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The final installment of position group reviews is the starting rotation, the rock of the 2008 Red Sox. These five received the highest grade in my report card with an A-. The biggest plus for the rotation was its stability: four players made 27 or more starts. That leaves only the fifth spot in the rotation as a semblance of a question mark.
Compare this with the Yankees, for example, who had only two make that 27 starts, leaving them with three turns in the rotation to tempt fate, the biggest reason why they were battling more to stay out of fourth than they were to make the playoffs. The early struggles of Clay Buchholz in the fifth spot and the injuries to Josh Beckett prevented them from earning an even higher grade.
Beckett was the number one starter coming into the season, but had a subpar season especially by his standards. He went 12-10 in 27 starts, of which 16 were quality starts, but put up a 4.03 ERA and a good 1.19 WHIP. His ERA was a little bloated compared to the WHIP because, typical of a power pitcher, he gave up 18 home runs, second on the team to Tim Wakefield‘s 25, in his 174.1 innings. Beckett did post a very good 8.88 K/9 behind his team-high 172 strikeouts. He was bit by the injury bug again, missing time at the end of the season, and after his return, he did not look right, contributing a bit to his lackluster numbers.
Dice-K was the biggest beneficiary of the Red Sox offense, getting run support on days when he did not seem to have his best stuff. He went an awesome 18-3, leading the team in wins, in his 29 starts, despite a rotation low (among the four who made 27 or more starts) of 14 quality starts. However, he earned a lot of the credit he is due with a rotation low 2.90 ERA.
He did have the highest WHIP on the staff, at 1.32, due to his constant control issues, walking at least four batters in 11 of his starts. He was able to work out of a lot of these jams with his ability to get the strikeout as well. He had 8.27 K/9 as he recorded 154 in 167.2 innings of work. He is a workhorse, able to throw 100 pitches with relative ease, unfortunately, that got him through only five innings on a lot of nights with his control issues.
Jon Lester had a breakout year for the Red Sox, punctuated by his no-hitter. He was effectively the ace of the staff, being the most reliable pitcher over the season. He was an impressive 16-6 with a team leading 20 quality starts over his Red Sox high 33 starts, proving his durability as well. He also led the team in innings with 210.2 and recorded 152 strikeouts to go with his 3.21 ERA and 1.27 WHIP. The Red Sox have a gem in this young lefty, a sought after commodity in today’s game.
The veteran knuckleballer had his best season statistically in three years, posting a 4.13 ERA and 1.18 WHIP while going 10-11. His win total dropped way off from last year’s 17, but he lowered his ERA from 4.76 and posted 18 quality starts of his 30 total. He did lead the team in home runs allowed with 25 and struck out 117 against 60 walks in 181 innings. Wakefield is a very steady, though unspectacular, performer year in and year out for the Red Sox and a dependable fourth starter.
Like most teams, the number five spot was manned by a bevy of players. Clay Buchholz was the guy to open the season, coming off an impressive rookie season in 2007, which included his no-hitter. However, he could not build on that early success and after 15 starts, in which he went 2-9 and recorded only three quality starts, he was demoted. In that time, he posted a 6.75 ERA and 1.76 WHIP in 76 innings, though he did rack up 72 strikeouts.
Justin Masterson was the next to try his hand and was effective, going 4-3 in nine starts with a 3.67 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. In 54 innings as a starter, he struck out 39, but walked 28 batters, over one every two innings. The Red Sox believed (correctly) that he could be an effective option out of the strained bullpen and sent him down to convert him, before he emerged later as a reliever.
Bartolo Colon made seven starts before a back injury ended his season, but with the deal the Red Sox struck with him, anything they got from him was well worth the investment. He went 4-2, but threw only 39 innings, as he was working into shape, or just over five innings per start. He had a 3.92 ERA and 1.38 WHIP with 27 whiffs against 10 walks.
Paul Byrd was acquired midseason as a veteran fifth starter to nail down that spot for the second half. He was effective in that role with the Sox, going 4-2 in his eight starts with a 4.78 ERA and 1.39 WHIP. In 49 innings, he struck out 26 and issued 10 bases on balls.
The Red Sox had the luxury of four guys who could be relied on to make most of their starts and eat innings in a majority of their starts, which helped preserve the bullpen as much as could be expected. The Red Sox never suffered a losing streak of over five games, in part because the top three, especially, avoided stringing bad outings together. The emergence of Lester as a dominant starter helped make up for the dropoff in Beckett’s performance.