Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Starting picture

Red Sox starters, expected to be a strength of the team, have had a rough go of it through the first two months. Daisuke Matsuzaka has managed only three starts and a stratospheric ERA of 10.32. Of the team's other five starters (with at least six starts), only Tim Wakefield (3.99) and Justin Masterson (4.47) have ERA's below five. Currently would-be ace Josh Beckett is at 5.01, last year's best pitcher, Jon Lester is cruising at 5.91, and free-agent pick-up Brad Penny is floating a 5.96.

While Wake has been the team's ace, even winning two of his three bad outings, and Masterson has been excellent in all but two of his starts (a 2.35 ERA in the four starts not including the May 1 and 6 starts), the rest of the staff has struggled. In some of those cases, however, the struggles might be somewhat superficial.

Of the team's starting five, Lester has been the most erratic having given up three or fewer earned runs in four of his nine starts, but five or more in the other five starts. In three of his starts following a start in which he gave up five or more earned he has bounced back to give up 0, 3, and 1 earned respectively. Unfortunately, the question for his next start revolves around which Lester is going to show up.

Beckett and Penny, on the other hand, have begun to show signs of life.

Beckett hit rock bottom on April 30 when he failed to make it out of the 5th inning at Tampa, making it second start in back to back starts in which he failed to pitch more than five innings (the only time he's gone fewer than six innings in any start this season). His ERA topped out at 7.22 that day. Since his ERA has decreased in every subsequent start. In his four starts since, Beckett has averaged 6.2 innings per start and has an ERA of 2.67 while going 2-0, and is one blown save from being 3-0 in that stretch.

As for Penny - I addressed him last week, but will run the numbers based on his subsequent start anyway. Penny almost had an extended Spring Training going through his first four games of the season, getting yanked from his fourth start before he could complete three innings. Like Beckett, however, he's seen his ERA drop from 8.66 with every subsequent start since.

His most recent start in Minnesota, during which he was throwing up between innings, was the first since that 2.2 inning start in April in which he failed to pitch six complete innings, getting pulled after getting one out in the sixth. Even so, he's averaged just about 6.1 innings per start, with a 4.40 ERA and 3-1 record.

It's just a guess, but assuming Penny isn't traded, but 15-5 with an ERA around 4.00 isn't unrealistic for him. If Lester can find the groove he was in last season, and Matsuzaka can re-find his form, this can be a tough staff for any team to have to deal with.

If they continue to have issues, don't be surprised to see Clay Buchholz back in the bigs, or John Smolz when he's ready.