The Red Sox Rotating Rotation

by Matt on May 28, 2011

in Red Sox

image courtesy of Boston.com

Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey were not expected to anchor the Red Sox starting rotation this season. Five years ago? Maybe, but this season those two made up the back end of the rotation. Which isn’t to say they were finished, just that the Red Sox had a strong rotation. As with so many things in a baseball season, we think we have a good handle on it until the season starts. The old saying about how no battle plan survives contact with the enemy comes to mind.

The Red Sox had many problems at the start of the year and Matsuzaka and Lackey didn’t do much to shorten the list. Matsuzaka fashioned only two of his seven starts into what one would call good performances. Lackey’s ratio was similar though his pitching was actually worse. Two effective starts of seven, with the seventh being six innings of putrid pitching in Toronto. Both were placed on the DL shortly after.

Starting pitching depth is notoriously difficult to obtain and the Red Sox situation, while better than most, left some to be desired. Tim Wakefield and Alfredo Aceves, a 44 year old and a pitcher who was non-tendered by the pitching weak Yankees, were options six and seven. But with the ineffectiveness and subsequent injuries to the two big money starters, Wakefield and Aceves were pressed into duty.

It’s worked wonderfully. Aceves has thrown eleven innings in his two starts, giving up two runs on eight hits with four walks and eight strikeouts. In his two starts, Wakefield has thrown thirteen and two thirds innings and given up three runs on nine hits with two walks and five strikeouts. Their combined ERA, per Peter Abraham, is 1.82 over twenty-two and two thirds innings. That is the type of performance the Sox were expecting from Matsuzaka and Lackey on the days they signed the  two pitchers.

The Red Sox are a better team when John Lackey is being John Lackey and they are a better team when Daisuke Matsuzaka is being some non-nibbling, non-injured version of Daisuke Matsuzaka. Unfortunately, neither of those versions of those pitchers may ever again wear a Red Sox uniform. The likelihood is that John Lackey will be back in the rotation sometime soon. Currently he’s expected to take the June 5th start against the A’s, pending continued progress on his injured elbow. What kind of pitcher he’ll be at that point is anyone’s guess. Lackey has been dealing with numerous personal problems this season in addition to generally declining peripheral stats. Fewer strikeouts and more walks over the past few seasons as he ages is eventually a recipe for disaster for most any pitcher.

Still, if Lackey can shut out his problems while pitching, an incredibly difficult task considering what he’s dealing with at home, and overcome his injured elbow which is not letting him finish his pitches, he could approximate the pitcher the Sox need him to be this season if not the one the Sox signed him to be.

Matsuzaka is a different story. When last we heard, he was in Japan attending to personal matters and the Red Sox were, via Jeff Passan’s article at Yahoo Sports, unhappy with his effort level and continuing stubbornness. More problematic for Matsuzaka is his elbow injury, which the Beacon’s own Marc covered over at Baseball Prospectus a bit over a week ago. The end result of all this is Matsuzaka likely won’t be taking a regular fifth turn in the Red Sox rotation for several months if he ever does again.

So where does this leave the rotation? After Lackey comes back, baring an injury to another member of the rotation, either Wakefield or Aceves will have to move back to a long relief role. My guess is Aceves will find himself back in the pen based on his successes there in the past while Wakefield will remain in the rotation for a similar reason. There is also the fact that if Wakefield is starting the team can better protect Jason Varitek from having to catch him than if he comes into the game in a relief role. In any case, it’s good to know the Sox rotation fill-ins can fill in more than adequately, because it’s likely they’ll be called on again before the season ends.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark May 28, 2011 at 2:06 pm

In your opinion, how willing is Theo Epstein going to be in the future to obtain starting pitching via free agency?

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Matt May 28, 2011 at 2:49 pm

So much goes into signing a free agent, age, previous work level, previous performance levels, trendlines, off the field issues, personality, etc. It’s going to be on a case-by-case basis.

That said, younger players who make it to free agency earlier will probably always peak the Red Sox interest. For example, Felix Hernandez will be a free agent at the age of 29. If he makes it that far (which I wouldn’t put money on) I’m sure the Red Sox would be very interested.

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BigNachos May 28, 2011 at 5:56 pm

But Felix would command at least a 7 year deal if he continues pitching at his current level. Would that sort of commitment really be any better than e.g. a 31 year-old John Lackey for 5 years?

The Red Sox have been massively more successful at developing pitchers and then locking them up at below market rates (Lester, Buchholz) for their peak seasons. I’d imagine they’d be far more inclined to go that route in the future than to go for the free agent mega-deals.

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Jim May 28, 2011 at 3:15 pm

Daisuke who?

A thought experiment. If the Mariners were to make Felix available what would it take to get him and would Theo jump? My thought is that the package would need to begin with Ellsbury and Lowry with Anthony Ranaudo likely to be included also. I’m not saying I’d make the trade but simply noodling.

From MLBTR the FA starters after this season. Not much there with the exception of Sabathia, Rich Harden and Adam Wainwright. With CC you’d pay for his declining years, Harden an injury risk and Wainwright would require a contract worth more than his vesting options.

Mark Buehrle (33)
Chris Carpenter (37) – $15MM club option with a $1MM buyout
Bruce Chen (35)
Aaron Cook (33) – $11MM mutual option with a $500K buyout
Kyle Davies (28)
Ryan Dempster (35) – $14MM player option, no buyout
Justin Duchscherer (34)
Zach Duke (29) – $5.5MM club option with a $750K buyout
Jeff Francis (30)
Freddy Garcia (36)
Jon Garland (32) – $8MM club option with a $500K buyout; vests with 190 IP
Aaron Harang (34) – $5MM mutual option with a $500K buyout
Rich Harden (30)
Livan Hernandez (37)
Edwin Jackson (28)
Kenshin Kawakami (37)
Scott Kazmir (28) – $13.5MM club option with a $2.5MM buyout
Hiroki Kuroda (37)
Rodrigo Lopez (36)
Paul Maholm (30) – $9.75MM club option with a $750K buyout
John Maine (31)
Jason Marquis (33)
Kevin Millwood (37)
Sergio Mitre (31)
Scott Olsen (28) – $4MM club option with a $100K buyout
Roy Oswalt (34) – $16MM mutual option with a $2MM buyout
Brad Penny (34)
Oliver Perez (30)
Joel Pineiro (33)
C.C. Sabathia (31) – may opt out of remaining four years, $92MM
Carlos Silva (33) – $12MM mutual option with a $2MM buyout
Javier Vazquez (35)
Adam Wainwright (30) – $10MM vesting option for ’12, $12MM for ’13
Tim Wakefield (45)
Chien-Ming Wang (32)
Brandon Webb (33)
Dontrelle Willis (30)
C.J. Wilson (31)
Chris Young (33)

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Matt May 28, 2011 at 4:46 pm

The Mariners have no interest in moving Felix now. Maybe in a few years things could change, but for now there is zero chance of it happening. To indulge your question though, Jim, hypothetically, if they were to move him now they’d be doing so with an eye to the future, and my guess is Ellsbury and Lowrie, unless they were to be flipped to another team, would likely hold little interest for them. A potential Felix package would look more like this: Iglesias, Kalish, Ranaudo, Britton and maybe one or two more low A or rookie league guys. If you think that’s too much, well, you’re under-estimating the value of a 25 year old Cy Young pitcher.

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Jim May 28, 2011 at 7:28 pm

Don’t be testy, I’m just putting names out there to get some feedback. I doubt Iglesias, Kalish, Ranaudo, Britton and others would do it.

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John Hannan September 10, 2011 at 6:42 pm

you need change for Pitchers from Alfedo Aceves and Josh Beckett than Jon Lester and Daniel Bard than Matt Albers and Matt Atchison than Clay Buchholz and Franklin Moralas than Jonathan Papelbon thank you John Hannan GM for Boston red sox

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