Boston's Best Tools: Best Stuff


On the pitching side of the game, we have already looked at the best fastball, breaking ball, and control. In the final piece for the pitching side of this series, we put it all together and consider who has the best stuff. While I will throw out the usual chart and labor over the advanced statistics for the candidates over the next few hundred words, the answer here is pretty obvious. Jon Lester was my pick and our readers’ pick for best control, his curveball was my choice and our readers’ choice for best breaking ball and only Daniel Bard’s 97 mph heater topped Lester’s fastball. Simply put, Jon Lester has the best stuff on the 2011 Red Sox and that puts him pretty high on the list for best stuff worldwide.

Although Lester might be the easy choice for best stuff, the 2011 Red Sox have quite a few impressive arms. For analysis here, I am going to look at the three components of fielding independent pitching as rate stats and a few other key numbers that we have yet to look at in this series. 












Jon Lester










Josh Beckett










Clay Buchholz










Jonathan Papelbon










Daniel Bard











The usual suspects top our list, which is organized by innings pitched. The data once again comes from 2008 to 2010.  I have included WAR here and it is no surprise that Lester leads that metric. I don’t think it is really important to the debate over best stuff though, because it depends so heavily on innings pitched.

FIP and xFIP both love Jonathan Papelbon, though his 2010 numbers are not nearly as good as the 2008-2009 ones. Jon Lester has the 2nd best FIP, but ranks fourth in xFIP. I think this very interesting as xFIP "normalizes" home run per fly ball rates to the league average (usually around 10%). Lester may have had some luck on home runs, but any regression there will be minor. He has been slightly better than the league at keeping fly balls in the yard for his entire career. On the other side, Josh Beckett is the only pitcher here who has a better xFIP than his FIP. Any Red Sox fan can tell you Beckett struggles with the long ball, but if xFIP is right, that might just be bad luck. A return to just 10% HR/FB would help the hard throwing righty out tremendously. Clay Buchholz made great strides in 2010, with a FIP a half run better than his pervious numbers. Unfortunately his xFIP was 4.20, almost exactly what we see here. In order to repeat his excellent 2010 season, Buchholz needs to up his strike out rate, which is easily the lowest here.

Daniel Bard’s HR/FB rate is almost exactly league average, so we shouldn’t expect much regression there. For a pitcher with that kind of explosive fastball his 46 % ground ball rate is a great asset to him. Jonthan Papelbon is a different story. His 2010 season saw a touch of regression in home runs per fly ball after he has posted phenomenal rates in every year prior. In 2010, 9.1% of his fly balls left the park, a huge jump from his career rate of just 6.9%. If this continues, Papelbon will not be the same pitcher we have come to know. His GB% is disturbingly low and that means he can not keep his FIP and ERA so low without keeping a high percentage of those fly balls in the park. 

While many experts have called out Clay Buchholz as a prime candidate to regress in 2011, one thing that Clay does have going for him is his excellent ground ball percentage. He leads the team with his excellent 50.9% rate here. Lester comes in a close second and actually had a better rate in 2010. If any one needed further proof that Jon Lester is one of the game’s best pitchers, that is it. Pitchers with high strikeout rates tend toward high fly ball rates, like Papelbon does. Maintaining a GB% in the low to mid forties like Beckett and Bard is great, but with a GB% over 50%, Lester enters a rare breed of pitchers who strike out a high number while keeping the ball on the ground. In 2010 only four pitchers managed a GB% over 50 and a K/9 rate over 8; the other three were Adam Wainwright, Felix Hernandez, and Francisco Liriano (Roy Halladay just missed out). The average K/9 for the twenty three pitchers to reach a 50% or better rate is just 6.69.

The table above should be a huge source of optimism for Sox fans in 2011. Beyond having one of the game’s best pitchers in Jon Lester, the Red Sox have two of the best relievers in baseball and two other starters who would qualify as the staff ace for the majority of major league teams. In addition, the 2010 defense was a major liability to the Sox pitchers, particularly in the outfield. With ace glove man Carl Crawford in left and the healthy return of Ellsbury and Cameron, the 2011 Red Sox should keep the other teams from scoring at every turn.

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