Report Card: Grading the Boston Red Sox Starting Pitchers
The Boston Red Sox are 110 games into the season, and with just 52 games remaining on the schedule, now seems as good a time as any to grade the team as they make their perennial postseason surge.
Coming into the season, the Red Sox seemingly had unprecedented depth in their pitching rotation, with Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka as the starting 5.
Still, the team had Tim Wakefield and Alfredo Aceves available for spot-starting duties, as well as Felix Doubront waiting in the wings we call Triple-A.
Despite their multitude of pitching options, the squad’s starting rotation fell into a state of disrepair from the start of the season, as Daisuke Matsuzaka suffered a season-ending injury (requiring Tommy John surgery), while John Lackey struggled mightily.
As the season progressed, Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester found themselves on the DL, as Buchholz’s injury has now seemingly compounded into one that is potentially season-ending.
The Sox found themselves in a situation where they required more pitching depth, as they called on Kyle Weiland and Andrew Miller to make starts.
The situation has very clearly proven Red Sox GM Theo Epstein’s core belief that “you can never have enough pitching.”
Now, onto the grades –
Key Stats: 2.20 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 9-4 W-L
One of Beckett’s best seasons has come during this 2011 campaign. If the season were to end today, Beckett would have easily set new career bests in terms of ERA and WHIP. A front-running Cy Young candidate, Beckett has dominated hitters over the course of the entire season.
Most importantly, Beckett has pitched his best games during Boston’s biggest games, as he boasts a 3-0 record with a 0.86 ERA against the Yankees, and a mind-boggling 0.00 ERA against the Rays.
Grade: Beckett has carried this Red Sox rotation, and has been a model of consistency, dominance, and success. A
Key Stats: 3.23 ERA, .232 OPP BA, 11-4 W-L
After a career year last season, Jon Lester set the bar of expectations extremely high, as the Red Sox turned to him as the “ace” of the rotation. He has not disappointed. Although not the ace (that title has been given to Beckett) of the staff, the lefty has had great success with his impressive 3.17 ERA.
Lester has faced his share of adversity this season, including a stint on the DL as well as a May with a 5.50 ERA, but is quickly regaining his 2010 swagger.
In his first two starts after coming off the DL, Lester went 13.1 innings while allowing just 3 runs (2.02 ERA), striking out 14 and giving up just 11 hits. If he continues on his current path, the Red Sox will have one of the best 1-2 punches in the league.
Grade: Lester’s time on the DL and occasional dud performance is all that is preventing Lester from being considered elite. B+
Key Stats: 3.48 ERA, 6-3 W-L
Buchholz put up phenomenal numbers last season, in what was easily his best year. The Red Sox were probably not expecting a replica of last season, but they were certainly expecting more from the oft-injured right hander. Buchholz’s season may be in jeopardy due to a nagging back injury, and it doesn’t help that the injury is putting an otherwise successful year at risk.
With a 1.29 WHIP and a 3.48 ERA, Buchholz was on his way up when he got hurt after a fairly rough start to the season. In his final 9 starts, the Red Sox were 8-1, with the lone loss coming in a 3-2 pitching duel against the Cleveland Indians during which Buch gave up 2 runs in 7 1/3 innings.
His stuff is clearly nasty, and when he’s on, he’s tough to beat, but his key will be getting back on the mound to assist the Sox in the postseason.
Grade: Injuries have derailed an otherwise promising season, but part of being a good pitcher is staying healthy. B-
Key Stats: 6.11 ERA, 10-8 W-L, .300 OPP BA
For the better part of the first half of the season, fans and media were quick to jump on the “dump Lackey” bandwagon, and they had reason to do so. The righty started off the season in abysmal fashion as he struggled in nearly every game he stepped on the mound.
After missing part of May, Lackey seemed poise to make a healthy return and regain control of his pitches, but he failed to do so and continued getting bashed.
With his reputation at stake, however, Lackey managed to string together several solid starts, and at this point in the season looks to be ready to pitch at the level at which he was expected to perform.
In his last four starts in July, Lackey was 4-0 with a 2.52 ERA with 21 strikeouts. That being said, Lackey took a step back in his first August start as he gave up 5 runs in 6 2/3 innings pitched, but if Lackey can go out and pitch even decently during the majority of his starts, the Sox will be thankful.
Grade: Although he has improved of late, Lackey has had a very, very difficult season. C
Key Stats: 5.30 ERA, 3-3 W-L, 1.47 WHIP
Daisuke was clearly affected by his elbow injury which required him to receive Tommy John surgery. With the exception of two phenomenal starts against Toronto and Tampa Bay (15 IP, 0 ER, 12 K’s, 2 H), Matsuzaka struggled, getting out of the sixth inning only once.
Oft-injured, consistently inconsistent, a model of mediocrity for much of his career, Daisuke may have thrown his last pitch in a Red Sox uniform.
Grade: Inconsistent with a few dazzling performances, lost a season because of injury and thus cannot contribute. D+
Key Stats: 4.99 ERA, 6-4 W-L
Wakefield’s mediocre season has been fairly magical because of his pursuit of 200 career wins. He has consistently kept the Red Sox offense in games, and has done everything Terry Francona has asked of him.
Grade: His professional nature and chance at 200 wins has been great to watch, and he has certainly earned his success. B-
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