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Red Sox 2009 Starting Rotation Review

Jon Lester made big improvements from 2008 to become one of the best pitchers in the league.

The mixed bag that was the starting rotation received a B+ in my report card.  If the Red Sox could pitch Josh Beckett and Jon Lester every other day, they would have earned an A+, however, that’s just not possible. Numbers 1 and 1A each started 32 games and Clay Buchholz, who was mostly strong, added 16 more. Some quick math indicates that leaves 82 starts for the rest of the staff, who were not “A” material.

Number One: Josh Beckett

Beckett may not have put up all the best numbers, but he is the ace. He was 17-6 with a 3.86 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 8.43 K/9, 199 strikeouts, four complete games, two shutouts, and 212.1 innings (bold indicates career best). He also posted 20 quality starts, combining with Lester to register more than half of the team’s in that category. Arguably, the definition of “ace” in baseball vernacular includes being the stopper, which Josh Beckett was. He was 7-1 when taking the mound after a Red Sox loss, delivering dominating performances when the Red Sox needed him the most.

Number Two: Jon Lester

The lefty put up some of the best numbers on the team, going 15-8 with a 3.41 ERA (fifth in AL), 1.23 WHIP, 9.96 K/9, 225 whiffs (third in AL), and two complete games. His total number of 225 strikeouts was a near 50% improvement from last year in seven innings fewer and he did it without sacrificing any control (two fewer walks, 16 fewer hits). If he finds a way to improve himself like that for 2010, he will be downright scary. He and Beckett combined to provide a one-two punch that very few teams can boast.

Number Three: Clay Buchholz

Buchholz had to settle from tearing up the minors while waiting for something to give in the rotation on the big club. When it finally did, he was immediately thrust into a start against the Blue Jays with rumors swirling he was the centerpiece of a deal to land Roy Halladay. He started 16 games and his youth still shows now and again, as he was lit up for six or more runs in four of those starts, none against a great offense (Baltimore, Chicago, Toronto, and Cleveland). On the other side of the coin, he allowed no more than three runs in any of his other 12 starts. He should be up with the big club next season and if he can minimize those bad outings, the Red Sox have an amazing three-man front.

Number Four: Tim Wakefield

Wakefield finally made an All-Star team on the strength of his 11-3 start. Wakefield’s back prevented him from making all but four second half starts, but with the low-impact knuckleball and low-risk contract, he will likely be back as the Red Sox know what they will get from him. This year’s 4.58 ERA and 1.44 WHIP are right in the ballpark for his recent career.

Number Five: Paul Byrd, Justin Masterson, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Brad Penny, John Smoltz

  • No team ever gets through the season without a few fifth starters. They are usually rookies or otherwise inexperienced pitchers, converted relivers, or serviceable veterans who can still go five innings. If this spot in the rotation is viewed as just someone who can get the team back around to the ace without taxing the bullpen heavily, the Red Sox did not fare too bad, but this slot was weaker than it has been in recent years as no one really stepped up to be anything more than five innings.
  • Byrd: He was re-acquired late in the season as an another arm to preserve Beckett and Lester. He was only 1-3 with one quality start and was in the bullpen for the Division Series.
  • Masterson: He spent most of his time in the bullpen with the Red Sox, but did make six starts before heading to Cleveland, where he was added to the rotation. He was 2-2 in the rotation with two quality starts and a 4.58 ERA.
  • Matsuzaka: He salvaged something at the conclusion of the season by recording three quality starts in his four outings in September and October after being 1-5 in his other starts. The Red Sox seem to have won the philosophical and conditioning battles with Dice-K, which would hopefully allow Matsuzaka to become better than his typical five-inning, five-walk, 100-pitch line.
  • Penny: He once was a Cy Young-caliber pitcher and the Red Sox took a gamble with a low guarantee, high-incentive contract to see if he could reclaim something of that form. He was 7-8 with 11 quality outings in 24 Sox starts. He got off to a 6-2 start with a spate of decent outings, but ended his Red Sox season with five really bad outings (all losses) in his last seven starts.
  • Smoltz: Like Penny, a cheap gamble with a lot of upside. The Red Sox brought the 42-year-old along slowly from his offseason shoulder surgery, but he just could not get through an outing without some kind of trouble. He was 2-5 in eight outings (none were quality starts).

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2 comments for “Red Sox 2009 Starting Rotation Review”

  1. Red Sox 2009 Starting Rotation Review: The mixed bag that was the starting rotation received a B+ in my report ..

    Posted by Sports of Boston | November 2, 2009, 12:15 pm
  2. Worth mentioning that given an abysmal start to the season by Beckett/Lester/Dice-K, Tim Wakefield was the true stopper early on. He anchored the rotation through the entire first half and was a huge loss going forward. Credit for Timmy!

    Posted by Christian Lynch | November 2, 2009, 6:40 pm

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