FORT MYERS FL - FEBRUARY 19: Pitchers Hideki Okajima #37 John Lackey #41 Josh Beckett #19 Tim Wakefield #49 and Jon Lester #31 of the Boston Red Sox talk with coaches during a Spring Training Workout Session at the Red Sox Player Development Complex on February 19 2011 in Fort Myers Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
Yesterday, the Red Sox announced that Jon Lester has been chosen as this year's Opening Day starter--and well it should be, as the lefty has been easily one of the best pitchers in the MLB over the past few years, pitching over 200 innings the last three years and getting fairly incredible results pitching at a home park that is not typically very friendly to left-handed pitchers.
Today, the Sox announced how the rest of the rotation will line up. None of this should come as a huge shock to anyone and, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter a whole lot, but seeing how we are stuck in the purgatory of mid-March spring training on a day where there is no broadcast of today's game vs. the Mets, lets discuss it.
The way the rotation lines up is as follows:
The number one spot is obviously no surprise. Lester is clearly the best pitcher on the staff. Last year, he saw his BB/9 climb quite significantly, but he also managed the induce far more grounders than ever before (and anyone else in the rotation) and as such, was very successful at keeping the ball in the park, which is not the easiest task for a lefty at Fenway.
Lackey also makes a lot of sense in the number 2 spot. While he did have a down year in 2010, he pitched very well in the second half of the year and it could be argued that a lot of his struggles were more the result of bad luck and fielding than the result of pitching (we've all seen that he likes that argument...). He also managed to provide a solid 215 innings--more than anyone else in the rotation. If he can give us that many innings at something close to the level he pitched at for the second half of the year, he'll be making himself a pretty strong case for one of the best #2 starters in the league.
Slotting Buchholz at #3 surprised me a little bit, just because it seems unlike Francona to drop down Beckett as far as he has. That said, Buchholz pitched very well last year. While he probably will see some decline in his exceptional ERA, as he appeared to get better results than his 3.61 FIP would dictate, he still put up some excellent numbers and could well be expected to pitch better than last year. An improved defense behind him should only help Buchholz. In addition, assuming health, he could well provide 200 innings in the coming year.
Beckett is the first giant question in the rotation. The Beckett of 2010 was a complete enigma--his peripherals were OK, but significantly worse than usual; his results were just terrible. Hopefully a return to health in 2011 will bring him closer to the Beckett of 2007. If he is as ineffective as he was in 2010, it is going to make life a lot harder for the Red Sox.
Dice-K is, of course, a #5. At this point, we probably know what to expect from him--he will be either awful or incredible. He will frustrate us all. We will all think that he's finally starting to look like an ace and then he'll bomb a few starts in a row. At the end of the year, while I'd prefer someone that was just reliably mediocre, chances are that he'll have ended up being more valuable to the Sox than almost every other #5 starter out there. The biggest question with him over the course of the year is if he can finally remain healthy so that we have to stretch into using our AAA depth as little as possible.
Really, looking at all of these guys on paper, I find it very reassuring to think that the rotation is probably the Red Sox biggest question mark coming into the season. At the end of the day, this is a solid rotation that has the potential to be absolutely devastating or has the potential to struggle. Really all we have left to do at this point is to hope that the baseball health gods are smiling on us this year and hopefully this team should have a good shot at the playoffs.
For those of you who don't feel like doing the math, barring any injuries or changes, this is how our rotation stacks up for the first few series:
At Texas: Lester, Lackey, Buchholz
At Cleveland: Beckett, Dice-K, Lester
vs the Yankees at Fenway: Lackey, Buchholz, Beckett
vs the Rays at Fenway: Dice-K, Lester, Lackey
And so on and so forth for about 150 more games.