Hi fellow Sox fans, I wanted to post this series of pieces I have written for own Sox blog Spaceman's Pancakes (www.spacemanspancakes.wordpress.com) here in the Fanpost's section of Over the Monster as it is one favorite places to read and learn about the Red Sox. Some of you may have seen some of my other fanposts over at BeyondtheBoxscore where I have posted on more general subjects as Mattsullivan79. I hope you guys enjoy. And now the Jump-
So much of bullish pre-season outlook for the Red Sox rested on the strength of their pitching. The projected rotation of Lester, Beckett, Lackey, Buchholz and Matsuzaka/ Wakefield was really something fans could dream on. The bullpen looked solid as well, with Bard and Papelbon getting the high leverage work and stalwarts Okajima, Delcarmen, and Ramon Ramirez handling the majority of the other innings. Things didn’t shake out quite that way though.
Overall, Boston pitching was actually pretty good in 2010. The team ranked 4th in the AL in both FIP and xFIP and received the 2nd highest fWAR total from pitchers of any team in the league. Those strong numbers seem to jive with what I think most fans are feeling now, however. It certainly didn’t feel like the Red Sox had better pitching than any playoff team except Minnesota. The starting rotation may not have absolutely dominated the way many hoped, but the real reason fans aren’t feeling good about Red Sox pitching is the bullpen. In a word, it was horrible.
Both FIP and xFIP rank the Red Sox bullpen worst in the league. Their 75 meltdowns are tied with the Royals for the second most in the league with the Royals. All of those numbers understate just how bad they really were though. Of those players who pitched at least 20 innings in relief for the Sox, only Bard and Papelbon contributed any positive value. Without those two, the entire bullpen was about 19 runs below replacement level over 300 innings. As a group, they gave up more home runs per 9 innings than any team in baseball. Only the Angels pen walked more batters per 9 in the AL. They were just awful.
The really tragic thing is that the guys handing the ball over to that miserable crew were quite possibly the best in the league. Jon Lester was fantastic, ranking 6th in the league in FIP, 4th in xFIP and 6th in fWAR. Clay Buchholz officially arrived this year. His 3.16 FIP was aided by an extremely low HR/FB rate (5.6%) and his K/BB is not ace material yet, but he had great season at just 25 years old and still has room to improve. For all the disappointment with John Lackey’s declining strikeout rate, he was still a valuable guy, pitching 215 innings at an above average level. Daisuke was what he has always been, inconsistent and infuriating to watch, but not actual much worse than average. Only Beckett really struggled this year, missing a lot of time to injury and posting a FIP almost a run above his average. Home runs were once again the biggest issue for Beckett as his 14.2 HR/FB was the worst in the league amongst pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched.
For 2011, the Red Sox will need to completely overhaul their bullpen. The starting pitching should remain solidly among the leagues best, even without any additions. The biggest question, by far, is what will happen with Jonathan Papelbon. It is hard for me to believe that the Red Sox will pay a reliever the $12 million or so he could easily see in arbitration, but he is still one of the only effective bullpen arms under team control and the cost of a comparable pitcher in draft compensation and free agent spending isn’t likely to be all that different. Regardless of what happens with Papelbon, the Red Sox will need to find three or four arms for the pen this off-season. They should also be a part of the Cliff Lee bidding, but that is a subject for another post. The 2011 Red Sox will likely feature great starting pitching once again, but who they hand the ball to after that will remain a major question mark for the time being.