Ok, here is Part III of my Red Sox 2010 Preview, position by position. Today, we are going to look at the pitching staff. Time to get this going.
SP1 - Jon Lester
So, yes, I put Lester at the #1 starter spot. Not Beckett. Lester. Lester, unbeknownst to the general public of Red Sox nation, made HUGE strides last season. His ERA though wasn't nearly as pretty as the season before so no one really noticed it (or at least didn't notice it as much). A big fear going into last season that Lester was going to experience the Verducci affect. What that means is that a pitcher who pitches many more innings than he had previously is ripe for an injury the next season. Lester overcame that and actually was much better. The main reason was strikeouts. Lester improved his K/9 from 6.50 to 9.96!!! That is a HUGE jump. Thus, his strikeouts went from 152 to 225! His walk rate stayed the same in this as well. And he still pitched over 200 innings. With all of these increases, the reason his ERA didn't get much better was that his BABIP jumped up nearly 25 points, especially early in the year. With the improved defense of the Red Sox, I expect that BABIP to drop back down to about the .300 level if not even lower. If that does happen, we could see a Cy Young season out of Lester. Will he keep his K rate at 9.96? I am not sure. That was a really big jump. But, even if it drops a bit to say 8.5 or so, that is still fantastic. He doesn't give up many homeruns, induces groundballs, and gets strikeouts. That is a recipe for awesome! Projections don't like him as much as I do though. They are projecting Lester at around a 3.65 ERA with 175 K's in 190 IP or so. I think he will be over the 200 IP mark again and his K's should approach that as well. I also believe his ERA will end up in the low 3.00's, maybe even lower. He will really benefit from this fantastic defense behind him. He truly will be the ace of the staff.
SP2 - Josh Beckett
Beckett had a strong season last year aside from about a three to four week stretch in August. I expect the same from him this year in his walk season. Maybe the Sox will re-sign him before the season starts. Seems like there has been a push from both sides to do that lately. It would be best if that happened, for both teams. Beckett is made for Boston and he thrives in this kind of place. His durability issues that he had with the Marlins are, for the most part, in the past now. He is a horse. Projections are showing him in the 3.75 area for ERA. That is reasonable, but again, like with Lester, I think he can do better. His BABIP was about where it should be last year at .302. I think he can hold or better that with the defense behind him. If Beckett follows the pattern he has mostly built in Boston of having a high percentage of ground balls, then this is likely to happen. His problem last year was his HR/FB%, which jumped up to 12.8%, second highest of his career (behind only the awful 2006 season). If that drops to his career average around 10%, then Beckett could be in for a very nice year indeed. Possibly low 3.00's ERA for him as well, lots of K's, lots of IP's. Ok, maybe looking at this, there is an argument to make Lester the SP1. That is fine. I will stick with what I have though.
SP3 - John Lackey
The parade of J's continues. Lackey figures to be a great #3 pitcher for this team. While he may not be a true ace, he is definitely a great pitcher. The projections are showing him to be in the upper 3.00's for ERA. I think that that is about where he will finish to be honest. He has had solid BABIPs the past few seasons, so there isn't too much luck involved there. Basically, Lackey will be a super solid starter for this team. The only question is his health. He has been injured parts of the last two seasons. However, before that, he had been a true workhorse. He doesn't NEED to be that in Boston, but it would be great if he was. His K rate has been a bit lower the past few seasons, settling into the low 7's range. That will work. There really isn't anything flashy about Lackey. He is what he is and what he is a very good pitcher. There really isn't much more I can say about him.
SP4 - Daisuke Matsuzaka
Now begins the frustration. Daisuke is penciled into the rotation in the #4 spot in the order. However, it is looking more and more likely that he will start the year on the DL. That is sounding more and more like 2009 and that is not what is wanted by anyone. 2009 was a lost season for Daisuke. He needs to get healthy and get out on the mound. When he gets there, who knows what will happen though. He nibbles to no end. He does not give in and challenge hitters. With the defense behind him, that will be a mistake. But, in all honesty, I don't believe he will change. When he is on the mound, it will be another "hurts to watch" game. I will probably take those games to catch up on beer news or something. It just pains me to watch his games. Strangely enough though, Daisuke, in addition to walking guys last season, gave up a ton of HR's and base hits. The basehits should drop significantly this season. The HR's, well, he needs to make sure that that goes down. Daisuke is a flyball pitcher and if he gives up homeruns at 12% of flyballs, that is bad news indeed. He has to get the ball on the ground more. Again, I don't expect that to really happen. It is going to be another painful year watching him (if he ever gets in the game). But, in the end, he will show decent numbers. I expect him to finish in the low 4.00's in ERA with double digit wins and a collective reaching for the rolaids by Red Sox Nation.
SP5 - Clay Buchholz
I have Clay here instead of Wakefield as I believe in the end, Clay will be in the rotation all season somehow. He just has too much talent not to be. Clay has turned into a ground ball machine on the mound and I think that that is the best thing he could ever have done. Last season, he had a 53.8 GB%. That is ridiculous and exactly the sort of thing that more pitchers need to do. He K rate of 6.65, while not great, is good enough with that amount of groundballs. Clay has the potential on this team to be simply fantastic. Projections are all over the board for him. The average out at about 4.20 ERA with a 1.38 WHIP. I think he can do better than that for sure. If he stays healthy, I could see IP in the range of 180 or so. That wouldn't be bad as he pitched over 190 between minors and majors last season. I also feel like he can have an ERA under 4.00 with all those ground balls. Maybe wishful thinking, but if he does that, everyone in New England will be jumping for joy.
Right now, here are the people projected in there: Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima, Ramon Ramirez, Daniel Bard, and Manny Delcarmen. There is also Boof Bonser, Michael Bowden, and Tim Wakefield to fit in there in the last spot. I imagine Bowden goes down to AAA to start the season and gets his head back on straight again. Bonser starts as the long man in the pen. Wakefield I imagine goes to the rotation for Daisuke, at least for the beginning. Maybe Wake ends up starting most of the year and gives the team a real good problem to have. The rest of the pen is alright, but not as good as last year. Oki and Bard are very solid set up men for Paps (who I expect to be very good this year). RaRamo seems to be hit or miss most of the time, but he should end up being solid. MDC.... jeez, I don't know. He also needs to get his head on straight. If not, then it may be time to move him to another team. Overall, the pen is good, but not great. Losing Wagner and Saito hurts. It really does. But, the emergence of Bard (and hopefully the continued advancement) has really solidified things there. Oki will do his thing and hopefully not drop off too much. I don't expect him to be as good as he has been, and should continue his gradual drop off. But, that drop off isn't enough that he won't be solid still. And if something happens, the Sox will find someone to plug in there, either through the minors or trade.
That ends part III of the Red Sox Preview. I will wrap it all up in Part IV next time out.