Red Sox Rotation in Order

In case you missed it (and you probably didn’t), there was some pretty big news coming out of Fort Myers on Thursday.  According to Terry Francona via Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston, the Red Sox have determined the order of their rotation to start the season.  Here’s how the rotation will shake out to start the season.

Thursday morning, Francona announced the rest of his rotation behind Lester, who will pitch April 1 when the Red Sox open the season in Arlington, Texas, against the Texas Rangers.

Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett, and Daisuke Matsuzaka will be Nos. 2-5 at the outset, Francona said. That news did not come as a surprise to any of them. Francona said he has known for some time that this is how he wanted to line them up, but did not go public with it in the event someone got hurt.

Later in the article, Francona went into deeper detail as to how he came to his decision.

“Lackey has a way of matching up against whoever he’s pitching against,” Francona said, “whether it’s a No. 1 or No. 5, you look up in the seventh inning [and] you have a chance to win, which we really like.

“[Buchholz] did so good. I think we feel having Buck come out third just enhances our chance to win a little bit. Buck’s numbers would say he could pitch anywhere. I just think Lack’s a veteran, he’s done it, spacing [Buchholz] and Lester out, there’s something to be said for that, too.

“Lack showed up in great shape and looks ready to go. Ultimately, if they pitch like they should it’s not going to matter, and if they don’t pitch like they should, it’s not going to matter.”

Francona said the start Beckett missed after sustaining a concussion when he was struck by a batted ball in batting practice did not factor into his being slotted fourth after pitching the opener the past two seasons.

“I just think just watching the way last year unfolded we want to get him off to a good start,” he said. “We’ll pitch him in that game in Cleveland. I think that’s a good place for him to start.”

Aside from Francona’s incredibly confusing rationale, I don’t have too many problems with the order of the rotation.*  To be perfectly honest, setting the order of the rotation at the onset of the season is largely symbolic.  I know that the players, management, and some fans don’t think so, but it’s true.  People make a big deal about it because, barring injuries or suspensions, this is the only time a manager is guaranteed an opportunity to set his rotation in the exact manner he chooses.  Still, within a few weeks, the rotation will be pulled apart and reshuffled.  The number one guy will match up against the number fours from other teams; the number three will match up against other teams number ones; and so on.

* How exactly does Buchholz help the Red Sox’s chances of winning while pitching out of the number three slot?  I’m not being facetious.  I’m dead serious.  How does “spacing Buchholz and Lester out” with Lackey sandwiched in between make the Red Sox a better team?  I consider myself to be a pretty smart and savvy baseball fan, and I can’t for the life of me understand what he’s talking about.

Still, I have to admit that I’m a little surprised that Francona decided to line up Lackey at the number two spot.  Yes, I understand that Lackey is “a veteran” and “he’s done it,” but what does that really have to do with anything?  Beckett’s also a “veteran” who’s “done it.”  Furthermore, he’s made the last three two opening day starts.  Shouldn’t that count for something?  At least in theory?

I know some of you will disagree with me, but I’m not terribly impressed with Lackey as a pitcher.  Don’t get me wrong…I loved John Lackey circa 2005-2007.  He missed bats, limited walks, induced a healthy number of ground balls, and avoided home runs.  He truly was a 5-6 WAR ace.  Then he suffered from a few injuries, and hasn’t been the same since.  Much of that is due to the effectiveness of his fastball and curveball.  Prior to his injuries, both pitches were “plus” pitches, at least statistically.  Since then, those two pitches have been marginally effective, as evidenced by the table below.

2005 9.1 0.45 8.5 1.27
2006 19.1 0.96 6.6 0.88
2007 10.3 0.50 12.0 1.78
2008 -2.6 -0.18 15.6 2.66
2009 2.6 0.16 4.2 0.62
2010 -7.8 -0.38 -7.4 -1.00

* Data courtesy of Fangraphs pitch type value table.

Furthermore, when you look at his FIP, strikeout, contact, and whiff rates, the picture appears even less rosy going forward for Lackey.

FIP K/9 Contact Whiff
2005 3.10 8.57 76.5% 10.6%
2006 3.35 7.86 79.4% 9.7%
2007 3.54 7.19 80.3% 8.9%
2008 4.53 7.16 81.5% 8.6%
2009 3.73 7.09 80.3% 8.6%
2010 3.85 6.53 83.7% 7.0%

Let me start out by saying that his 2008 FIP is an outlier caused by an unusually high 15.7% HR/FB rate, so we should probably ignore his FIP for that season.  Outside of that data point, the chart shows a pretty interesting picture of Lackey.  Since 2005, Lackey’s strikeout and whiff rate have steadily decreased, while his FIP and contact rates have steadily increased. While some, including my colleague Darryl Johnston, might see a pitcher that’s due for a rebound, I see one that’s in a steady state of decline.  While Lackey’s by no means washed up, we’re much more likely to see him allow more contact, induce fewer strikeouts/whiffs, and produce a higher FIP in 2011 than 2010.  Based on my projections, I’m figuring Lackey to be the team’s fourth best starting pitcher this season–not second.

Ultimately, Francona’s decision to order the rotation in the manner he did likely comes down to the team trying to set reasonable expectations for each pitcher.  Considering Buchholz’s past mental roadblocks, I have a feeling that the team didn’t want to just hand him the role of number two starter at the onset of the season.  Even though he performed as the Red Sox’s true number two starter last year, it appears as if they’d rather he slowly develop into the role of number two starter.  In a way, it’s similar to how they developed Jon Lester into being the staff ace.

As for Beckett, I think it’s safe to say that his 2010 performance (albeit somewhat unlucky) put him into the predicament that he’s in now.  Still, I’m surprised that they’ve dropped him down so far in the rotation.  Clearly, he didn’t deserve another Opening Day start, but I think they’re putting far too much emphasis on his most recent rather than looking at the whole picture.  By practically every measure, Beckett was a much better pitcher than his ERA made him appear to be.  As a result, provided he can remain healthy, he should produce significantly better numbers going forward.

If I was Francona (and I’m not), I probably would’ve order the rotation like this:  Lester, Beckett, Buchholz, Lackey, and Matsuzaka.  Despite my concerns regarding Lackey, I don’t have too many issues with the Francona’s order of the rotation.  Like I said above, it’s largely symbolic anyway.

Categories: Boston Red Sox Clay Buchholz Daisuke Matsuzaka Jon Lester Josh Beckett

After being slapped with a restraining order for stealing Nick Cafardo's mail, I was forced into retirement for a brief period of time. As fun as it was to lounge around the community pool and play shuffleboard with noted internet columnist, Murray Chass, I quickly felt a yearning to write again. Now in my second tenure with Fire Brand, I have set lofty goals of achieving world domination, ending the plight of the hipsters, and becoming BFFs with Mike Trout. I am fluent in two languages (Sarcasm and English, in that order); have an intimate relationship with M&Ms; firmly believe that Lucille is the best character on Arrested Development; and spend my spare time trolling select members of the Boston media. You can follow me on Twitter @Chip_Buck.

14 Responses to “Red Sox Rotation in Order” Subscribe

  1. Troy Patterson March 18, 2011 at 7:11 AM #

    One thing to keep in mind. I know it's not a great sample and I'm not usually one to point out small samples, but Lackey had a K/9 of 8.85 in August and 8.08 in Sept/Oct. He also had BB/9 rates of 3.10 in August and 1.85 in Sept/Oct.

    I'll look into this maybe in a future article, but his "cutter" rate according to texasleaguers went from 37.5% to 46.1% before and after July 31. His curveball whiff rate was up to 14.3% in those last two months.

    I think there is reason to be optimistic that Lackey may have made adjusments. The big thing is after his injuries he began having his fastball labeled by pitch f/x as a "cutter" and not a true fastball.

    I'm writing an essay here, but his "cutter" from 2007-2009 was 1.8% and this past year was 40.6% of his pitches. I can't say why he has changed, but there is a sample of almost 80 IP from last year that he has made strides.

    • Chip Buck March 18, 2011 at 9:01 AM #

      @Troy – You make a good point about the improvement in his K/9 rates over the last two months of the season. Those factors actually improved my outlook on Lackey. Instead of Lackey's 2010 coming off as an extreme drop off in performance, his improvements in K and BB rates in Aug/Sept actually made his regression fit within the what we would have expected out of him coming into the season. So while his regression is no means severe, it's still a little troubling.

      As for the fastball/cutter, do you think it's possible that pitch f/x may have classified his fastball-type pitches incorrectly? I see the same data as you do, but something doesn't seem right. I can't imagine any scenario where he would have increased his cutter usage by 40% in one season. Any ideas?

      • Troy Patterson March 18, 2011 at 11:21 AM #

        I did look into this last season when he did this a lot at the start and wondered if this was just an update to the pitch f/x classification.

        I can't say for sure, but while it's possible there was an update in the algorithim he definately has a larger grouping in the "cutter" region of the movement graph from 2009 to 2010.

        So he may not be throwing a cutter, but more of his fastballs with the exact same velocity are moving the same vertically, but less horizontal.

        The one that has me thinking positive is the improvements to the curveball though in the last two months.

        • Chip Buck March 18, 2011 at 11:48 AM #

          If his curveball from Aug/Sept can translate to next season, then all bets are off. This has always been his best pitch. Without an out pitch, he's just a run of the mill guy. I'm very conservative in my projections, and I typically won't make judgments based on two months. Still, let's hope it does.

  2. Evan Brunell March 18, 2011 at 10:40 AM #

    I have to agree I found Tito's logic strange. However, if you do process of elimination, the decision makes sense even if his public comments were odd. Lock in the following spots:

    1. Jon Lester

    5. Daisuke Matsuzaka

    Now, consider the idea of getting Beckett off to a strong start by facing Cleveland instead of Texas (a sound philosophy in my opinion), plus not wanting Buchholz to be weighed down by being a No. 2 (which, Chip, I think you are spot on in your reasoning of, but Tito understandably didn't want to come out and say that) and you have:

    3. Clay Buchholz

    4. Josh Beckett

    Only one spot left for Lackey, even if it's a head-scratcher.

    • Chip Buck March 18, 2011 at 11:52 AM #

      Yeah. It was one of those things were Tito said an awful lot while saying absolutely nothing. I literally read his comments about 15 times before I could really make any sense of them. I completely understand the reasoning from a psychological perspective. I'm not a huge fan of it being put into practice (in part because it assumes Beckett and Buchholz are mentally weaker), but for the reasons I described above, I can handle it. This is purely a symbolic move. Come playoff time (assuming we make it), all bets are off with regards to the order of the rotation.

    • kahlil March 18, 2011 at 12:04 PM #

      Good call.

      I think Tito sometimes just needs to say anything to the microscope wielding Boston press. Also, there may be a bit of misdirection on his part by saying it is definitely not due to getting concussed– there is still some stigma around concussions. And the logical explanation is that he missed a start.

      I haven't done the research, but who does Beckett face in Cleveland?

      I know, I know spring training stats don't mean anything, but Lester, Lackey and Buchholz are pitching really well. And it may be that Matsuzaka found the strike zone.

      btw Chip, Beckett was the opening day starter the past two years not three.

      • Chip Buck March 18, 2011 at 4:44 PM #

        @Kahlil – Thanks as always. I forgot Dice-K started opening day in 2008. I will change that.

        Not sure who he pitches against. According to Paul Hoynes of the Plain-Dealer (@ 2pm on 3/18) the order after Fausto Carmona hasn't been set. My guess is it will run Carmona, Masterson, Talbot, and Carrasco, and then the winner of the fifth spot. So my money is on Carlos Carrasco.

        The Indians looks to be fairly weak outside of Santana, Choo, and a perpetually injured Sizemore. Should be a good game for Beckett to get his feet wet.

        • Troy Patterson March 18, 2011 at 5:53 PM #

          Don't forget Carlos Santana. He'll be the star of that roster.

          • Troy Patterson March 18, 2011 at 6:01 PM #

            sorry missed that you named him first…just ignore me.

    • Gerry March 19, 2011 at 11:45 PM #

      Additionally, after Beckett, Daisuke has had a chance to get into the season before his first pitch and misses both Tx & NY & the Fenway unfaithful first time around …

      and Lester, a slow starter, gets an easier 2nd game after the adrenaline of the season opener. IMO it's a smart rotation.

  3. Darryl Johnston March 20, 2011 at 6:40 AM #

    Lackey owned the AL West and the Yankees last year. I like this rotation lineup to start the year.

    Lackey has changed a bit from who he was in '07. He's not a dominant strikeout guy. I think he's pitching more to contact and getting GBs. Last year I just give him a pass on adjustment to the AL East.

    I think he'll be pretty good this year.


  1. X-Factor: Josh Beckett | Fire Brand of the American League - March 28, 2011

    [...] the biggest factor is definitely the impact of two pitchers; John Lackey and Josh Beckett.  Now I have already discussed in a previous article’s comments why I’m optimistic about Lackey being better in 2011. [...]

  2. Know Thy Self 2011: Boston Red Sox | Fire Brand of the American League - March 30, 2011

    [...] As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’m not exactly bullish about John Lackey’s prospects going forward.  Despite my concerns, there are some reasons to be optimistic.  As Troy mentioned previously, Lackey’s strikeout and walk peripherals were much improved over the final two months of last season.  Furthermore, his curve ball whiff rate improved from 8.9% to 14.3% during that same time.  If Lackey can carry his late season success over to the upcoming season (especially with regards to his curve ball), one of the biggest questions surrounding the Red Sox rotation will have been answered.  For the time being, I’ll continue to be optimistic, but guarded. [...]