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A number of ways to look at Sox

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Some issues to ponder as a slimmed-down Curt Schilling wraps up his family vacation to Disney World and prepares to head here in time for Saturday's official reporting date for Red Sox pitchers and catchers.

Schilling won 23 games for Arizona in 2002, then just 8 the next season when he was hurt. He won 21 for the Red Sox in 2004, then just 8 in 2005 when he was hurt. What are the chances Schilling will rebound and win 20 for the Sox again this season? Or, failing that, throw 200 innings?

Not very good. Schilling is 39, and in the past 25 years, only one pitcher 39 or older has won 20 games in a season. That was mushballer Jamie Moyer, who won 21 for the Mariners in 2003 at the age of 40. David Wells won 19 at age 39 in 2002, and Roger Clemens and Kenny Rogers won 18 apiece in 2004, when they were 41 and 39, respectively.

Schilling is coming off a season in which his base runners per nine innings (14.08) and hits per nine innings (11.67) were the highest of his career, and his walks per nine (2.12) were his highest since 1999.

The odds are better that Schilling could pitch 200 innings, especially if his physical condition has improved to the degree he has told manager Terry Francona and teammates that it has. Five pitchers at least as old as Schilling threw at least 200 innings last season: Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux (225 apiece), Tom Glavine, Clemens, and Moyer.

So, we've been told it's unfair to compare Coco Crisp with Johnny Damon. But let's be unfair: Tell us how Crisp, who turned 26 in November, compared when Damon was Crisp's age.

Pretty favorably, actually.

Here's Damon's line at 25: 644 games, 2,402 at-bats, 368 runs, 680 hits, 114 doubles, 37 triples, 49 homers, .283 average, .423 slugging, .765 OPS.

Here's Crisp: 415 games, 1,626 at-bats, 235 runs, 467 hits, 90 doubles, 14 triples, 35 homers, .287 average, .424 slugging, .756 OPS.

And if you really want a positive projection, consider this: Damon, who had played one more full season than Crisp (four to three), had a breakout season at 26, when he put up the best numbers of his career in batting average, runs, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage.

OK, as long as you're playing the comparison game, we keep hearing how 25-year-old Josh Beckett reminds people of another fireballing Texan, Roger Clemens. How did they compare at the same age?

The Rocket was a two-time 20-game winner and a Cy Young Award winner at 25. Clemens, who turned 26 in August 1988, won 78 games, 37 more than Beckett, whose 15 wins last season were a career high.

But look at some of their other numbers, and you can understand why they're in the same conversation. Hits per nine innings: Beckett 7.82, Clemens 7.62. Strikeouts per 9: Beckett 8.97, Clemens 8.60. Walks per nine: Beckett 3.30, Clemens 2.43. ERA: Beckett 3.46 (league average 4.25), Clemens 3.05 (league average 4.18). Clemens never had the blister problems Beckett did, however.

We keep hearing about how much better the Sox' defense will be. How bad was it, how much does it matter, and how much better is it?

The Red Sox ranked 22d in the major leagues in fielding percentage last season (.982), and only six teams made more errors than the Sox, who committed 109. Of those six teams, four -- the Rockies, Pirates, Devil Rays, and Royals -- lost 95 or more games. Only the Brewers, who finished at .500, won as many games as they lost.

Then again, the 2004 Sox made even more errors (121) and won the World Series, though if Theo Epstein hadn't pulled the trigger on trades for Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz at the trading deadline, it's unlikely the Sox would have advanced that far.

Until catcher Jason Varitek won a Gold Glove last season, the last Sox player to be honored was Tony Pena, also a catcher, in 1991. The Red Sox this season will have a Gold Glover at third base in Mike Lowell, a six-time Gold Glover in backup first baseman J.T. Snow, and a Gold Glover by reputation in shortstop Alex González, so they should do a better job on defense.

Keith Foulke had a 5.91 ERA last season, which would have ranked next-to-last among American League relievers -- ahead of only Travis Harper of the Devil Rays (6.75) -- if Foulke had pitched enough innings to qualify. Is it unrealistic to believe he could be an effective closer again?

Francona says he's coming into camp assuming that Foulke is the closer. The best-case precedent for the Red Sox could be Jose Mesa, who was awful with the Phillies in 2003, when he had an ERA of 6.52, then saved 43 games with a 3.25 ERA the next season. A change of scenery was involved, however: Mesa's comeback year came with the also-ran Pirates.

If Foulke falters, look for the Sox to turn to Jonathan Papelbon or Mike Timlin, although Timlin's superb work as a closer at the end of last season might not translate to a full season at his age. Timlin turns 40 next month; only three times has a pitcher saved 30 or more games past the age of 40: Dennis Eckersley in 1996 (30) and '97 (36) for St. Louis, and Doug Jones for Milwaukee (36) in '97.

The Sox took great pains to upgrade their bullpen, adding veterans Julian Tavarez, Rudy Seanez, and David Riske, and ex-Cubs prospect Jermaine Van Buren, which should allow kids such as Manny Delcarmen and Craig Hansen to start in Triple A. Lenny DiNardo figures to be the lefty in the pen, although the Sox have brought in four nonroster lefties, including Craig Breslow, to challenge. The bullpen was in obvious need of an upgrade: The team's relief ERA of 5.15 was the worst in the AL, and exceeded in the majors only by the Diamondbacks (5.40).

Bill Mueller, Johnny Damon, Kevin Millar, Mike Myers, and Doug Mirabelli proved they knew how to be part of a winning team. Why should I think the same about the new guys? Their pedigrees.

Beckett, Lowell, and Gonzalez all have World Series rings won when they were with the Marlins. Loretta and Seanez went to the playoffs last season with the Padres. Snow went to a World Series with the Giants, Tavarez with the Cardinals, and Crisp won 93 games last season with the Indians. No team in the wild-card era has won more games and failed to make the playoffs.

Who is more likely to be with the Sox at the end of the season, David Wells or Jamie Vermilyea? And by the way, just who is Jamie Vermilyea?

The guess here is that Vermilyea will be here, with Wells getting his wish and being traded this spring. Vermilyea was the Sox' pick in the December Rule 5 draft, taken from Toronto when the Blue Jays didn't place him on their 40-man roster. The Sox either have to keep him on the roster or return him to the Jays, and as the Sox proved last season with Adam Stern, they like to hold on to their Rule 5 picks.

Vermilyea has this going for him, too: He pitched a perfect game in his Double A debut June 28, 2004, for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, and retired 41 straight batters before allowing a hit.

Manny?

Batting fourth and playing left field.

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