It’s tough to get a handle on what to expect from Felix Doubront.
On the one hand, the Red Sox lefty is only 26, and by all accounts, came to spring training last month in much better shape than the tub that arrived in Fort Myers last year, both good reasons why the team hopes the Venezuelan may be primed for a breakout season in 2014
On the other hand, wasn’t he primed for such a campaign in 2013 as well?
Clearly, Doubront’s potential emergence trailed significantly to the “John Lackey Redemption”
public relations releases journalistic profiles that dominated last spring’s headlines, but he did receive his fair amount of hype, poised to be the X-factor for the upcoming season, as Koji Uehara sat in the wings, his closing dominance yet to be unearthed. A year later, there’s still buzz surrounding Doubront, who pitched two scoreless innings in Sunday’s start against the Orioles, but with the team coming off a World Series victory, and questions surrounding center field, the left side of the infield, behind the plate, and the unfair expectation of whether or not Uehara can repeat his otherworldly performance, what Doubront may be able to bring to the rotation is something of a tabled debate.
In his first four seasons with Boston, Doubront is 24-18, with a 4.62 ERA, but has been as inconsistent as the current season of “Shameless.” For two straight years, Doubront has posted 11-win seasons (In 2012, his win total accounted for 16 percent of his team’s final mark), and has been given every chance to prove himself as a starter, a slot essentially handed to him this spring after Ryan Dempster’s semi-retirement. He started off 2013 going 3-0, then didn’t win again until June 1. He went through a four-game stretch of no-decisions in June, despite that month kicking off his strongest stretch yet in a Red Sox uniform.
During the summer months, Doubront went 7-4 with a 2.97 ERA, greatly picking up the slack after Clay Buchholz missed significant time after his son slept on him. The lefty allowed three of fewer runs over 13 straight starts until he gave up six against the Yankees on Aug. 14. He then allowed four or more runs in three of his final six starts of the regular season, and whined about John Farrell relegating him to the bullpen for the playoffs. All he did in that role was allow one earned run over seven innings of postseason work, including his memorable performance in the Game 4 win over the Cardinals in the World Series.
This season, he’s being given every chance to grasp permanent hold of the rotation as the No. 4 starter behind Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Buchholz (until his annual disabled list trip, of course). Jake Peavy is penciled in as the current No. 4, but that all depends on how many times the hurler decides to slice open his non-throwing hand.
In fact, Doubront is considered such an integral part of the rotation that Brandon Workman, who impressed with a 2.45 ERA over three starts until Peavy was acquired last summer, may begin the season in Triple-A Pawtucket until he’s needed for the bullpen, or the starting rotation, where reality dictates slots will open sooner rather than later based on Buchholz’s injury history, and the wild card that can be Peavy, unimpressive in postseason starts against the Tigers and Cardinals. In fact, Doubront’s 16 quality starts last season were third on the team behind Lester’s 20 and Lackey’s 19. He had as many quality starts as CC Sabathia, who made $23 million in New York last season. He had two more than the 17-4 Matt Moore, who finished ninth in AL Cy Young voting.
According to Baseball Reference’s similarity scores, Doubront is most similar to Bob Ojeda at the same age. When he was 26, Ojeda went 12-12 with a 3.99 ERA for the Red Sox, which seems like a typical Doubront season thus far. Of course, two years later, he was 18-5 for the Mets and finished fourth in the National League Cy Young voting. Is it crazy to suggest that Doubront could be line for a similar 18-win campaign in 2014?
Based on his pitching repertoire, nope. The major question that needs to be addressed is his maturity and physical state of affairs, both of which seem to have taken a 180 this spring. With Lackey signed only through next season (and frankly, whether or not he wants to pitch for the league minimum or simply retire should be a story line worth watching), Peavy up after the season, and only a resigned Lester and Buchholz regarded as mainstays in the rotation, Doubront has a chance to cement his spot in Boston, as Allen Webster, Brandon Workman, Rubby De La Rosa, Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo, and Henry Owens await in the shadows of the 95 Express to McCoy.
But does he want to be a mainstay? Or does his attitude suggest that he’s a guy who will be merely decent until pay day arrives? He’s arbitration-eligible after this season, due to be a free agent in 2018, when he’ll be 30. If he’s indeed going to emerge, 2014 is the year to begin.
His talent is unmistakable. His willingness seems another matter.
Seemed, at least. And that just might be the brightest spot of Boston’s camp thus far.