Tagged: Webb

An Ace in the Hole

(I apologize ahead of time for the poor analogies and cliche sayings. Bear
with me, I’m crazy.)

Red Sox / Yankees

Let’s consider for a minute that Major League Baseball is just one big game of
high-stakes winner-take-all Texas Holdem’ poker. Now, consider the AL East as a
hand, with each team as a different player at the table. Who wins the hand?
Arguably, you can look at the Red Sox as having a pair of aces in the hole. There’s
not much doubt in the baseball world that Jon Lester is arguably one of the
best young southpaws around, and we all know how baffling Josh Beckett‘s
stuff can be when you’re looking at it from the plate.

Here’s the problem. The Yankees have a pair of kings, and they picked up two more
Kings on the flop (C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Mark Teixeira,
Curtis Granderson). Okay, so Sabathia is an ace and Burnett is more like a
Queen, but just bear with me once again for the sake of the metaphor.

Not wanting to fold their hand, the Red Sox are desperately hoping for running aces
to take home the pot. Could you consider John Lackey and Daisuke
Matsuzaka
as aces? Can we run the table for quads of our own? Can the
powerful Yankee hand be beaten?

Exit metaphor. Enter reality.

An article from The Hardball Times sparked my curiosity
regarding the subject. In the article, Kevin Dame looks at Beckett’s 2009
season visually. In his figure, he uses red to represent a quality start (minimum 6 IP,
maximum 3 ER), and blue to represent a non-quality start. Also, he marks the
amount of IP to the side, with the amount of ER per inning. Partial innings are
rounded down for sake of clarity (click on the image for the full size version):

Josh Beckett Season

Looking at the graphic, you can see that Beckett produced 21 quality starts in 2009,
as opposed to just 11 poor starts. However, the part of the graphic that perhaps
says more than the red / blue comparison is the IP and ER / Inning. in no start last
year did Beckett fail to make it into the fifth. Furthermore, he seems to be able to
prevent the big inning from ever happening against him. The problem? When things
go bad, the pain is chronic. Instead of giving up one big inning, he tends to give up
1+ run per inning multiple times throughout the course of a poor outing. Although,
even when this occurs, he seems to manage to keep his head on his shoulders and
pitch through it, taking one for the team. In my opinion, that’s what defines an ace
more than anything else, and thus Beckett gets my vote.

This article intrigued me to investigate further. Because of this, I was compelled to
make my own visuals for the rest of the Red Sox starting pitching staff in question
here. First, take a look at Lester:

Jon Lester Season

Looking at Lester’s graphic, he produced more quality starts over the course of the
season than Beckett did. 23 to be exact (with a rain-shortened game holding him
from a potential 24th), with just 9 that were less than stellar. Once again, looking at
the IP and Runs per Inning shows a very glaring problem that Lester needs to solve.
Unlike Beckett who can seemingly get out of an inning, when things go bad for Lester
– they go really, really bad. Instead of preventing the big inning, he seems to
succumb to it. The 4’s, 5’s, and a 6 jump off the page, far too often. However, with
that having been said, when he’s hot he streaks, and he seemingly doesn’t give up
any runs at all. When he has a bad day, it’s a rarity, and aside from the beginning of
the season, they don’t occur in groups. If the season started in May, he’d have been
the hands-down ace of the staff last year. The best stat I see here is that, as a
southpaw, he should have problems in Fenway with the Monster looming, but
somehow he thrives at home. He gives up more runs on the road then he does at
Fenway. To sum all that up, I’d be happy to see him on the mound in any must-win
game, especially in front of the hometown crowd. That makes two aces.

Next is John Lackey:

John Lackey Season

Lots to look at here. First, Lackey was injured until May. Second, his first start of the
season isn’t included, as he was ejected after two pitches, and his last start of the
regular season isn’t included, as he was pulled after 2 innings to keep him fresh for
the post-season. Finally, the last three starts in the figure are from the postseason
against big teams from the AL East (for all you nay-sayers about his ability to pitch in
a division that lives and breathes baseball instead of just treating it as a casual
past-time). 18 quality starts to 10 otherwise. Perhaps the first couple poor starts
could be due to him getting into his groove after coming back from an injury. Who
knows. The biggest thing here is that he’s a work horse. He averaged between 6
and 7 IP per game last season, and pitched 1 CG (although he pitched a full 9
innings on three different occasions only to see it go to extras twice). Like Lester,
when he’s on, runs are hard to find, but when he’s not, they’ll come in bunches.
Expect the best of Beckett and of Lester in one package, but also the flaws of both.
Like Beckett, he’s not going to give in early on in a game – if he’s on the mound,
expect him to be there for the long-haul. It’s unknown how well he’ll do in Fenway,
but with a near no-hitter in his history there, the expansive right field, and an
upgraded Sox defense, you can expect him to be a third ace on the team’s staff,
provided he can stay healthy in 2010.

Matsuzaka’s next:

Daisuke Matsuzaka Season

I don’t know anyone who screams “inconsistency” more than Dice-K. Note that I used
2008’s stats as opposed to his 2009 stats, as it shows his performance over the
course of a full season without significant injuries that could possibly dictate the
quality of his performance. No significant hot streaks, no significant cold streaks.
More often than not, he had a less than stellar start, but his record for the year was
18-3, and 3-0 in the post-season (seen as the last three games on the figure).
Anyone who follows his career knows that he doesn’t give in to hitters. This means
he issues a lot of walks, gets a lot of K’s, and deals with a lot of base runners and
high pitch counts, but somehow gives up very few runs. a good percent of the time,
he won’t last past the 5th or 6th inning, but he very rarely leaves while behind in the
game. With an average run support per game between 5 and 6, you can imagine
that that would equal a lot of wins, provided you have a bullpen that can clean up the
second half of the game, which the Red Sox have been able to do in the past.
Daisuke can be an ace, but he needs to be able to last deeper into games (aka
learning to pitch to contact). If the Red Sox training program has finally sunken in he
should be healthy, and if he has learnt the AL and can learn to pitch to contact, he
can turn the majority of his lackluster starts into quality outings. Long story short, I
would take any of the three men before him in a game to end a losing streak or a big
game in the post-season, but I wouldn’t be afraid to give Dice-K the ball if I had to.
Expect him to be the wild card of the staff in 2010 – either a luck-driven winner like in
2008 (which, aside from looking deeper into run support and other assorted stats,
looks like a fluke year), or just another pitcher in the rotation, like in 2007 (although
he still won 15 games as a rookie), and 2009.

Close down the rotation with either Clay Buchholz, who can be good or bad
as history has shown, or Tim Wakefield, who can be healthy or damaged
goods, as history has shown, and you’ve got a formidable rotation. Add in the
potential starters in the minors, such as Junichi Tazawa and Michael
Bowden
, and you have a solid back-up if the going gets tough. The market
might even see Cliff Lee and/or Brandon Webb up for grabs if the
Mariners or Diamondbacks aren’t looking like potential playoff contenders at the
trade deadline, potentially making the Red Sox rotationn even more potent, should
they go after someone.

To make a long story short, the Red Sox may or may not have the cards to beat the
Yankees, but when you’re staring down the barrel of a loaded gun, the best thing you
can do is stick the barrel of yours in the face of your enemy and fire away.

Showdown

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Looking to 2011

With the signing of John Lackey and (potentially) Mike Cameron, I
can’t help but look to the future. Epstein always said he was building for the future,
and this is what it looks like for 2010:

With Adrian Gonzalez:

  1. CF – Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. 2B – Dustin Pedroia
  3. C – Victor Martinez
  4. 1B – Adrian Gonzalez
  5. 3B – Kevin Youkilis
  6. DH – David Ortiz
  7. RF – J.D. Drew
  8. LF – Mike Cameron/Jeremy Hermida
  9. SS – Marco Scutaro

Without Adrian Gonzalez:

  1. CF – Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. 2B – Dustin Pedroia
  3. C – Victor Martinez
  4. 1/3B – Kevin Youkilis
  5. DH – David Ortiz
  6. RF – J.D. Drew
  7. LF Mike Cameron/Jeremy Hermida
  8. 1/3B – Casey Kotchman (Adrian Beltre)
  9. SS – Marco Scutaro

That lineup looks significantly more powerful with Adrian Gonzalez in there. If
Adrian Beltre signs instead, you’re looking at something slightly different.
Either way, even if you keep it the way it is now, you’re looking at a team that can
support the superior pitching staff. World Series caliber? Maybe not. Our offense
probably can’t beat that of the Phillies or the Yankees, but when all is said and done,
adding Adrian Gonzalez means a Boston team that’s somewhat equal (on paper,
statistically, anyway) to the offensive numbers of the Yankee collective. Even if
Epstein deals Jacoby Ellsbury to San Diego with Clay Buchholz,
you’ve got a decent outfield of Drew/Hermida/Cameron, and if you add someone like
Xavier Nady to that mix, you’re looking at a great team with Adrian Gonzalez
spearheading it. Welcome to the playoffs.

Now, a look at the pitching staff.

With Adrian Gonzalez:

  1. SP – Josh Beckett
  2. SP – John Lackey
  3. SP – Jon Lester
  4. SP – Daisuke Matsuzaka
  5. SP – Tim Wakefield
  6. RP – Hideki Okajima
  7. RP – Ramon Ramirez
  8. RP – Ramon Ramirez (this is going to be a confusing year … )
  9. RP – Manny Delcarman
  10. RP – Boof Bonser (Or maybe Michael Bowden?)
  11. RP – Daniel Bard
  12. CL – Jonathan Papelbon

Without Adrian around you essentially have the same setup, except you see
Buchholz in the rotation and probably Wakefield in the ‘pen. Either way, arguably the
best staff in baseball. Where the bullpen lacks in depth, the starting rotation makes
up for in pure number of Aces. Three Number 1 guys and 2 interesting additions in
the back of the rotation equals quality starts more often than not, and a solid rotation
to help the relatively lacking offense.

Maybe 2010 is still the bridge year, though. It’s hard to imagine this when you add
over $30 Million in payroll, but hear me out.

Joe Mauer

The 2010 Free Agent market includes the likes of Joe Mauer, Carl
Crawford
, Cliff Lee (as he likely won’t sign an extension with Seattle),
and Brandon Webb. Epstein always preferred the 2010 market over the
2009 market, and he always said he was building up for it.

Brandon Webb

With Ortiz’s $13 Million coming off the books along with Victor Martinez’s $7.1 Million,
Beckett’s $12 Million and Varitek’s $3 Million, not to mention $19.5 Million owed to
Alex Gonzalez, Mike Lowell, Julio Lugo, and Billy Wagner, you’re looking at significant
money coming off the payroll.

In 2010, if you add Adrian Gonzalez, you’re
looking at a team payroll of about $150 Million. Upon the completion
of the season, it will drop to about $83 Million.

So what do you do in the 2010 offseason? You break the bank. You give contract
extensions to Beckett (who’s going to want a Lackey-like deal) and Martinez (who’s
going to want around $10 Million a year). After letting Ortiz and Varitek go, you go
out and sign Mauer (if you can pry him from Minnesota and the Yanks), Crawford (or
you trade for him during the 2010 season and sign him longterm), and either Lee
(who will want a Sabathia-like Contract) or Webb (who will want Lackey-like
terms).

Let’s run the figures again. 2011, pending all those moves, would bring the payroll
back up to between $160-$170 Million. Expensive, but look at that
potential Roster:

  1. SP – Cliff Lee (or Brandon Webb)
  2. SP – Josh Beckett
  3. SP – John Lackey
  4. SP – Jon Lester
  5. SP – Daisuke Matsuzaka
  6. CL – Jonathan Papelbon
  7. C – Joe Mauer
  8. 1B – Adrian Gonzalez
  9. 2B – Dustin Pedroia
  10. SS – Marco Scutaro
  11. 3B – Kevin Youkilis
  12. LF – Carl Crawford
  13. CF – Jacoby Ellsbury
  14. RF – J.D. Drew
  15. DH – Victor Martinez (keeps him fresh, but can give Mauer days off
    behind the plate without the team losing offense)
  16. RP – Daniel Bard
  17. RP – Tim Wakefield
  18. RP – Hideki Okajima
  19. RP – Manny Delcarman
  20. RP – Junichi Tazawa
  21. BC – Mark Wagner (Mostly a security policy in case the in-game
    catcher gets injured, so the DH doesn’t have to go behind the plate, making
    the pitcher have to hit)
  22. IF – Jose Iglesias (or Jed Lowrie if Iglesias isn’t ready for the
    bigs)
  23. IF – (Someone who can back up Youkilis at third)
  24. OF – Mike Cameron
  25. (Utility Fielder)

For $165 Million, if that can’t win a World Series, nothing can.

2007 World Series