This has been a busy offseason for the Sox (understatement). The additions of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford have transformed the offense into one of the most feared in baseball. A weakness in 2010, the bullpen has been transformed by bringing in veterans Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler. Now, the Sox have a legitimate shot at shortening most games to six innings. All of these additions compliment what was already seen as one of the better starting five in baseball. However, no team goes through an entire season with the same starting rotation all year long and 2011 will be no exception. This is where depth becomes extremely important and the Sox have one key pitcher who has provided that depth for years.
Last season wasn’t a great one for Tim Wakefield. His 5.34 ERA was his worst in ten seasons, but a bit of bad luck seems to have contributed to that poor outcome. Wakefield posted a 4.52 FIP, which is close to his career 4.38 ERA. His 2.33 K/BB rate was slightly better than league average and it was Wake’s best K/BB rate since 2005. However, the classic combination of inflated BABIP and lower than normal strand rate seems to be the culprit here.
On the surface, .301 doesn’t look like an inflated BABIP, but it is in this case. For his career, Wake has a .282 BABIP against, which is a by-product of consistently low line drive rates and high infield fly rates. In 2010, Wake continued to limit his line drives against (16.5 percent) and induce a high rate of infield fly balls (about 14 percent). Considering the type of pitcher he is (knucklemainia) and how consistent his rate stats have been throughout the years, Wake should see a lower BABIP in 2011, especially with more innings in the pen, where he posted a 3.60 ERA last season. His strand rate of just under 61 percent in 2010 was the lowest strand rate of his career and about 11 percent lower than his career average. That career worst strand rate is very likely to improve, along with his BABIP against.
With the rotation set the way it is, Wakefield will start 2011 in the pen. As noted above, he had much more success in the pen last season, posting a 3.60 ERA with a .281 OBP against, and his career ERA as a reliever is 3.74 with a .315 OBP against. This role should help Wake’s numbers overall and give the Sox a viable long-relief or one inning option on a day-to-day basis. Of course, there is always the option to use Wake in a spot-start situation. He made 19 starts in 2010 and threw 140 innings overall.
While the majority of teams would kill to have a fifth inning, sixth inning or long reliever capable of posting a sub 4.00 ERA and OBP against that hovers around .300, the Sox already have one in place. As a middle inning reliever, Wakefield should post a positive WAR. Then, add in the possibility for around 10 or so spot-starts, and Wake could once again post a 1+ WAR. One win above replacement may not seem significant, but consider that the Sox 2010 pen — the cause of such pain and anguish last season — only had two full-time relievers (Papelbon and Bard) that posted a 1+ WAR.
2011 may indeed be Tim Wakefield’s final season as a big league pitcher. If he simply does what he has always done, he will provide important yet once again underrated value for the Sox.