This week, at the midpoint of the Red Sox’ season, we began to examine how the high hopes of the preseason have given way to a much harsher reality. Each day, we’ll focus on a specific area. Today, we’ll continue with the starting pitchers.
Note: Statistical information is at the conclusion of 84 games. Next
March: He’s a former first-rounder, a two-time All-Star, and he has ace-like stuff, yet he’s Boston’s fifth starter. Why? He can’t stay healthy. Maybe this makes the most sense for the 29-year-old Buchholz. The righty was electric to begin 2013 and finished with a 12-1 record and 1.74 ERA in 16 starts, but he also dealt with neck and shoulder woes and had countless critics questioning his toughness. In the playoffs, he took a step back, struggling in three of four starts and not making it beyond the fourth inning of the other. It’s inevitable his numbers will inflate at least a little in 2014, but hopefully not by three runs like in 2012. This spring, he’s started five games and flashed a 2.84 ERA, which feels about right for his potential when healthy. At the back-end of the rotation, he should benefit from extra days off and rest. For a guy who should be the team’s second starter, he ought to be the best No. 5 in baseball.
Midpoint: Or, Buchholz’s ERA will jump by five runs like it did in 2008 and he’ll be terrible no matter his place in the rotation. Needless to say, an injury-plagued but All-Star level 2013 did not carry over to this season for the confidence-challenged starter. Buchholz is 3-4 with a 6.22 ERA over 12 starts. His 6.1 strikeouts per nine innings match a career-low, while his 12.3 hits allowed per nine are a new high. Early in the year, his velocity was down, his command was unpredictable and he almost never made it out of the sixth inning – if he made it that far at all. After a miserable May in which he suffered through a 7.40 ERA in five appearances, a hyperextended left knee – code for “anything for a mental break” – landed Buchholz on the disabled list for nearly a month.
Second-Half: If the struggling Red Sox are going to make any sort of run toward the playoffs, they’ll need Buchholz to be a key cog in that success. In two starts since returning from the DL, Buchholz has a 3.29 ERA over 13 2/3 innings. Of the five runs he’s allowed, four have come via the long-ball. Most significant, the pitcher has yet to walk a batter. He’s been very vocal about his new-found confidence, comfort on the mound, and how much the break helped. Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment, but I’m expecting Buchholz to have an ERA just south of 4 in the months ahead – and the kind of physical reliability that won’t result in another 15-plus day absence. Next
Rubby De La Rosa
March: N/A (Honing his skills in Pawtucket.)
Midpoint: The flame-throwing 25-year-old has enjoyed five starts for Boston, going 2-2 with a 2.51 ERA and a slim 1.021 WHIP and 8.4 strikeouts per nine over 32 1/3 innings. De La Rosa’s two starts against the Tigers and Orioles were sub-par (6.35 ERA in 11 1/3 innings), but he’s been sensational in three others versus the Rays, Twins and A’s (0.43 ERA in 21 innings). At the least, he can be relied upon to reach the sixth inning and throw 100 pitches each time out.
Second-Half: The only reason De La Rosa is in Pawtucket right now is because he’s the victim of a numbers game. These things tend to work themselves out, so bank on the righty’s demotion to be brief. In a season filled with negatives, many of the prospects provide a light at the end of the tunnel and De La Rosa is no exception. His acquisition from the Dodgers in that 2012 blockbuster should prove to be yet another coup in the deal and he’s bound to get at least a handful of additional starts the rest of the way to keep showing it. Next
March: Along with Jon Lester, Doubront gives the Red Sox the ability to have two dominant southpaws in their rotation. Fortunately, unlike last season, the 26-year-old arrived to camp in shape, which puts him a few steps ahead of where he began last April. Doubront was 11-6 with an improved 4.32 in his second full year in the rotation, but he also enjoyed a 19-start stretch with a 2.99 ERA from May to August. In the postseason, he was almost flawless as a reliever with a 1.29 ERA in four appearances, but he openly didn’t want to be in the bullpen. So, safe to say he’s breathing easier with Ryan Dempster out of the picture. Doubront should continue to trend in a positive direction in 2014.
Midpoint: Alas, it doesn’t always work out that way. Like Clay Buchholz, Doubront spent about a month on the shelf. In his case, it was a left shoulder strain. In all, the starter-turned-back-to-reliever is 2-4 in 11 appearances (10 starts). Doubront’s 4.99 ERA, 1.471 WHIP, and 4.0 walks per nine innings are all in line with his career averages (4.66 ERA, 1.457 WHIP, 4.0 BB/nine). Again disgruntled, he’s back in the ‘pen, where he’s made one flawless two-inning appearance. It was the only outing in which Doubront has held an opponent off the board all year.
Second-Half: Doubront is young, lefthanded, affordable ($586,000), and under the Sox’ control until 2018 – yet it feels his time in Boston may be nearing an end. While the flashes of brilliance were certainly there in 2013, Doubront has yet to build on that success this season and he’d be a logical trade chip for a much-needed bat come the July 31 trade deadline. If he stays, he could be an effective reliever but, at this point, he’s no longer a desirable option in the rotation with arms like Brandon Workman and Rubby De La Rosa emerging. Next
March: The 11-year vet may have completely altered his eventual Boston legacy in 2013 when he bounced back from Tommy John surgery to be the Sox’ most consistent starter from beginning to end, and then capped his redemption tour by outdueling Justin Verlander in the ALCS and pitching in three World Series games. That being said, it’s almost impossible not to expect a regression from Lackey in 2014. The motivation to prove his doubters wrong couldn’t possibly be what it was a year ago when he rarely had a bad outing. That doesn’t mean he’ll be the guy with a 5.26 ERA in his first two years for Boston; he just probably won’t be the same one who walked off the mound a champion last October.
Midpoint: If Lackey has regressed from last season, it’s been in about the slightest ways imaginable. Once again, the veteran has arguably been Boston’s most consistent starter, though he’s run into some trouble in his last two outings against the Mariners and Yankees (11.42 ERA in 8 2/3 innings). Prior, he’d had a 2.27 ERA over 11 starts and 79 1/3 frames. Overall, Lackey is 9-4 with a 3.62 ERA in 112 innings and his 4.32 strikeout-to-walk ratio is far and away a career-best.
Second-Half: Why doubt Lackey now? In all likelihood, the All-Star hopeful will finish the year with double-digit wins (a guarantee, barring injury) and an ERA in the mid-3’s for the second straight healthy season. The most interesting story involving Lackey is his future. Because of the injury clause in his contract, he’s slated to pitch in Boston for $500,000 next season. Some have speculated Lackey would rather retire or go earn big money in Japan, while Red Sox management has expressed a public belief he’ll stay and honor his contract. The more likely scenario is Lackey will receive a new deal from the Sox, whether that’s financially back-loaded on its additional term or a completely new contract starting in 2015 for multiple years. Next
March: With a new contract in focus, the Red Sox postseason ace hasn’t looked this locked in since October. In three spring starts, the 30-year-old has allowed one run in 12 2/3 innings, good for a 0.71 ERA. Lester endured an awfully rocky stretch from September 2011 through the entire 2012 campaign, and then an ugly six-week stretch in the middle of last year. However, the southpaw was among the best hurlers in the game in the second half with a 7-2 record and 2.57 ERA before improving by the round against the Rays, Tigers, and Cardinals in the playoffs. Lester is expected to reach his new and very lucrative deal early in the year, if not prior, and that commitment will put 2014 under the microscope like no other. He’ll have to be strong and consistent from start to finish. I’m not sure about future seasons, but I’d expect he’s up for the task in this one.
Midpoint: To little surprise, Lester is in the midst of what could wind up being the best year of his career. At the moment, he’s 9-7 after receiving little run support, but boasts personal-bests with a 2.92 ERA and 1.184 WHIP, 2.3 walks per nine innings, and a 3.97 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 17 starts spanning 114 innings. Like John Lackey, he’s been a model of consistency; in his case, he’s good for one tough start a month amidst several great ones. However, he still doesn’t have that new contract.
Second-Half: As Lester inches closer and closer to free agency, he’s gotten hotter and hotter. Over his last seven starts, the Red Sox are 6-1 while Lester has produced a 2.30 ERA. There are rumors of contract negotiations starting up again between the ace and club, but nothing concrete. At this point, the Sox will have to pay a handsome ransom to keep one of their homegrown talents on the staff. The team might consider dealing him in the next month if the price starts to look exorbitant, but the seller’s mentality is generally foreign to the Red Sox so don’t expect it. Lester will ride out the season doing exactly what he’s doing and get paid a hefty sum come the winner, hopefully by his current bosses. Next
March: The soon to be 33-year-old former Cy Young winner hasn’t exactly been a model of health in recent years, but slicing open his finger in a fishing incident was a new one. Fortunately, Peavy is recovered. He went 4-1 with a 4.04 ERA over 10 starts after changing Sox last season, plus a disappointing playoff performance. If that mentality of having something to prove drives Peavy as it did John Lackey in 2013, the Red Sox will be in great shape. Personally, I’m expecting more of the same – some hiccups, injuries, and an ERA in the low-4’s.
Midpoint: Regarding ERA, close enough; Peavy’s at 4.82 in his 17 starts and 104 2/3 innings. The good news is he’s stayed healthy. The shock here is that the long-time National Leaguer is a paltry 1-7. In his defense, Peavy has allowed two runs or fewer on seven occasions, most of which should have led to W’s, but only one against the Blue Jays way back on April 25 achieved the feat. The season got particularly rocky in June when Peavy went 0-5 and the Sox lost all six of his starts as he produced a 5.40 ERA.
Second-Half: If the Red Sox do start selling off parts later this month or after the non-waiver trade deadline in August, don’t be shocked if Peavy is one of them. He’ll be a free agent at the end of the year and could provide starting depth for a contender, much the same way he did when Boston acquired him around this time last year. Now, though, assume a return to the NL, where he’s had the vast majority of his success. Whether he stays or goes, the numbers should be about the same. Maybe even with a couple more wins. Next
March: The 25-year-old Workman is projected to be a member of the rotation for years to come, though he’ll start 2014 in the bullpen. As a rookie, he had no problem fanning batters but struggled with his control, accounting for a 3.13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 41 2/3 frames spanning 20 games – and just three starts. Workman hit his stride in the postseason when he silenced those critical of his late-game performances with 8 2/3 innings in which he surrendered just one unearned run. He’ll have to trim the number of hits he allows, but he’ll be a go-to spot-starting option and should have a strong first full year in the majors.
Midpoint: It hasn’t been a full year in the majors, but Workman has mostly excelled during his time with the big club. Entering Wednesday’s loss to the Cubs, the hard-throwing righty was 1-1 with a 3.27 ERA in nine outings (six starts). In virtually the same number of innings as in 2013 (41.1 vs. 41.2), Workman allowed fewer hits (30 vs. 44), runs (15 vs. 23), walks (14 vs. 15), and homers (4 vs. 5). His WHIP was a far superior 1.065. The only downside is his strikeout totals, which dipped from 10.2 per nine innings to 7.2. Workman also missed the better part of two weeks after being suspended for throwing at the Rays’ Evan Longoria.
Second-Half: With Felix Doubront in the bullpen, the Red Sox have made room for Workman. His place there should be solidified, barring prolonged struggles, and he should continue to deliver. At worst, I’d project a second-half ERA around 4.50 as teams around the league get additional looks at the youngster. Back to the beginning
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