injured, until he stops being effective, or until the season ends. It’s not like he’s a 23-year-old prospect and we’re trying to be careful with him for the future.

In any event, it’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed a Sox game less than last night’s.

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Jim April 13, 2011 at 5:29 am

Wake is toast, Aceves would be a race between hitters solving him and him ending up on the DL and as Marc points out Dubront isn’t ready, nor is he stretched out.

The only way to replace Dice-K is to trade him and get back a reclamation project, either someone who has had success but has had a few years of struggles, say Barry Zito, or someone coming back from a serious arm injury, say Brandon Webb or Mark Prior (if he weren’t with the Yanks). In other words we’re stuck with him for at least this season.

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Marc April 13, 2011 at 11:53 am

I don’t think hitters would “figure out” Aceves–his problem has always been his health. If he could stay healthy, he would be effective. I have no questions about his ability to be average or better as a starter, given the opportunity (and a clean bill of health).

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Chris April 14, 2011 at 1:10 am

Wakefield is toast? What give you this indication? That he was hurt last year?

At the age of 45 Charlie Hough threw up a 4.27 ERA and tossed over 200 innings. At 45 Phil Niekro threw over 200 innings, had a 3.09 ERA and went 16 and 8.

A 4.50 ERA will give Tim Wakefield, a proven veteran starter a season and a half removed from being an all-star, double-digit wins this year. He is much more likely to get closer to 200 innings than Dice-K and Aceves.

A fifth start that can give you 200 innings? Ted Lilly got 10 million a year cause he simply proved he could throw 200 innings, not because he’s especially dominant.

It’s a no-brainer — Wakefield in the fifth slot.

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Joe April 13, 2011 at 11:18 am

It is way too early to consider replacing Dice-K. He is a capable pitcher, albeit, very frustrating. And two poor starts is far from enough. Lackey is doing the same thing, and no one has been calling for a replacement for him (obviously his contract allows it less). Dice-K will get going, and should be *decent* by seasons end. If nothing else, they have to give him more time. Because Wakefield looks even less appealing, at least this early.

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Marc April 13, 2011 at 11:52 am

Two things here. My preference is for Aceves over Wake, for sure. Second, I can’t speak for others, but I’m not basing it on Dice-K’s last two starts–this has been more “last straw” territory for me. I was not pleased with his finish in 2010, as he just didn’t have command of his pitches, left them in the zone (in the wrong places) too often, and was hit hard, and early, in his counts. The 6.08 ERA from August 1 onward is more of a problem for me than the two starts to begin 2011–those have more of a “ugh, this again” feel to them for me than panic.

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Chris April 14, 2011 at 1:01 am

You have to understand how to rate pitchers when you look at Wakefield. He gets innings and outs. This has a dramatic effect on the rest of the pitching staff; keeping arms fresh; avoiding injuries. Wakefield in the rotation would make the team dramatically better and save some arm strength on the rest of the club for the playoff drive. There isn’t any stat geek info that rates how a pitcher saves the rest of the team (although as a minor league ballplayer I will tell you that this is invaluable, and is talked about by management and pitchers alike during the season).

Plus, there is a reason he is 2nd on the Red Sox wins list: he’s really good. You have to look at the man’s numbers through the lens of the fact he’s been asked to ‘wear it’ for the Sox. He takes huge bullets for the pitching staff; he’s responsible for getting the 95 Sox to the playoffs and responsible for getting the 07 Sox to the World Series. He gets tossed into and out of all sorts of roles for the team not because he isn’t deserving of being a starter, but because he is capable to pitch in any role. Ask John Lackey to do that.

Wakefield was a better closer than Troy Percevil under Jimmy Williams.

Let Wakefield do what he does best; eat innings and set up the Red Sox for a 3rd title this century. He’ll at least average a quality start per outing (4.50 ERA) and won’t 5-and-dive like Dice-K.

Plus, Aceves is as good a long-man as anyone could ask for. Let these guys do what they do best.

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Bryan May 25, 2011 at 7:30 pm

Yes he is replacable. I hear there’s a promising babe ruth player who wants to pitch. Face it, Dice-K was a little league pitcher trying to pitch to pros. Didn’t work out too well. Am I the only Red Sox fan out there that greets this news as on par with the news of winning the 2004 Series? This is the best thing to happen to them. Thank god his careering might be over.

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