Andrew Miller. Tim Wakefield. Kyle Weiland.
Those names are etched into the consciousness of any fan of the 2011 Boston Red Sox. The reason is simple. They played. Their opportunity represented a different failure, mistake, or injury on the other end. Miller started twelve games for Boston, Wakefield twenty-three, and Weiland five. Their 40 starts came because Lackey and Matsuzaka were either hurt or monstrously ineffective or both. They came because Josh Beckett had to miss a start or because Clay Buchholz broke his back. They came because there were no minor league call ups to make and no free agents to acquire.
The 2011 Sox used ten different starting pitchers, six of whom started at least four and no more than fourteen games. Their injuries and disappointments have been well chronicled here and elsewhere so it isn't my intent to repeat them, except to say that contrary to popular belief the Red Sox came into the 2011 season with pitching depth. They possessed All Star starters Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Clay Buchholz was expected to take the next step. For back up, Tim Wakefield, Alfredo Aceves,Felix Doubront. Andrew Miller, and if need be, Brandon Duckworth waited in the wings. It wasn't enough.
Was it an organizational failure? Maybe. That could be argued, but I assert it was mostly just garbage luck.Lackey and Matsuzaka both imploded. Wakefield continued over the cliff, Doubront was hurt and ineffective and hurt again, and Andrew Miller, despite all the tinkering with this and that was still Andrew Miller.
So what have the Red Sox learned from last year? We'll know more by watching them than we will by listening to what they say during spring training but I think the level of pitching depth the Red Sox have assembled speaks loudly.
The Red Sox front office has brought in five pitchers capable of starting in addition to the regular starting five. You might not want them starting large chunks of your season, but Aaron Cook, Aceves, Miller, Vincente Padilla and Ross Ohlendorf are all capable of throwing major league innings this year at replacement level or better. None of them would go first overall in a fantasy draft (unless they were were doing the drafting) but they're perfectly serviceable starting pitchers for short or intermediate periods of the season.
That list ignores Daisuke Matsuzaka too who could be back before the All Star break. I hear your collective groan but you should note that Matsuzaka will finally have his arm repaired, which is something he didn't have for the last year at least and quite possibly longer of his tenure in Boston. What's more, he also has the incentive to pitch for his next contract, as he'll be a free agent this winter. That's not to say he'll come back and pitch so well his first week that he'll make the All Star team, but as a replacement for any of the rotation filler the Red Sox trotted out there in 2011 (and yes, that includes Matsuzaka himself) he's an upgrade.
And perhaps that's the point here. All those names are slight upgrades over what the Sox had in their places in 2011. If Matsuzaka comes back healthy and Aaron Cook continues to burn worms, the Red Sox could be looking at seven starters for five spots sometime in early July. Of course, we all know that isn't likely. Someone will get hurt, pull something, fall over eating waffles, get attacked by mice, or what have you, but that's why having the options available is so important.
The Red Sox, it seems, have applied the lessons of last year and as such have assembled back up plans and back up plans for their back up plans. There may injuries and there likely will be injuries to starters this year, but unless a plague of locusts storms Fenway the Sox should be in good stead along the way.