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O Starters Where Art Thou?

Recently a certain Red Sox hurler has come under scrutiny, and I'm not talking about the guy whose DFA announcement caused birds to sing and lepers to dance Javier Lopez. No, the man under fire is Josh Beckett, two-time playoff hero, 2007 Cy Young runner up, and "on paper" Sox ace. I'm with those who are worried about Beckett. I'm particularly bothered by his high walk totals (4.4 BB / 9 IP, vs. 1.8 in 2007 and 2008). But Josh is just the tip of the iceberg that's threatening to sink HMS Soxtanic.

One quick and dirty way to look at Sox pitching is value over replacement player, or VORP. Courtesy of Baseball Prospectus, the rankings for Sox pitchers tell paint an ugly, if interesting, picture:

  1. Tim Wakefield: 14.9 VORP
  2. Ramon Ramirez: 10.5
  3. Manny Delcarmen: 8.5
  4. Jonathan Papelbon: 7.9
  5. Hideki Okajima: 5.6
  6. Justin Masterson: 3.6
  7. Takashi Saito: 2.5
  8. Michael Bowden: 1.4
  9. Jon Lester: 0.5
  10. Jonathan Van Every: 0.5
  11. Hunter Jones: -0.8
  12. Josh Beckett: -0.8
  13. Daisuke Matsuzaka: -4.4
  14. Javier "He Who Shall Not be Mourned" Lopez: -4.5
  15. Brad "Bad" Penny: -5.5

When Wakefield is the only starting pitcher with any semblance of worth (he's actually off to a great start), you know the team is in trouble. Not only is Beckett scuffling, but so is Jon Lester, the de facto ace last year. Daisuke wasn't great in the two games he pitched before landing on the DL, Masterson isn't turning any heads (as a starter, 5.48 ERA, 1.435 WHIP, 2.11 K/BB ratio), and the less said about Brad Penny, the better.

The Red Sox are 20-12, and just two games behind Toronto, entirely because of Wakefield, great offense (2nd in runs scored), and the phenomenal work by the bullpen. If not for heroic work by Ramon Ramirez (thx Coco), Manny Delcarmen, Papelbon, and Okajima, the Sox would probably be in 4th place and below .500.

One reason that the starting pitching has been so overwhelmingly putrid is defense. The team has a defensive efficiency rate of .670, which is astoundingly bad: 12th in the league, 27th in the game. [Insert Lugo ad hominem here.]

It's still early, so we can weather the starting pitching doldrums a while longer. But if this keeps up, we'll need Change. We'll need Hope. We'll need Clay Buchholz, possibly garnished with a side of Michael Bowden. Both of those guys are tearing up minor league pitching, and Triple A can only hold them for so long. Buchholz in Pawtucket has a 1.33 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, and 8.7 K/9. Bowden is just as good: 1.01 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 6.7 K/9 and 0 HR in 26.2 innings.

Meanwhile, John Smoltz is rehabbing, as is Daisuke Matsuzaka. Either of them could restore some semblance of order to our starting pitching. Even Junichi Tazawa could become an option. There's no question that the Red Sox have depth; all the questions concerns its quality - are we good enough to compete? That, like the mischievous gyroball, remains to be seen.