Saturday, January 10, 2009

Ranking the Red Sox Rotation

posted by Jon Williams

The Red Sox have gone buy crazy. It seems they want every discounted, injury prone player on the market. In the last two weeks they've added outfielder Rocco Baldelli, outfielder/first baseman Mark Kotsay, starters Brad Penny and John Smoltz, and now former Dodgers closer, Takashi Saito.

The Red Sox rotation now has the following candidates: (the names all link to their fangraph pages)

Josh Beckett
Daisuke Matsuzaka
Jon Lester
Tim Wakefield
Justin Masterson
Junichi Tazawa
Brad Penny
John Smoltz
Clay Buchholz

What does this say about the Red Sox thinking? Are they just pouncing on deals? Or are they worried about the health and effectiveness of their top four starters? It is very tough to tell right now. We can probably assume that with the additions, Jonathan Masterson will be in the bullpen. Junichi Tazawa is likely to start in double A Portland.

  • Josh Beckett has been marketed as their ace (I happen to think that both Dice-K and Lester will be better pitchers this season) so he is definitely a lock. Dice-K, despite the walks last season is a lock for the number two spot. Jon Lester flashed top of the rotation form last season and I expect him to be number three. But that is about as far as you can guarantee the spots.
  • Tim Wakefield prefers starting but has always been willing to fill whatever role the team needs him to fill. He could easily fit in as a long reliever. His knuckleball probably isn't a good candidate for the higher leverage innings. But because of his longevity he will likely at least begin the season as the number four starter.
  • Brad Penny seems to be healthy right now, though he was injured when the 2008 season came to a close. When healthy Penny can bea very effective pitcher but has also been inconsistent throughout his career. He is probably the favorite to start as the number five starter but he has quite a bit of quality competition.
  • Clay Buchholz was disappointing in 2008 but has the talent to be a frontline starter on playoff team. He had some control problems that he hadn't encountered previously. He also appeared to be very unlucky with BABIP of .366 (average is between .290 and .310 most seasons). So with a bit of better luck and regaining his previous control combined with a groundball rate of almost 48 percent and a MLB career 8.57 K/9 we can expect much better things.
  • John Smoltz if healthy could be the number one starter, even on a team with a rotation this loaded. But if his health were a certainty he would probably still be a Brave (at the very least he would have commanded a much larger guaranteed contract). Most reports have him out until at least May but John Smoltz himself has disputed this. He has claimed that he can be ready in April. I have a hard time doubting him because the man has bounced back from more seriously injuries and quickly at that. If he is ready in April he is clearly going to bump someone from the rotation. The Red Sox obviously believe it as well, judging by the significant guarantee they gave a 41-year old pitcher coming off shoulder problems. Smoltz could be a nice sleeper option since he is likely to come with a large health-related discount.

The Red Sox bullpen is growing as crowded as their rotation and yet they refuse to part with pitching prospect, Clay Buchholz, in a deal for the young catcher they want so badly. If everyone is healthy I see the Red Sox rotation forming like this:

Josh Beckett
Daisuke Matsuzaka
Jon Lester
John Smoltz
Brad Penny

with Buchholz in the minors, and Masterson and Wakefield in the bullpen.

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