Seeing how the starting pitcher only shows himself once every five days, it was rather unfair to issue a pitching trimester report card. However, now that it’s past the All-Star Break, it’s time for the Pitching Midterms.
Josh Beckett: The ace of the rotation, Beckett started the season with a messy 5-run affiar against the Yankees on opening day. The rest of the season has pretty much gone by in a similar fashion. Since he was put on the disabled list, Beckett’s ERA sits at 7.29. This rather massive disappointment is even more painful in light of the fact that Beckett signed a 3-year $68 million extension just prior to the season. Am I insinuating that now that Beckett is locked up, he has just dogged the season? No. Josh Beckett is a gamer. He is nothing if not a fierce competitor who hates losing and makes no excuses for a poor performance. If you look at the peripheral numbers, what seems to be haunting Beckett is control problems. He has been averaging a full walk higher than his career average of 2.7 BB/9. The strikeouts are missing too, 7.9 SO/9 so far compared to his average of 8.5. His SO/BB is a full point lower this year that what he normally puts up. Josh has phenomenal ability. When he locates, opposing batters don’t stand a chance. His issues come when he can’t find the zone, or leaving his pitches high, as he is then prone to the long ball. Perhaps the issue is simply that it’s an even year. Becketts ERA in odd numbered years is 3.43 versus a 4.49 in even years. Makes sense to you? Me neither. All I know is he is only 8 starts in. There is plenty of time to put together a good season. Hurry back from the disabled list, Josh. But make sure that when you return, you throw strikes.
Comments: What I’ve seen so far has been completely unacceptable, especially given your extraordinary abilities. You owe it to yourself to do a better job. I have every bit of confidence that you will.
Jon Lester: The bad news was that this year, like every year before it, Jon Lester got off to a rough start. The good news? It only lasted 3 starts before Lester began making everybody else look like a little leaguer. Since he got over that horrid beginning, Jonny L is 11-1 with a 1.90 ERA. Arguments are pretty good that Jonny L is now the ace of the staff and he continues to build his case. His fastball rides mid 90′s, his cutter is devastating, his curveball can make even future hall of fame hitters look silly. One thing has been made certain; it’s a damn good thing Theo didn’t trade him for Johan Santana. He’s on pace for a 20 win 220+ strikeout season and that ERA just keeps on falling. He and Buchholz have been the only two consistently good pitchers on the staff. His numbers so far are exactly where they should be, and if he keeps it up in the second half, he’s got a shot at the Cy Young. Going forward, you can bet he will continue to make the AL his playground.
Comments: Your work is excellent, as has become expected of you.
John Lackey: The biggest singing this past offseason, John Lackey came to the team and dazzled in spring training. Unfortunately, the first half season of the 5-year Lackey era has been a huge let down. If you take out the one 3.1 inning 8 run debacle on the 19th, April was actually a solid month for Lackey. May was a disaster with a 5.17 ERA for the month. June was good; he went 4-0 with a 3.86 ERA. July has been all of three starts. The first, he looked sharp, giving up three runs while striking out 7 in 7.1 innings. The second was a messy 4.1 inning 7 run shelling against the Blue Jays. In the most recent start against the potent Rangers offense, he pitched beautifully, going 7 innings with 2 runs and 3 Ks. All this rounds out to his mediocre current 4.65 ERA. The problem has been his heralded control, his current strikeout-to-walk ratio is 1.48 the lowest of his career. That said, he somehow keeps on winning and holds a respectable 9-5 record. Lackey is a bulldog (an overused but perfect description), and will at least go deep in the game. Lackey will need to get it together if he wants to live up to his contract, but he’s shown promise and I don’t believe he’s through quite yet.
Comments: You have a lot to live up to and so far haven’t shown the ability to perform consistently. I look forward to a serious improvement going forward.
Daisuke Matsuzaka: The Red Sox Japanese import has had a rollercoaster of a season so far. Coming off the absolute lost season of 2009 in which he was rocked in almost every outing before disappearing for the majority of the season onto the disabled list. He started the season on the DL again, having hurt himself in spring training. Upon his return in May, it seemed that Matsuzaka was doomed to repeat last year’s pathetic showing; that first month he put up a pathetic 5.77 ERA. Since then, after another DL stint, that number has gone down to where it currently sits, at 4.29 with a solid 7-3 record. Also, since june 2nd he has gone 5-2 with a 3.12 ERA. Dice-K is heating up and if he can continue to limit the walks and throw his offspeed pitches for strikes, he will find consistency.
Comments: The improvent you have shown is very promising. Keep on this path and don’t fall back into bad habits.
Clay Buchholz: One could make an argument that Clay has been the best pitcher on the team so far this season. He leads the team in ERA with a stellar 2.45 and was the first to 10 wins before a hamstring injury put him on the DL back on July 5th. In his first start back, he was hit fairly hard by the lowly Oakland A’s. That poor quality of that start I am going to attribute to rust. His command was rather poor, he left some fat pitches over the plate and he couldn’t seem to put anyone away after getting two strikes. Going forward I expect him to return somewhere near where he was earlier, but don’t expect him to finish with 20 wins and a sub-3.00 ERA. He’s still young afterall. That’s next year.
Comments: You would have had a perfect A+ if not for the time you missed. Attendance is important in this class, Clay. Be more careful next time!
Tim Wakefield: Well, it’s another year and Tim Wakefield is still on the Red Sox. I think I read somewhere that Tim came up to the big leagues in the inaugural season of Fenway park. Don’t quote me on that. Seriously though, I am a big fan of the knuckleballer, though he does seem to be showing his age. With the loss of Beckett, Tim has been an adequate replacement. Nothing special, but having had to watch Brad Penny pitch last season, I quickly remember it could be worse. His 3-8 record and 5.58 ERA certainly won’t win him the Cy Young, but what I like is that he has logged 108 innings, good for third most on the team inspite of being in the ‘pen to start the season. I am looking forward to having Beckett back, but Tim has been servicable enough that I wouldn’t be too distressed if anybody else went down. As long as it wasn’t Lester or Clay again.
Comments: Well Tim, it’s another year and you keep chugging along. We know what to expect from you at this point, and while you have done better in the past, I don’t think I can ask much more from you except to keep it up.
Bullpen: The Bullpen was probably the strongest I have ever seen last year. Dominant closers like Takashi Saito and Billy Wagner were relegated to setup duty. If the starter kept you in the game, you could count on the ‘pen to shut down any further offense from the opposition. Boy, I miss last year. This year’s bullpen has come down to two men, Daniel Bard, who has been nothing short of phenomenal, and Jonathon Papelbon, who is off this year, but still comparatively good. Everyone else is unreliable, at best. You know you are in trouble when the third best pitcher in your pen is Scott Atchinson, who wasn’t expected to make the team back in spring training. Sure, Delcarmen has been good, but even he was stumbling before hitting the DL. This bullpen really needs to get it together and be an asset instead of an achilles’ heel if the Red Sox are to succeed going forward. Look for Theo to make some attempts at improvement as the trade deadline comes closer. But with talented guys like Okajima and Ramon Ramirez getting shelled, it becomes clear that these guys are underperforming.
Comments: Only the efforts of Daniel and Jonathon kept you all from an F. I know you are better than this and I am extremely disappointed thus far. You need to improve going forward.