There are enough complaints to go around regarding the state of Red Sox with regard to pitching. Self-flagellation used to be (and currently is) a raison d’etre for Red Sox Nation, but I’d like to take a step back (as Brandon Stewart did) and look at the positive signs for the Red Sox pitching staff.
Since being acquired from the Rockies in 2011, Morales has been a solid pitcher for the Red Sox in a variety of roles. Morales’s ERA in 2011 was 3.62 (16% better than league average) and was 3.77 in 2012 (13% better than league average). More importantly, Morales’s FIP and xFIP (3.92 FIP, 4.06 xFIP in 2011, 4.40 FIP, 4.20 xFIP in 2012) weren’t horribly out of line with his ERA, which is a good sign going forward for Morales. A little worrying for Morales is that he gave up 11 homers in 76.1 innings pitched in 2012, but that was most likely due to Morales being used in a starting role. Morales was shut down in early September with a tired shoulder, but he should return in 2013 ready to compete for a spot in the starting rotation.
Arguably the Pitcher of the Year for Boston, Tazawa gave up seven runs all year and didn’t give up more than one run in any appearance. Tazawa racked up 44 strikeouts against only 5 walks in 42 innings pitched. Tazawa had an excellent 86.9% left on base rate, and a verging-on-excellent 49.0% ground ball rate. To date, Tazawa has compiled a 1.50 ERA/1.82 FIP/2.52 xFIP triple slash line this year. For context, Tazawa was 65% better than average in ERA, 59% better than average in FIP, and 40% better than average in xFIP. Tazawa’s fastball averaged 92.1 mph in 2012, and he hit 97 with ease. Tazawa should be leading the pack to become the next Red Sox set up man in 2013.
For most observers, Doubront, if he made the big league club out of spring training, would have pitched in the pen, possibly as a swing man. But due to Alfredo Aceves being named closer, Doubront found himself in the rotation. The failure of Daniel Bard as a starter further solidified his place in the starting five. Doubront may have found his spot in the rotation by default, but his pitching proved he belonged there. Doubront’s 4.86 ERA doesn’t look good (and it’s not, it’s 13% worse than league average), his FIP of 4.39 (exactly league average) and 3.82 xFIP (8% better than league average), in addition to his slightly high BABIP of .312 (versus a .256 batting average against) showed that Doubront was a touch unlucky. And he struck out over a batter per inning pitched (167 Ks in 161 innings pitched). Overall, Doubront’s first year starting in the majors was a success and this experience should turn Doubront into a battle-tested starter.
It is clear that Miller was rushed to the majors, to his ultimate detriment. But when you can throw 97 mph from the left side and have a bending slider like Miller has, you tend to look very good against minor leaguers. Once Miller met excellent hitters in the majors, he failed miserably. But Bobby Valentine was especially careful with Miller this year, placing him in low-leverage spots and using him as a LOOGY to play to his strengths. And it worked pretty well. Miller compiled a 3.23 ERA/3.18 FIP/3.35 xFIP pitching triple slash line in 2012. Whoever is the Red Sox manager in 2013 should keep Miller in that role.
It may be a bit unfair to include two pitchers who haven’t appeared for the Red Sox in a column such as this but who cares, I need something to look forward to. The Red Sox had become thin in pitching prospects (and yes, There Is Such A Thing As A Pitching Prospect – do you think every good pitcher who ever succeeded in the majors came from nowhere?) in the minors, so getting two young 98 mph fireballers is better than a sharp stick in the eye. De La Rosa should make the 2013 Red Sox out of spring training, while Webster should be promoted to Boston by the middle of 2013. Each will be welcome additions to the Red Sox pitching staff.
So there you have it. Felix Doubront will definitely join Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and John Lackey in the 2013 starting rotation. Franklin Morales and Rubby De La Rosa should be in contention for the 5th starter/swing man role. Allen Webster will be waiting in Pawtucket in case of injury. Andrew Miller should continue in his LOOGY role, and Junichi Tazawa will get lots of high-leverage innings in the bullpen. That’s a pretty solid nucleus.