Sunday, March 13, 2011

Is it a Rotation, or a Revolution?

It’s just a thought. “Rotate” means to spin about an axis. “Revolution” means to complete a course by a succession of similar events. Oh well. I thought it would be fun to do a quick preview of the various parts of the 2011 Red Sox. I figured a good place to start would be the starting rotation.

I make this comparison a lot. But, only because it’s so appropriate and fun. In 1999 the Red Sox lost the ALCS. Here are the pitchers who made starts for them in the playoffs. Pedro Martinez, Bret Saberhagen, Ramon Martinez, and Kent Mercker. Really? Mercker was actually the starter for game 1 of the ALCS. How can you not be excited about this year’s crop of pitchers? Sure, Pedro was the best pitcher ever. But, if I were ranking the nine pitchers, after Pedro I’d take this year’s rotation in the next five spots. Beckett-Lester-Buchholz-Lackey-Matsuzaka. It’s certainly a thought for the rest of the league to shudder over.

Beckett is the clear ace of the staff. You can argue whether or not he’s the best pitcher. He may not start on Opening Day. But, if you’re looking for the guy who is the leader of the staff, it’s him. He’s the trendsetter. Everyone else plays off him. It may be an MVP/Player of the Year distinction. But, it’s all about Beckett. Unfortunately, he’s coming off a rough year. But, there are still plenty reasons for hope. First. He was clearly injured last season. He struggled though many starts when he didn’t have his best stuff. It was the inconsistence that was unusual to see from #19. While assuming a pitcher will be completely healthy for an entire year is always a risky idea, it’s not a crazy one. Frankly, unless it’s a 40-year old pitcher with a history of arm trouble, you have to assume healthiness. Otherwise these predictions are meaningless. So, if Beckett is healthy, is that enough? Probably. He’s a proud pitcher. He won’t want to be the third best pitcher on the staff. I expect him to work his tail off to keep up with the youngsters. Will he throw another 2007 season up there? Probably not. I’m not bold enough to predict that. But, should we expect a repeat of his 17-6, 3.86 2009 season? That certainly sounds reasonable. And, I suspect, we’d all love to see that.

If Beckett isn’t the ace, it’s John Lester. The organization has always had high hopes for Lester. He has slowly emerged as a reliable starter the last couple years. As he enters his 27-year old season, the sky is the limit. With the line-up the Red Sox have, and the bullpen behind him, 20 wins should be within reach this year for Lester. Of all the starters, it’s Lester that I feel comfortable knowing what I’m going to get.

Not quite so with Clay Buchholz. He has every ounce of talent that Lester has. He can dominate a game, or stretch of games. But, he only put it all together last year. Only seven months younger than Lester, he was beginning to run out of time. But, he managed to have it click last season. He finished the season second in the league in ERA, almost a run better than Lester, and just a tick off of the lead. That produced a fantastic 17-win season. Which just leaves the one question for Clay. Was last season a progression, or a fluke? I’m expecting a slight slip down as the rest of the league realizes who he is. But a 15-win season should be expected.

What to expect from John Lackey? If only I had any idea. I do know one thing. He’s probably the best number four guy in the league. But, is that a compliment? He had a rough season in Boston. Was it an adjustment to a new city and team? Probably. People don’t just forget how to pitch. I do think people confused “best available” with “best” when they talked about the Lackey signing. Just because he was a key free agent pitcher last off-season doesn’t mean he is a classic ace. With a year under his belt, a more normal season should be on the way.

If Lackey is the best #4 guy, Daisuke Matsuzaka has to be the best #5, right? Once again, though, I have no idea what that will mean. Anybody remember when Dice-K went 18-6 with a 2.90 ERA? I didn’t think so. But, given the ups and downs of his career, would anyone be really shocked? I didn’t think so. Ten wins from your fifth starter is a nice number, and Dice should have that number with room to spare.

Just because predictions are fun:

Beckett 18-7, 3.78
Lester 21-6, 2.93
Buchholz 16-8, 3.10
Lackey 15-9, 3.87
Matsuzaka 13-7, 4.36


  1. I pretty much agree with everything in this post, but don't forget how great Sabes was for us in '99.

    Oh and Dice was 18-3, not 18-6.

  2. You think Lackey is going to have the same season as Lackey? That is down right scary.

  3. I'd take Roy Oswalt at #4 over Lackey in a heartbeat. Lackey is pretty solid, though.


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