Monday, April 26, 2010

I’ll Take the Fifth?

Once again, the Sox are faced with the decision on fifth starter. This was quite a debate during spring training, even though I thought it was a pretty easy call. The Sox avoided the whole issue by starting Daisuke Matsuzaka on the DL. Still, some people were surprised to see Wakefield in the 4th spot, with Buchholz in the final slot. That would seem to imply that the Sox had Clay on the hot seat, primed for bullpen duty once Dice came back. That’s why I was surprised to see comments and stories lately saying how Wake was destined to the bullpen. I didn’t think
that the Sox would have changed their mind so quickly. Last night I finally heard that the Sox hadn’t actually made that announcement officially. So, I’m left wondering what level of “official” it is. (Of course, by the time you read this, they’ve probable held a press conference making me look like an idiot.) If it’s the way it will be, I’m also left wondering when Sox management decided they were morons. There are really two questions to look over. Which pitcher, Wake or Buchh, is the better starter, and which pitcher is the better reliever. Let’s tackle the first question first.

Each pitcher pitched very well in their last start, after being less impressive previously. I did see one thing, though, that showed me yet again that Clay not quite ready for the rotation, while Wake is. Clay has a bit too much Derek Lowe in him. Lowe was the master of the unearned runs. Derek was great at getting two outs, and having an error committed behind him. He would then proceed to give up 36 straight hits, with 15 home runs. None of those runs would be earned, though, so his numbers looked great at the end of the day. Looking back, he’d go 5 innings, giving up one run, and you’d think he had a decent day. And, it would be mostly true. It wasn’t his fault that the Sox didn’t get that third out. But, at some point, doesn’t he need to be accountable for the mountain of hits he did allow? The same thing just happened to Clay. The Sox made an error in the field behind him, extending the inning. But, he didn’t stop it there. He buckled, and gave up a slew of unearned runs. Those runs still count. Contrast that with Wake’s game Sunday. The first two batters reach on an error. (Yes, one was later reversed, but you get the point) Right off the bat, runners are at first and second with nobody out, through no fault of his own. Did Wake collapse? Nope. He just went ahead and got the next three guys. I imagine two things would have happened had Clay been on the mound Sunday afternoon. First, the inning would have been an hour longer because of the throws to first base. Second, at least one of those runners would have come home. Wakefield looks more capable of being a starting pitcher to me.

The question of who belongs in the pen is also an easy one. The Sox bullpen needs help. They don’t need a long guy. They need someone who can come into the game in the eighth inning and get outs. I’m sure both pitchers would be able to do that. But, as Wake has often pointed out, the knuckleball sometimes doesn’t knuckle. Sometimes it goes in straight, and leaves the park. If that happens in the second inning, I’m fine with that. If it happens with a one-run lead in the eighth, that’s a problem. I don’t want Wake’s flutterball coming into a close game late. I’d much rather have a guy like Buchholz in that situation. With a guy on third and a small lead, at least I think Clay can concentrate on getting the ball down. He can bear down to keep the run from scoring. Wake just hopes his ball moves. Looks to me like Clay is better suited for the pen.

Frankly, Wakefield has simply earned the right to start. And, no, there isn’t a player who should have a spot he’s not good enough to have. But, this isn’t the case. Wakefield was an all-star last year for cripes sake. For all he’s done for the team, he deserves that shot at 200 wins with the Sox. If Clay wants that fifth slot, he needs to pitch so well that it’s not a question. I don’t care that he’s the starter of the future. He’s not there yet. I’m not about to say that it’s fair to Clay. But, that’s the way it goes sometimes. He’ll be in the ‘pen until another starter gets hurt, or he gets traded. Which, by the way, is the only reason having Clay in the fifth spot makes any sense. If they told Wake, look, we need to trade the kid. He has no value until he can pitch. So, we’re going to have him start the next three weeks. Once San Diego sees him consistently in the rotation, we can trade him away. Then, the spot is yours again.

Provided the kid pitches well this month.

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