Sox Unlikely to Add a Starter, Is the Rotation Good Enough?

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A few days ago, Red Sox GM Ben Cherington was quoted as saying that it was “unlikely” that the Sox would add another starting pitcher to their roster. If that statement holds true, the Sox will have botched the Marco Scutaro trade and left themselves in a risky position.

At this point, I’m still waiting for the Sox to make good on the Scutaro trade, because Cody Ross does not seem like enough of a return. While I quickly looked at this situation last week, I’ll expand a bit to look at what could go right and what could go wrong with the current rotation.

It’s not as if the Sox don’t have a formidable front three. Jon Lester was a preseason Cy Young candidate this time last year, and has the talent to turn into one again this season. Josh Beckett was straight-up nasty last season, posting a 2.89 ERA with a 3.8 K/BB ratio. However, if you believe in the power of BABIP, you’ll notice that his was .245 last season, by far the lowest of his career and well below his career average of .290. Even with the likelihood of a normalized BABIP in 2012, lest we not forget that Beckett hasn’t exactly been the most durable starter in his career. He didn’t throw 200 innings last season and threw only 127.2 the season before. If he stays healthy and puts up a K/BB ration similar to what he did in 2011, we should expect another fine season with double digit wins and an ERA in the 3.20-3.40 range.

Then there’s Clay Buchholz, who missed 93 games due to a stress fracture in his lower back last season. Even if Buchholz does indeed get through 2012 without injury issues, one has to worry that for the second straight season he posted a K/BB rate that was below the league average and ended up allowing over one home run per nine innings pitched, making the case that his 0.47 HR/9 in 2010 may have been an aberration. His career xFIP stands at 4.11, which is not overly impressive, but he continues to generate ground balls at a rate of over 50-percent, which means he has at least one consistent weapon to potentially limit damage, though his teammates on the field behind him will have to make the plays for all to break right.

Outside the front three we have Daniel Bard, who has been cast with some favorable projections as a starter. At first, I did not think Bard would have much of a chance to succeed as a starter, but the more I looked at it, the more I liked his chances. That being said, even if he does go on to post good numbers as Boston’s fourth starter, there is no way he should throw much more than 160 or so innings, which leaves more work for the bullpen and possibly a spot starter here or there to keep his innings in check. In essence, we cannot judge the results of Bard’s transition merely on his numbers alone. We must consider how his replacement innings turn out (the numbers from any pitcher that was used to fill in for the innings he is being conserved), which adds yet another risk factor in relying on Bard as a season-long starter.

There seems to be a number of Red Sox fans that believe Alfredo Aceves will also be a successful starter in 2012. I, however, am not a believer. I explained my thoughts back in December,

“Unlike Bard, Alfredo Aceves doesn’t throw pure gas or have the ability to miss bats at a high rate. In fact, Aceves’ career 1.9 K/BB rate is below average and would likely worsen in a starting role. What Aceves does best is keep hitters off balance and get them to put the ball in play weakly (16.5 percent career line-drive rate against), but that means that he is very much at the mercy of his defense. Low line-drive rate or not, it is highly unlikely that Aceves is aided by a .231 BABIP like he was in 2011. Just about every advanced pitching statistic showed that Aceves’ 2.61 ERA last season was basically a mirage…

4.03 FIP
4.77 xFIP
4.13 SIERA
3.95 tERA

The same discrepancy holds true for Aceves’ career ERA vs xFIP (2.93 vs. 4.54). And let’s not look past the fact that Aceves has only thrown 240 major league innings in his career, which includes 114 last season and only nine career starts.

In other words, it would seem that there is a lot of risk in moving Aceves to the rotation and that a lot would have to work out in his favor for it to be a successful venture.”

While Ben Cherrington has done a good job of stocking up some veteran pitching that could help (Vicente Padilla, Aaron Cook, Carlos Silva and John Maine), the odds are definitely against any of them making much of an impact in Boston this season.

With Edwin Jackson now off the market, the eyes of Red Sox Nation turn to Roy Oswalt, who is quite an injury risk, himself. Apparently, the Sox have an offer out to Oswalt, but there are far from the only team in the mix.

The bottom line is that this rotation has potential, but potential on both ends of the spectrum. Should everything break right and should everyone stay relatively healthy, there’s enough potential to take the division. If things should go awry, however, and injuries or failed bullpen transitions or both become an issue, things could once again get messy. Ask yourself this: How often to baseball seasons actually go according to plan?

Yeah, I’m worried too.

Categories: Aaron Cook Alfredo Aceves Boston Red Sox Carlos Silva Clay Buchholz Daniel Bard Jon Lester Josh Beckett Roy Oswalt Vincente Padilla

Charlie first started writing about baseball back in 2008 when he opened Fantasy Baseball 365. Since graduating college with a degree in English, he has spent time coaching baseball as well as working in several minor league front offices. He also writes for The Outside Corner and contributes to Project Prospect and ESPN's Sweet Spot. Writer from August 3, 2010 - May 6, 2012

11 Responses to “Sox Unlikely to Add a Starter, Is the Rotation Good Enough?” Subscribe

  1. ChipBuck February 6, 2012 at 8:13 AM #

    Great piece Charlie. Good news with Buchholz is that he turned it around in May and early June with his command numbers. From May 7-June 16, he posted a 43/13 K/BB ratio in 49 innings. While it's a small sample, it was easily his best stretch like that since he entered the majors in 2007. I'm not sure how the lower back injury will affect him in 2012, but if he can recapture that level of success again; he should be a solid pitcher for the Sox. That is, of course, if he can remain healthy.

    • johnsilver February 6, 2012 at 10:24 AM #

      Good point on Bucholz and that they only need him to be a #3 starter, not a 1-2.. So anything like on the path he had began last season would be just fine before the back injury hit.

      Don't leave out Alex Wilson and/or Junichi Tazawa from this either around June/July to take the last spot from whoever could be the place holder amongst Padilla or Miller out of ST. I really don't see any of the others with a chance of taking it and that includes Doubront, at least right away.

      Ross was a good use of 3m of the savings from that Scutaro move and his bat will show itself, as will his glove to Fenway fans who have not had the chance to watch him on an every day basis.. He is solid and as close to Crisp as a 4th guy as they have had in years and the other savings they can apply later at/close to the 7/31 non waiver trade deadline when more people become available if nothing viable comes up.

      Oswalt would have been nice.. For sure, but not if he expects 10m a year nice..

      • ChipBuck February 6, 2012 at 10:32 AM #

        The Red Sox see Tazawa and Wilson relievers in the majors, not starters. That doesn't mean they couldn't fill that role this season as spot starters or injury replacements (a la Kyle Weiland). Wilson especially, I think could be a good four or five starter for a middle of the road team. With the Red Sox, he's destined to be nothing more than a middle reliever/set-up man.

      • marcos February 6, 2012 at 1:15 PM #

        They need Buch to be more that a 3rd starter considering they have no credibility for the 4th and 5th spots

  2. @batspeed29 February 6, 2012 at 10:03 AM #

    Superior Post Charlie – Good In Depth Research And Numbers – bat Thanks You For Article And Post

  3. aubrey February 6, 2012 at 11:18 AM #

    I think that they are waiting to see how ortiz's arbitration case proceeds before signing someone

    • ChipBuck February 6, 2012 at 11:24 AM #

      Ben Cherington said that Ortiz's salary wouldn't affect their plans going forward. That might have been just a line, but I tend to believe him.

  4. Dave February 6, 2012 at 11:30 AM #

    Great post. I'm worried too.
    Think of this from an innings pitched perspective. With 162 games @9 innings each less some road losses (hopefully not many but say ~40%) we need 1,455 innings pitched. Let's say bullpen does 3 innings per game we are down to 1,269 innings from starters.
    It would be great if Lester and Beckett gave us 200 each – down to 1,069 innings. Would we all be happy with 150 innings each from Buchholz and Bard – down to 569 innings. Say Dice-K gives us half a season 100 innings – down to 469 innings.
    Who thinks we can count on Padilla, Cook, Silva, and Maine to give us a combined 469 innings (average 117 innings)? Aceves spot starts? Late call ups – Miller, Tazawa?

    I'm worried too.

    • Brian February 7, 2012 at 4:54 PM #

      I think that your math is off just a bit. If the bullpen pitches 3 innings per game, that will leave only 969 innings or so. Subtracting Lester and Beckett would leave 569, and subtracting Bucholz and Bard would bring the total down to 269. That would leave Dice-K, Padilla, Cook, Silva, Maine, Aceves, Miller, Tazawa, or whomever to take care of the remaining 269 innings. That's not as bad, but I'm still worried about the pitching for this year.

  5. Walt in Maryland February 6, 2012 at 11:54 AM #

    While I"d like to see them bring in Oswalt, there is no reason why the Sox can't wait a bit before making a move for another starter.

    I'm with you on Aceves — keep him in the pen — but the Sox need a little time to determine whether Bard is going to be able to be an effective starter, whether the top three are all healthy, whether Cook, Padilla or both can be effective members of the big league staff, etc.

    There's always the option of adding a starter in-season, or by letting someone like Wilson or Tazawa become a pleasant surprise.

    The lesson, as always, is that you can't plan for EVERYTHING before the season begins.

  6. Gerry February 6, 2012 at 6:15 PM #

    With the offseason ebb & flow & ebb
    of signing Saunders, Oswalt, Jackson, Garza, Floyd, etc. And the backfilling of Padilla, Cook, Silva, etc, it seems logical that Ben, although poised to commit if a player comes to him, will make his move
    during or after ST as he indicates. In fact, despite projections and speculations, no one knows with any certitude if a healthy Padilla, etc.
    have their games back, if Doubront who spent the winter stateside working out is prepared to be the mid-rotation lefty starter most thought he would be last year before coming to camp out of shape ans injury prone; or weather Tazawa or Wilson who succeeded as starters in AAA could be an above average #5 at Fenway. IMO we don't have to worry.
    What the Sox have in fact and in potential just might be really good. If not, Ben has already indicated that NOT getting a Floyd, Garza or other
    jewel would be a surprise. During Ben's and BobbyV's first season,
    during the celebrations of Fenway's Centennial, the opening of Fenway
    South, and following the September imbroglio, there is simply NO way
    the Sox don't do what it takes to win in 2012. It's not an option.

    The marketers will want to make a big deal out of the 2012 emergence of the home grown future, including Lava, Kalish, Iglesias, perhaps Middlebrooks and some pitchers. And the Sox will also bring in whatever is needed for the rotation to insure a good run.