photo © 2008 Keith Allison | more info (via: Wylio)
Last night, the Sox took a painful loss to the only team in the division with a worse record than their own. Tampa Bay struck early and often, pounding Daisuke Matsuzaka for eight hits, two of which left the yard, and seven earned runs in only two innings. Johnny Damon and Sam Fuld took Dice-K deep to run Dice-K’s home run total up to three in seven innings in 2011. Dice-K has also allowed five walks in those seven innings to only four strikeouts. His location is a mess and his results even worse.
With each and every game from here on out so crucial: Is it time to pull Dice-K out of the rotation?
Before spring training, the thought of Dice-K as the Sox fifth starter seemed like a good thing. That meant there was depth in the rotation and less pressure on Dice-K himself to be anything close to an ace. However, two starts into the season and one could make the argument that he might actually be one of the worst fifth starters in baseball.
The issue isn’t related to an inflated BABIP or HR/FB rate, it’s plain and simple; when he’s not missing way out of the strike-zone, he’s leaving pitches right over the heart of the plate. Out of 30 balls in play, nine have been line drives (30 percent).
It’s not like these issues are a new trend either. Last September, Dice-K allowed 35 hits and walked 20 in 35.2 innings. He hasn’t held a BB/9 under four since his first season with the Sox.
If the move should be made so early in the season, the problem then becomes who replaces him in the rotation. Tim Wakefield relieved Dice-K yesterday for 3.1 innings, but didn’t fare that much better himself. Wake allowed seven hits and five earned runs. His 5.81 FIP in 9.1 innings doesn’t exactly scream starter.
Is it time to give Felix Doubront a shot?
If that were to happen, it wouldn’t be a season-long solution, as the Sox would have to limit his innings. Besides the innings, there is a big question mark as to how his current skill level would translate to a major league rotation. At double-A and triple-A last season, Doubront walked a combined 33 batters in 80 innings (3.71 BB/9). If he can’t command his stuff at the big league level, he’s going to get crushed.
Given the lack of any clear cut replacement, it seems as though the Sox will have to stick with Dice-K as their fifth starter for now and hope he can find his groove soon. In May of last season (he missed April with a neck strain), Dice-K posted a 5.77 ERA (4.30 FIP) with a 6.55 K/9 and 5.5 BB/9. Then, he improved greatly in June, posting a 2.81 ERA (3.16 FIP) with 8.77 K/9 and 3.51 BB/9. However, the rest of the season was far from consistent with a couple of injuries mixed in.
From a positive point of view, Dice-K still features plenty of movement on his pitches — though there is room to improve there as well — and his velocity did increase from start one to start two.
While looking over his pitch f/x data (TexasLeaguers.com), I noticed that Dice-K has been releasing the ball a bit lower than usual in his first two starts of 2011.
Because his release point is a bit lower and a bit further away from his body, his pitches have “flattened out” a bit and lost some sink.
It seems as though Dice-K needs to make both a mechanical and mental adjustment. Not an easy task.
Given the lack of alternatives and given that the Sox are paying Dice-K $10M this season and are on the hook for $10M next season, it looks like they’ll have to continue to run him out there and hope he can make the necessary adjustments.
Unfortunately for the Sox, the hole that they have dug for themselves so far this season makes each poor outing from their starting staff that much more painful and puts them that much closer to a playoff-less season.