Thursday, March 27, 2008

Season Preview: Part 3

The final look ahead, as I discuss the pitching staff.
Josh Beckett - #1 Starter Some teams have a number one starter because somebody has to go first. Last year, Beckett became a true number one. He showed that he was somebody you could count on to win you games. He was one start out of five that you didn’t need to worry about. (He wasn’t ’99 Pedro, but nobody is) He was simply put, an ace. The Sox will need to get another season like that out of him, especially since the drop from #1 to #2 is a little larger than it has been in a few years. That’s why the early back trouble is worrisome. Hopefully he’ll be ready to go with no ill effects. Otherwise, the Sox are in big trouble.
Daisuke Matsuzaka - #2 Starter. Dice-K probably would have been the #2 starter, even with a healthy Curt Schilling. But, the loss of Curt cements it. And, for a number two, Dice-K’s not too bad. He won 15 games last year, while still adjusting to the enormous changes of the move from Japan. He’s a better pitcher than he showed last year, much like Beckett was a better pitcher than he showed in ’06. While I’m not ready to predict a 20 season for Matsuzaka, I’d certainly expect high teens. If you look at some of the numbers, his K/9 innings, K/BB, and HR/9 innings compare favorably to pitchers like Justin Verlander, or Erik Bedard. Not exactly bad company for a rookie. His ERA may have been high, but that’s not exactly a real stat anyway. I’ll take what we got from him last year as a great place to build from. And remember, the Sox only got 9 wins from Curt Schilling out of the 2-spot last year.
Tim Wakefield - #3 Starter The last three spots in the rotation probably don’t mean much. they’re fairly interchangeable. But, I like Timmy as a connection to the youngsters. With any 41-year old pitcher, the big question is health. No matter what people say, a knuckleballer can’t pitch forever. But, can he pitch another year or two? probably. If he recovered properly from last year’s shoulder and back issues, he’s a perfect number three guy. I wouldn’t expect the 17 wins he got last year. But, if healthy, another 10+ isn’t out of the question. Ask around the league and ask if the other teams expect more than 10 wins from their #3.
Jon Lester - #4 Starter Lester’s a big question mark. But, are there any #4 starters that aren’t? Check out the NY teams, for instance. Obviously, Lester has the stuff to be great. The only questions is whether, at 24, he can harness it. And if, again at 24, the Sox let him pitch the innings needed to do so. Simply put, the Yankees #4 starter is probably Mike Mussina. I’d just as soon have Lester.
Clay Buchholz - #5 Starter Can we start out my agreeing that anything you get out of your number five starter is a bonus. If there’s a team out there with an above average number five guy, they’re wasting their money. So, I can’t bring myself to analyze Buchholz too much. Everyone seems to agree he’s an ace in waiting. He’s just not quite there yet at 23. So, how much of the ace will show up? I’ll expect high single digit wins, with decent numbers to compliment them. He’ll probably be on a pitch/inning count, which could limit his starts. Therefore…
Bartolo Colon - #5a Starter Where did this guy come from, and where is he going? I’m guessing that since nobody wanted this guy until the middle of spring training that there can’t be much there. But, then he’s been throwing strong, if not always well, in camp. Is he the number five guy until his arm falls off in July, then bring on Clay? Is he a spot starter? Obviously, he’s not the Colon of old. But, can he be useful? I have no idea what to make of him.
Jonathan Papelbon - Closer He’s the best. If he can stay healthy, like he showed he could do last year, he will dominate. He needs a new entrance song, (once it’s been used in a movie, you can’t use it) but that’s his only flaw. Once he comes in the game, mark it off in the win column.
Hideki Okajima - Set-Up Was the surprise of the year. Thank goodness we got this guy to make Dice-K more comfortable. He may have been the most valuable pitcher on the staff. And, Tito used him enough to prove it. Oki was clearly exhausted come the playoffs. Some of the other relievers will need to be able to take some of the workload, or he’ll burn out by June. If Aardsma or Delcarman can each take 10% of his innings, that will help things out immensely.

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