A Response: Peter Abraham & Pitching Depth

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 15: Kyle Weiland #70 of the Boston Red Sox confers with Jarrod Saltalamacchia #39 of the Boston Red Sox during Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park September 15, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

In a piece today for the Globe's Extra Bases blog, Peter Abraham analyzes why the Red Sox are having trouble. I was reading along mostly agreeing until a passage about how the Red Sox failed to build starting pitching depth:

They also failed to build starter depth. The Red Sox have a well-funded and comprehensive player development system and the only starter they were able to spit out of their vaunted machine for 2011 was Kyle Weiland? How is that possible? That's on Theo Epstein and his staff.

I think that's a bit unfair. Recall that the Red Sox starting rotation coming out of spring training looked like this (in some order):

1. Jon Lester
2. Josh Beckett
3. John Lackey
4. Daisuke Matsuzaka
5. Clay Buchholz

Matsuzaka made seven starts and then hit the DL. He's since had Tommy John Surgery and missed the rest of the year. He'll miss most or all of next as well. Buchholz made 14 starts before a broken back ended his season prematurely. He's now throwing off a mound and is hoping (hoping!) to pitch in a game during the last series of the year. He last pitched in a game June 16th, three months today.

John Lackey missed most of May. He was abysmal before and just bad since. Both Beckett and Lester have for the most part been healthy, though both have missed time. Tim Wakefield, who was slated for long man duty out of the bullpen, has taken his declining peripherals and ailing ERA to the mound for the fourth most innings of any Sox pitcher this season. These injuries have forced the Red Sox to start ten different pitchers. It isn't like they've just used a guy once or twice either. All ten have started at least four games. Six different pitchers have started twelve or more games.

By comparison, the Yankees have used seven different starters this season, one of whom, Brian Gordon, started two games. Five have started at least twenty three with the sixth, Phil Hughes, having come off the DL to start 14. The Rangers have also used seven starters, though two of those have combined to start five games. The rest of their 145 games have been started by just five guys. The Rays, the Red Sox direct competitor for the Wild Card, have also used seven starters. Alex Cobb and Andy Sonnanstine have started 14 games for them but for those interruptions the Rays have rolled five guys.

The Tigers are the only AL playoff team to use as many starters as Boston, but even they haven't relied on their depth to quite the extent the Red Sox have. Jon Lester leads the Red Sox with 28 starts. The Tigers have four guys who have started as many or more games as Lester. The Red Sox will not have one starting pitcher reach 32 starts this year. Not one. They probably won't get 200 innings out of any starter either.

With no injuries, a given team would get 32 or 33 starts out of each of their five pitchers. That's a tough standard of course. Injuries happen in baseball, especially to pitchers, and so teams need to be prepared. So were the Red Sox prepared? That depends on what you think prepared is.

Any time a team has to dig down to the tenth starter in their organization there will likely be some problems. No team has ten available starters. They might have ten available fill-ins, but that's different. The farther you go down the depth chart, the less prepared and/or the worse the results are likely to be. We can see that with Kyle Weiland who in a perfect Red Sox world wouldn't have started a single game, let alone four. We can see that with Andrew Miller, a nice reclamation project who probably should be pitching for the Astros, Orioles, or A's right now.

The point of all the above is that injuries happen. Under performance happens. Sometimes they happen to the same team in the same year. Other times you invite Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia to spring training and end up with 288 innings of 120 ERA+ ball. Of course the buck stops with Theo Epstein, and I'm certain he'd be the first to say so. But sometimes as the old cliche says, the best laid plans go awry. In the end there really isn't much you can do about that.

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