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Eric Wilbur's Sports Blog

'Bad Luck' is Becoming a Tired Excuse for Jake Peavy's Ineffectiveness

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What do the Red Sox have in Jake Peavy?

Is he the bad luck starter in desperate need of offensive support from a Red Sox lineup that scores runs with the rarity of winning the Nobel Peace Prize? Or is he simply a 33-year-old pitcher on the backside of his career, having one of his worst seasons at the worst possible time?

It’s a little bit of both, I suppose. But at some point, when you’re 1-5, and we’re almost into July, “bad luck” doesn’t pass muster anymore.

Peavy took the loss in Oakland Thursday night, when the Red Sox fell to the A’s, 4-2. The Red Sox starter pitched 6 1/3 innings allowing three earned runs on five hits. Peavy gave up three walks, the most he’d allowed since May 7. The free passes that posed such a problem for Peavy earlier this season (he walked 24 batters over his first seven starts) have been much less so as of late, yet Peavy has not recorded a win since April 25 at Toronto. He's a free agent at the end of the season, and Boston's hopes of squeezing whatever performance that may entail in either securing another division title or finding the right, competitive buyer for his services by the July 31 trading deadline are fading faster than the hurler's impromptu decision to buy a Duck Boat last fall.

Peavy hasn't been awful in 2014, but at what point can we end the nonsense that he's been on the short end of fortune?

His performance in Oakland should do the trick.

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The defense in the matter will point out that this was Peavy's ninth quality start of the season, which means that 60 percent of the time he's taken the hill, he's been good enough for the Red Sox to win. And yet, the Sox are only 5-15 in Peavy starts, a factor that we can, somewhat, rightfully blame on an anemic offense. In his last five starts, Red Sox bats have awarded Peavy a total of seven runs, or an average of 1.75 per game. A 1999 Pedro Martinez would have trouble winning behind that pathetic output.

But if we are to blame the offense, where's the liability in the fact that Peavy is a whole 5-5 since he arrived in Boston at the trade deadline last summer?

If there is a category in which Peavy finds himself statistically comfortable, it’s in MEFASP (Most Excuses For a Starting Pitcher), where he trails only Clay Buchholz on the Red Sox. Though unlike Buchholz (solid in a rehab start for Pawtucket on Thursday), Peavy is only the beneficiary of the machine, hardly one to wallow in mitigation.

“I don’t feel sorry for myself one bit,” he said. “I’ve got to get better and find a way to win. That’s all there is to it.”

That’s a great sentiment and all, but the clock is ticking. Boston may have found something of a groove lately (6-4 in its last 10), but it’s still 6 ½ games behind the reeling Blue Jays in the American League East. Even with a lineup better suited for the minor leagues, Jon Lester and John Lackey have each managed to win eight games this season. Why hasn’t Peavy found a way to win as many as two?

Peavy has been as frustrating a pitcher to watch in a Red Sox uniform in recent memory, and yet the party line seems to only churn out that he’s a “competitor” and “battling through his terrible eyesight.” Heck, if you trusted Friday morning’s headlines after the late West Coast start, you’d believe that the pitcher fought through another hard luck start.

In reality, he’s been Matt Young for the Red Sox, without the endless neglect.

Young’s 1992 season with Boston is often mocked, but at least the lefty had a 0.1 WAR (I know, splitting hairs) that season and threw a “no-hitter.” Peavy is a 0.4 WAR as it stands today, and is treated as if he’s a lovable Charlie Brown. Hell, upon Young’s release in 1993, Dan Shaughnessy called Lou Gorman’s acquisition “the worst free agent signing in baseball history.” Granted, that was before Edgar Renteria, Julio Lugo, Jose Offerman…

At age 24, Baseball Reference compares Peavy’s similarity score to Pedro. At age 32, it’s Josh Beckett.

Shudder.

Oh, right. There’s also the matter of Peavy’s eyesight, which he has said is something like 20/200 without corrective lenses. Hey, join the club. But here’s an idea, take the Duck Boat, one if by Storrow, two if by the Charles, and take a trip to Mass. Eye and Ear, where they have glasses and contact lenses. I know, 2014. Right?

OK, that’s unfair. Take it from someone who reads the third line down as he’s playing “Wheel of Fortune.” But bad eyesight is nothing new for Peavy. Here is this example from a 2007 Sports Illustrated profile:

Peavy burned his way through the minors in 3 1/2 years thanks to a polished repertoire that includes a high-90s fastball, an 88-mph slider, a low-80s changeup and an occasional mid-70s curve. In 2004 and '05, his second and third full seasons in the majors, he was 28--13 with a 2.61 ERA and struck out more than a batter per inning. Last year, however, he slipped to 11--14 with a 4.06 ERA as he battled tendinitis in his right shoulder. "I just could not kick it," he says.
There was another reason for the regression: Peavy's worsening eyesight. Without contacts or glasses, all Peavy sees is "a big blur of colors," but his eyesight is correctable with the right prescription contacts. He shrugs off his deficiency--"It's just something I've dealt with for a long time, something I've gotten used to and something I'll just have to continue to deal with"--but it became so bad last season that teammates believe he often couldn't see the catcher's signs. (In high school, Peavy's catchers always wore white tape around their fingers.) Peavy was given a new prescription in spring training of 2006, but it wasn't until August that he got new lenses. Perhaps not accidentally, he was 5--3 with a 2.85 ERA over the last month and a half of the season.

So, let’s get this straight. Eight years ago, Peavy was given a prescription that he filled five months later? In 2007, he went 19-6 and won the National League Cy Young Award. He hasn’t won more than 12 games in a season since. Like, maybe time for a checkup?

And can we at least get him some glasses that aren’t of the rose-colored variety?

Peavy hasn’t been good, but he’s been good enough to not lose his job in the starting rotation. Even Anthony Young was decent enough to trot out there every five days even as he lost 27 consecutive decisions for the Mets and Cubs over three seasons.

Young made 13 quality starts over those games, but at some point the “bad luck” excuse got tiring.

We’ve reached that point with Peavy in 2014, as well.


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