The Internet and the country in general seem to be swarming with Sox fans, so I expect that together, we can assemble a nice review of the Sox pitchers. I'll get the ball rolling with my own thoughts on them, with a little musical theme to it:
- "Miss You," by the Rolling Stones - Indeed, the Sox missed a healthy Curt Schilling in 2005. After a 200+ strikeout season and 21 wins in 2004 (in addition to a playoff run that has cemented Schill's place in history), Curt came back from his injuries, well... terribly, in 2005. And there's really very little reason for it. A premature use of DIPS would inform you that Schilling was incredibly unlucky last year with a .381 BABIP, but, as I've stated before, it seems like there's a certain point when pitchers just aren't pitching well enough to be able to have a reasonable shot to prevent balls from being hit hard. Still, Schill's strikeout rate wasn't bad, so you'd think that he was doing SOMETHING right. It's virtually impossible for Schilling to put up another .381 BABIP season (I think he'll be throwing better this time). Where Schilling falls this year? Your guess is as good as mine, but Schill's the only real ace on this staff if he's healthy. He's gotta step up for the Sox to have a good rotation.
- "Song for the Dumped," by Ben Folds Five - Yes, Josh Beckett was dumped by the Marlins, with just about every other talented player on the big league roster (save Cabrera and Willis). Beckett's a guy who looks like an ace. His ESPN scouting report gives him no fewer than 4 plus pitches, and I've never seen that. He throws hard, and, when he's on, he's as good as anyone in the business. But Beckett also has some problems: he's never started more than 30 games in a season, and he's never really approached 200 innings. His strikeout rate has also declined in back-to-back years, and studies have shown that strikeout rates DO tend to peak very early on (although they don't usually fall apart). Beckett's still solid, but you're looking at another one of these Marlins guys who is superior at home. Hitters hit .204/.288/.297 against Beckett in Florida (outstanding), but they hit .261/.316/.434 against him on the road. Beckett could break out at any time, like many pitchers with his caliber stuff. But we're looking at an unknown commodity, at this point. I liked the trade for the Sox and I still do, but Beckett could be anywhere from the ace that he should be to a 25 start guy with a 4ish ERA. We will see.
- "Sloop John B," by The Beach Boys - "Well I feel so broke up, I wanna go home," says a 42-years young David Wells, who wants to be traded back to San Diego to be closer to home for the end of his career. Wells is a one-trick pony at this point in his career: he simply doesn't walk anyone. He's no better than average at limiting homers, and his strikeout rates aren't too high (although he has raised this in back-to-back years, which is quite the accomplishment at that age. Wells doesn't put anyone on base by himself, so baserunners are a product of BABIP (and his was .324 last year). What does this entail for 2006? PECOTA has his range of outcomes from a 2.69 ERA to a 7.10 ERA (it gives itself a lot of cover in this situation). Wells will most likely be traded, but for argument's sake, if he remains around, I don't see any reason why he can't be an OK middle of the rotation kinda guy. Unless his surgically-repaired knee doesn't hold up.
- "Troubled Times," by Fountains of Wayne - I'll be honest: I was one of the guys who said that the Matt Clement signing was a steal. I loved Clement's strikeout rate, felt that the homers were a fluke in '04, noting that an extreme groundball pitcher shouldn't have given up 1.14 HR/9. I was half right, but the strikeouts collapsed; he dropped off from a 24.5% K/PA to a 17.6% K/PA. That's a big deal, going from one of the game's elite strikeout rates to one that was somewhat pedestrian. Clement's times were troubled last year, and some statheads, like the Mets' Ben Baumer, argued that Clement was a better signing than Pedro. Clement should bounce back this year, a little bit, at least. PECOTA thinks he's a fairly safe bet; his Collapse Rate is merely 8%. That's about as low as I've seen for a pitcher this year, except maybe Jake Peavy.
- "The Dance," by Garth Brooks - "And now I'm glad I didn't know the way it all would end, the way it all would go..." Doesn't that describe Tim Wakefield's knuckleball? I picked "The Dance" because Wake's knuckleball has been dancing around for a while now. He's a solid pitcher, still, and knuckleballers can last a while, but he did give up a hefty number of homers last year. Wakefield isn't asked to be an ace here, though; he's at the back of the rotation and always manages to fill a role in the playoffs. (Yes, he's pitched 64.2 innings of playoff baseball in his life with a 6.12 ERA, but still, he's done good in places.) It's difficult to root against the game's most famous knuckleballer. He's a consistent "innings eater," which is a term too often used to describe crappy pitchers who stay healthy. Wakefield's an asset and the built-in exception to standard DIPS theory (the knuckleballer exception). And he also has the game's coolest contract.
- "Happy Jack," by The Who - Jon Papelbon should be happy. He'll start the year out in the bigs and will have a prominent role on the Sox through this season. If Wells moves, Papelbon, the man with a name that combines an important aspect in Italian history with a famed rest-stop delicacy, will most likely slide into the rotation. (Yeah, the spelling is different, and I think that Jon's name is pronounced differently, but still.) Until then, he's in the 'pen. I can't see Papelbon as a top prospect, not at this age; he's probably a notch or two below the Verlanders and the Cains of the world. But there's no reason that he can't be a solid big leaguer. His track record over the last two years is impeccable, and I love the fact that he's done a good job with homers at most levels. He walked a few too many in his big league stint, but every else looked real good. He could be a very good reliever this year, I think, but PECOTA is surprisingly negative. I'll go against that and say that JP will be pretty solid this year.
We'll get off the music theme as we shift to the bullpen, I think.
Keith Foulke is undoubtedly an elite closer when he's healthy, one of the top few in the game. Of course, his knee problems from last year immediately warrant concern. You can gush about Foulke with many different compliments, and I already have, so I'll spare you a repeat session... Mike Timlin: closer? No. Definitely not, at this point. THe HR rate came out of nowhere, and that won't happen again. He was hurt by BABIP last year, although it didn't impact his ERA negatively. In either case, he's an eligible candidate for a collapse, based on the fact that so much of his success came from not giving up homers... David Riske came over in the Coco Crisp deal, and he's a strange pitcher. He went from a high K/high BB to a low K/low BB pitcher between '04 and '05. I honestly don't know who's the real deal, but I do know that he won't put up another .215 BABIP. Riske's not going to be very good this year, I don't think; he gave up a lot of homers in a pitcher's park both years... I completely forgot about Bronson Arroyo, to be honest, as a starting pitcher candidate, even after talking about him four days ago. Marc likes him as a starter, but there's no room at this point. Arroyo gives them a great option for the first injury to the staff, but at this point, he's nothing more than a league average pitcher. I don't know how that will translate to full-time pen work... Lenny DiNardo was a great find; he's yet another one of those guys who pitches well in AAA and can be an adequate back-of-the-pen guy. DiNardo was very good in 14.2 innings last year; I think he'll get a few more this time around... Rudy Seanez was a good signing on a one-year deal. Seanez quietly dominated last year, even with a .338 BABIP, striking out 33.9% of the batters he faced. He's been around the block a few times, but it was an smart signing... Julian Tavarez is more of a name than anything else, and he wasn't worth more than a year. That's the benefit of having Scott Boras as your agent, I guess. Last year was the first year in a while where he actually gave up homers; he's a heavy groundball pitcher. Renteria was a disaster on defense last year, so replacing him with A-Gon is a big boost. That'll help Tavarez in his new digs.
This is a better group than people think, especially in the 'pen. The rotation could be anywhere: top 3 in the league, or one of the worst. The Red Sox will still rely on their hitting to take them back to the playoffs, and it won't be easy this year. Don't count them out, though.