Before I start the first part of this "series" (this may be the most contentious of spots that could truly be settled in Spring Training), I'm going to warn you. As you can guess from the title, this isn't particularly exciting, but it is one that could be a point of contention.
The candidates, as selected by me.
Personally, I'm not including Okajima in this contest. With his decent track record over many years in Japan, and his status as the only guy who could have a full conversation with Daisuke, I think he's pretty much down in ink for the 2007 season. Honestly, I'm fine with that. So I suppose he's not so much a "candidate" as LH Reliever #1.
As we all know (and some lamented), J.C. has a $1.6M guaranteed contract with the Sox. More on this later.
Craig saw some action with us towards the end of 2006. I know there are some here who would love to see Craig make the roster.
Still a member of the 40-man, Kason's best shot at seeing time is probably as a LHRP. On the depth chart for starters, I would put Hansack and Lester both ahead of Gabbard.
This one seems very unlikely. We'll be fortunate to see Lester at Fenway at any point this season (I think we will), but I think competing for this spot out of ST could be both counter-productive to his development as a pitcher, and also a bit too much to hope for.
He was supposed to fill this role for us after the Riske trade. It was a work in progress, with good and bad outtings.
You can count me as someone who thinks DiNardo's ship has sailed as far as time in Boston is concerned. However, he's on the 40-man and hasn't been a trade throw-in (or released) yet.
Narrowing it down a bit...
DiNardo. Lopez. Lester. Gabbard. Breslow. Romero. Okajima.
As I already said, I think Okajima has a spot locked-down for sure. I also think, even given a good spring, all that would mean for DiNardo is that he could see time in the Nationals' starting rotation. Lester is probably not really in competition for this job: any time he sees in ST would be to regain his strength to be our 6th starter this season. So we're left with this list.
Lopez. Gabbard. Breslow. Romero.
Do the splits.
Javier Lopez has enough innings that we'll use his ML data.
He limits lefties to a .658 OPS over his career. Righties are "held" to an OPS of .862, with .OBP being .400 of that. To put this in a bit of perspective, Indians catcher Victor Martinez put up an .856 OPS last season. Lopez should not see righties. Is he better than the rest against lefties?
Kason Gabbard has 25 innings of ML ball under his belt, all in one season. Hardly enough to look at. However, Jeff Sackmann's excellent Minor League Splits dot com has the information we need. In fairness (with Breslow below), we'll throw up his ML splits as well.
In his MiL career, Gabbard kept lefties to a .614 OPS and righties to .672. That was the minor leagues, however, so you'd have to assume a jump in some of that data. His limited ML exposure saw him very slightly better against RHH (.669) than LHH (.673). His BABIP against LHH was off-the-scale unlucky, coming in at .417 (average/normal is 'around' .300, maybe a little less).
A .631 OPS against LHH and a .731 OPS against RHH. No particularly strange .BABIP data here. MiL: Impressive, if limited data itself. LHH: .559, RHH: .553.
J.C. Romero has certainly been in the bigs long enough for that to be useable data. Romero's Splits.
Romero is great (.622 OPS) against lefties, and a little less so against righties (.819 OPS). At this point (and basically always), Romero should be a lefty specialist. Last season seems to be a concern for a lot of people, and I'm not sure it should be. 2006: vs LHH: .601 OPS. The problem was that he saw far too many (122 PA) of RHH: 1.033. This means he was almost poor enough to make every RHH look like Lance Berkman (1.041) last season.
Lowest to highest, OPS against LHH:
- Romero (.622)
- Breslow (.631) Limited data.
- Lopez (.658)
- Gabbard (.673) Limited data.
- Gabbard (.669) Limited data.
- Breslow (.731) Limited data.
- Romero (.819)
- Lopez (.862)
All of these pitchers are on the 40-man, so they all have that going for them. Romero's is the only contract that is actually a ML contract, which is a strike against the other two. IIRC, the other two can be 'optioned' as the season moves along. However, the small amount of Romero's contract ($1.6M) doesn't preclude him from being cut if he stinks to high heaven in ST.
Gabbard has the ability to start, which I suppose could be useful. Breslow is well-known as being very intelligent, as his degrees in biochemistry and molecular biophysics attest to. Romero has the FO on his side, as they've said multiple times that he's a "fixable" pitcher.
The Real Battle.
Ultimately, I think this ends up coming down to Breslow and Romero. I'm not sure the braintrust truly sees Gabbard as something other than a starter at this point. (His pretty even splits suggest they're probably right). If Breslow impresses in ST, combined with Romero looking bad, he could force the Sox's hand. I'm personally rooting for this, since I agree with the idea that true LOOGY's kind of clog up a bullpen, and Breslow would be the more effective pitcher against RHHs. Ultimately, I think Breslow ends up in Pawtucket, while Romero throws to too few batters (all LHH) to be useful enough, or too many (RHH) to be useful at all.