With the Red Sox ALDS roster now available to the reading public, Tito has ended any speculation as to whether Manny Delcarmen would be carried over into the Division Series and postseason. Manny struggled for much of the latter part of the season, though his lousy September (7 IP, 14.14 ERA, 8 BB, 10 K, 4 HR) was undoubtedly the final nail in the coffin for what was at first a very promising year.
In the comment section to the above post, reader Jvwalt made a keen observation, one that many people familiar with the team must have been thinking, stating,
“That meant an 11-man pitching staff… the choice of Byrd over Delcarmen most likely indicates some doubt about the durability of at least one starter.
I suspect that Beckett’s back is enough of a concern that the Sox feel the need for a long man in the bullpen. Otherwise, I think I’d rather have Manny than Byrd.”
This mirrored the thoughts of many today: even though Delcarmen has struggled lately, he is still, in many ways, a better candidate for the playoff bullpen than Byrd. Byrd is poorly suited for anything other than (very) long relief in a traditional bullpen role. He’s been a poor pitcher this season (34 IP, 11 BB, 11K), doesn’t strike anyone out (2.91 K/9 in 2009; Career: 4.90 K/9), nor does he induce enough ground balls to be a situational reliever (0.68 GB:FB in 2009; 0.88 GB:FB career).
However, Tito’s decision to carry his fifth starter into the ALDS is very much a matter of necessity. It is very important to have this pitcher around – not just for insurance against one particular starter, but to back up the health of the entire rotation.
Going into the postseason with only four qualified starters is akin to walking a thin tightrope across a skyscraper. If you are good enough, under the right circumstances, it’s doable. But, at the same time, the health of a team’s starting pitchers is among the most crucial components to a successful playoff run. So, why risk it?
Consider this: if the Red Sox went into the ALDS with four starters, but no one in the bullpen stretched out enough to step in during a pinch, the team would be critically shorthanded for the rest of the playoffs. They would, in essence, be relegated to a 3-man rotation not by design, but by obligation. Not only does this force one or two starters to throw on short rest, but it also significantly sacrifices the stamina and effectiveness of those pitchers in the following series.
Sure, Tito is considering the deployment of Lester in Game 4 if need be, but that would have to be under dire circumstances. Though it could close out the series, it would be detrimental to Lester’s availability in the ALCS, should the Sox get there. This is not an ideal scenario against any opponent, much less the projected one: the vaunted New York Yankees.
In addition, going back to the overall health of the Sox’ starters, Beckett does seem to be as likely a candidate for injury as anyone on the Red Sox pitching staff. As renowned Baseball Prospectus analyst Will Caroll stated in a post about one week ago,
“Beckett’s back problem causes him to not finish his pitches, leaving them up and taking the bite and velocity off… He’s expected back on Saturday, but if he heads into the playoffs as anything other than the team’s ace, the Sox’s chances go way down.”
Judging by his latest start on the October 3rd (5 IP, 4 ER, 5 K, 3BB), Beckett may not be at full strength.
Even so, with the unpredictable nature of pitcher injuries, it behooves all major league managers to opt for insurance when dealing with the final spots on their roster. Electing to go with Paul Byrd in lieu of the alternatives makes this move a prudent one.