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.