On Sunday, I covered the ceilings and basements for all the Red Sox everyday players. Today? It's all about the pitching staff, which could be really good, but now is full of even more question marks with the news that Andrew Bailey is going to have to spend half the season on the disabled list.
Who closes? Who starts? Last night I struck my wife. Then I found out my wife had been dead for five years. Who the hell did I hit?
These are the questions that we'll tackle here. Well, at the very least we'll throw out some scenarios while trying to decide if Daniel Bard can be a serviceable starter, a serviceable reliever, or neither.
Opening Day is tomorrow. This probably won't get you fired up, but if the Red Sox fail, you can always grab a bite to eat here to soothe the pain: http://bobbyv.com/
Let me try a little social experiment here. Raise your hand if you've been waiting for Jon Lester to become one of the best pitchers in the American League for the last two seasons? Okay, keep it up if you think that Lester has lived up to those expectations.
Hm. Not a single hand still in the air. No, we're not counting your hand, Kyle Weiland. How did you get in here anyway? Somebody show Weiland the door, please...
Anyway, that's been the story. Lester has been the guy for the past two seasons that every Red Sox follower has thought would become an ace. We have just been waiting for him to become that Verlander, Hernandez, Sabathia type guy that delivers every time he takes the mound.
And he hasn't. He's still been good, probably one of the best 15 pitchers in baseball, but he hasn't been elite. In 2010, he was 19-9 with a 3.25 ERA in 208 innings pitched, and he came in fourth in the Cy Young voting. Last season, he went 15-9 with a 3.47, and made the All-Star team.
But for whatever reason, it's still underwhelming. Jon Lester takes the mound and you hope that he's going to go eight innings and give up one run. Instead, all too often, he goes 6.1 innings and gives up three runs. It's still a nice start - and the Red Sox win a lot of those games - but it's not as good as it could be.
Yet, there's a reason that people are still picking him to win the Cy Young this year, just as they have for the last two years. He's the Red Sox Opening Day starter for the second straight year. He's 28. He's thrown a no-hitter and he's consistently been one of the five best lefties in baseball for three years.
Everyone just needs to see more. It's almost hard to grasp. Why hasn't Jon Lester become dominant? The tools are there, and the make-up looks like its there (he's pissed when he allows any runs, no matter the inning or situation).
With that in mind, we know that Lester can be better than 19-9 with a 3.25. Hell, it just seems like a matter of time before he actually is. And when he does, we're going to be looking at the type of season that makes the Red Sox legitimate contenders. So, ceiling? 23-5 (34 starts), 2.42 ERA, 230 K's, 220 IP. That's realistic. Jon Lester can do that. You know what else Jon Lester can do, especially if he has another one of his vintage bad Aprils (even though he didn't last year)? 14-10, 3.86, 170 K's, 184 IP.
Pray to God that this is actually the year when he stops being just good and becomes great.
Of any player on the entire roster, Beckett has the single biggest range in terms of ceiling/basement. He could be an ace. He could spend the season on the DL. He could get racked for the entire season and finish with a 6.00 ERA. There is almost no way to gauge who Josh Beckett is going to be.
On one hand, we have last year to build on. He was great nearly all season long, clearly the Sox' best pitcher, and he was in the Cy Young hunt until Verlander started going Pedro on everybody and Beckett went Weiland on everybody in September.
Truly, I don't give a **** about the beer and chicken stuff. It happened, and we'll always remember it, but I don't think it has any bearing on how these guys pitch this season. Obviously, when anybody brings it up, Beckett's name is at the forefront because of his lack of an apology (still hasn't apologized, to this day) and his presumed leadership role amongst the staff.
I think it's irrelevant now. Beckett has been good before beer and chicken popped up and he's been horrible before beer and chicken happened. It's just the way it is. Sometimes, Josh Beckett pitches like guy who beat the Yankees in the 2003 World Series with the Marlins, and sometimes Josh Beckett pitches like the guy who got beat by the Orioles twice last September.
In his Red Sox career, he's gone off-on, off-on in each season. He's had one bad, then one good, one bad, then one good. I assume we'll consider last year a good season, considering that he did have a 2.89 ERA and finished ninth in the Cy Young voting.
I don't even know if I believe in trends, but I think there might be something to this one. Let's face it - Josh Beckett thinks he's the best pitcher in Major League baseball. Before he was drafted, he used to wear a jersey around that said "Kid Phenom" on the back. With that sort of belief, sometimes, comes passion and performance that backs it up. Think about great basketball players. Michael Jordan knew he was the best. He thought he was the best. And he backed it up. Kobe Bryant thinks he's the best. Most of the time, he backs it up.
I'm not trying to compare Beckett to those guys. Rather, I'm trying to say he's the opposite of those guys. Kobe and MJ think they're the best, and they want to prove it. Beckett thinks he is, and that's the end of it. With his belief that he's great comes complacency. It's almost undeniable. For a guy with his talent and pedigree, is there ANY excuse for putting up a season like he did in 2010, when he went 6-6 with a 5.78 in 21 starts? Of course not, but it happened. Beckett was horrible.
When evaluating how good he can be - which clearly is great - I think it's just important to keep in mind how bad he can be too. Josh Beckett is not an ace. He's hit or miss, and half the time that means miss.
If Beckett gets it together, he can be like he was last year, just with a little more sustained success. 19-8, 2.31 ERA, 200 IP. Those are about as good as Beckett can do. And those would be fantastic. The bad news is that he can realistically also go for a 6-9 win/loss and a 5.93 ERA. You want to count on Josh Beckett to be your No. 2? Be ready to take the good with the bad, because the bad is just as likely as the good to happen.
Buchholz is the key component to this entire staff. People talk about him like he's accomplished, when he's only had one really productive Major League season. He'll be good if he says healthy, but right now he's a 27-year-old kid with back problems who couldn't come back from a seemingly minor injury a year ago.
It's not like there's a whole lot that would indicate that Buchholz is going to dominate competition like he showed he could in 2010. One year doesn't make a career, and right now Buchholz is living off his 173 inning performance two years ago. That's it. Last season was a whirlwind of missed time and unfulfilled expectations.
So it's a little scary. He's got maybe the best stuff on the staff, and that was on full display when he did have that one good season. It was also front and center when he threw his no-hitter. He's got three pitches, all of which have the potential to be among the best ones in the loge. Clay can pitch, but Clay can't stay healthy.
Yet, we rely on Clay to be the No. 3 starter, with so much riding on his ability that the team literally can't afford him to have a year like he did last year. Get hurt midway through and not return? Kiss the World Series goodbye. There's not enough depth on the roster to accommodate losing Buchholz.
That's what makes it so scary. Every time he takes the mound, we'll all be holding our breaths hoping that he can make it back to to the dugout without hurting himself. If he does, then you can bet he'll have a great year. But it's far from a guarantee.
I assume the Sox will be cautious with Buchholz - they should be - and probably not want to pitch him too many innings over his career high. He threw the aforementioned 173 innings in 2010, so maybe 180 innings would be about his limit this season. That would be great. That limits him, though, to about 28 starts. So ceiling? 28 starts, 17-6 record, 2.29 ERA. Man, that sounds pretty good. Uh...but then the basement? Six starts, 1-2 record, 5.81 ERA (in like, 30 innings) and a trip to the 60-day DL. Just like that, season over. Cross your fingers.
Doubront has made three career starts and has made a living being a mediocre Triple-A pitcher, but that was enough to get him into the competition this spring for one of the final two spots in the rotation. Doubront - and credit him, seriously - made the most of it, posting a 2.70 ERA in 16.2 innings this pre-season.
That was good enough. I don't actually know if that's a testament to Doubront or a dig at the Red Sox lack of rotation depth, but Felix the Cat will be starting the Sox' fourth game of the season either way.
So what do we expect? Well, he's only 24, and he was okay in nine games coming out of the bullpen in 2010. Watching him then, I thought that he looked like a guy who could make an effective seventh-inning type guy. And I mean that as a compliment.
But the Sox see even more than that, apparently. They see a guy who can't be sent to the minors (he's out of options), so they figure that they should take a shot to see if he's any good right now. Otherwise, they'd probably just release him. This way, they at least get to find out if he's worth keeping around.
The problem with that philosophy is that by taking that chance, you could potentially be costing the team wins. If he gets six starts, sucks in all of them and the Sox go 1-5 over that span, then you've put your team behind the 8-ball by experimenting with a guy in the rotation.
Whatever. I'm not here to bash management. I think Doubront actually has some potential, but it's hard to project him to be anything special when he could barely get it done in Pawtucket. So here's what I'll say to you: If you think Felix Doubront can be an effective No. 4 starter in Major League Baseball, then what numbers coincide with that spot? 12-9, with a 4.50 ERA? I think Doubront can do that. Much more, though, I think would be a stretch. Much less, however, is very possible. He'll be on a short leash, which means his basement is basically three starts and a demotion to the bullpen.
He doesn't have to be great. He just has to be effective. That's what Bobby Valentine should be telling Bard very single day when he sees him in the clubhouse.
"Daniel, just give us a chance to win. Please God, just give us a chance to win."
Is that asking so much? We know Bard has the talent. He was drafted as a starter, and he's been dominant at times as the eighth-inning guy out of the bullpen. He's also shown a penchant for crumbling in big spots, losing control of some of his pitches and being incapable of satisfying management as the team's successor to Jonathan Papelbon as closer.
So what happens when a guy with that type of fragility takes the mound in the first inning for a big game at Yankee Stadium? I don't know, honestly. He probably sucks, I guess. But maybe, just maybe, he can be decent enough the rest of the year to satisfy his duties as a No. 5 pitcher.
"Daniel, just give us a chance to win."
That's it. Anything else is gravy. Everyone will know in the back of their minds that Bard has the ability to be a front of the rotation-type guy, but I don't think anyone with half a brain is actually counting on that to happen. I'm not ruling it out, nor should anybody, but to count on it is asking too much.
The way to deal with Daniel Bard is to hope he's serviceable, and be happy with anything more.
Now, there is also the potential for him to move back to the bullpen at some point with this Andrew Bailey injury. What if Doubront is great in the rotation, Mark Melancon and Alfredo Aceves suck at closing and the team is losing games in the final innings on a regular basis. Don't you have to look at Bard? I don't think it's a long shot, especially if Bard is decidedly mediocre on the hill, that he'll closing games come May. Scary, right?
All that said, ceiling: 14-9, 3.86 ERA. Basement? 0-3, five starts, 12 saves, five blown saves and a long-term spot in middle relief.
With Bailey hurt, Aceves seems to be the hot name to take his spot in the closer's role. I guess I'm in the minority, but I think that puts the Red Sox in a corner a little bit.
Hear me out. Aceves threw 110 innings out of the bullpen last season, and did every job known to man. He came in when the Sox were winning, when they were losing, in the eighth, in the second, in the ninth. He even made starts. He did everything.
And that type of role proved invaluable. Aceves was as important a pitcher to the team as there was on the roster last year. If you put him in the closer's spot, you lose that.
I get that closer is the most important spot in the bullpen, and you want your best relief pitcher in that role, but isn't this kind of the exception? Not every team has an Aceves. For the Red Sox, who have starters with the potential to get knocked out of game very early, I just feel like Aceves has added importance as that jack-of-all-trades. He's too valuable to only pitch when the team is winning by three-or-fewer runs in the ninth inning.
Of course, if Bard ends up back in the bullpen, or Doubront sucks, or anybody gets hurts, Aceves will be the first guy into the rotation. So how can you make him your closer, knowing that he's the de-facto No. 6 starter on the team? What do you do if Aceves is your regular closer, then a starter gets hurt? Do you take your closer and make him a starter, then flip around the entire bullpen? Too much risk. Aceves should do what he did last year - everything.
With that, I'm going to take a cop out here and not give him a ceiling. His basement exists, as he could definitely struggle with his million different roles and put up a 4.50 ERA. But ceiling? How do you judge a guy who could be a starter, closer, long-reliever, set-up man or all of the above?
Melancon had by far the best season of his career last year, in really his only full season as a major leaguer. He saved 20 games, appeared in 71 and put up a 2.78 ERA. Really good stuff. Unfortunately, he did it in Houston, where 11 fans came to see him pitch each game.
Boston is a different animal. If you have a bad outing, there is no hiding away and waiting for it to blow over. It's going to be talked about ad nauseum, and you'll have to face the media. In Houston, you move on and nobody remembers it the next day. Not here.
That being said, I still think Melancon is the guy for the closer's role to start the season because, really, who else do you have? The Sox made their bed by acquiring the injury-prone Bailey in the first place, now they've got to sleep in it. It has to be either Melancon or Aceves, and Melancon at least has some decent closing experience. You know how I feel about Aceves.
It's a huge risk though, having Melancon close. It's easy to envision Melancon blowing a few saves and not being able to handle the pressure. Or, it's easy to see him saving his first five or six attempts, becoming a fan favorite in Boston and rolling off that momentum.
Both are equally as likely. What's that mean? It means his ceiling is rouhgly 65 IP, 38 saves and a well-earned spot as the Red Sox closer. It also means that his basement is 0-3, 3 saves, 3 blown saves and a spot pitching in the seventh inning.
Okay, so do you feel any better about the pitching staff?
Nah, me either.
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