- Jeremy Lundblad, ESPN Stats and Information
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Has the saying "You can never have too much pitching" ever been tested this thoroughly? Flash back to March. The Red Sox rotation looked to be about eight pitchers deep, with a former Cy Young Award winner looming as a June reinforcement. The bullpen was stacked with an emerging set-up man in Justin Masterson, the acquisition of Ramon Ramirez and a relief ace ready for mop-up duty in Takashi Saito. How would Terry Francona possibly keep everyone happy? After a tumultuous year, that's no longer the question on anyone's mind. Let's dive into the numbers to decipher a strange season on the mound.
With apologies to Bruce Hurst, Jon Lester had the best season by a Red Sox lefty since Bill Lee in the mid '70s, and maybe further back than that. He struck out 225 batters, 35 more than any other southpaw in club history. In seven fewer innings than 2008, he had 73 more strikeouts and two fewer walks. Yet, with one simple improvement, Lester could take his game to an even higher level. He threw a first-pitch strike only 54.5 percent of the time, fourth-worst among the 87 pitchers with at least 150 innings. That's down from 58.1 percent in 2008. Why is this important? After a 1-0 count, opponents hit .269 against Lester with just a 1.8-1 ratio of strikeouts to walks. However, after a count went 0-1, opponents hit just .206 with an 8.3-1 K-BB ratio. Just imagine how good he could be if his control continues to improve.
It's never good when your ace pitches like a No. 4 starter at home. That's how it was with Josh Beckett in his first three years in Boston. From 2006 to 2008, Beckett was 21-16 with a 4.79 ERA at Fenway and 27-12 with a 3.42 ERA on the road. He turned that around in 2009, going 10-1 at home with a 3.59 ERA. Plagued by blisters and other injuries earlier in his career, Beckett has been a model of durability for the Red Sox. In fact, only four pitchers have logged more innings in the American League over the past four years. However, an interesting trend emerged in 2009. When working on four days' rest, Beckett was 6-5 with a 4.73 ERA. When getting extra rest, he was arguably the best pitcher in the AL at 9-0 with a 2.29 ERA.
The Good: Tim Wakefield held together the Red Sox's starting rotation in April. The 42-year-old reeled off four straight quality starts and posted a 1.86 ERA, his lowest in a month as a starter since September 2002. The rest of the starting rotation had a 6.65 ERA in April. Wakefield won a career-high 11 games before the All-Star break and was an All-Star for the first time.
The Bad: Wakefield made only four starts in the second half and finished the season with his fewest innings pitched since joining the Red Sox in 1995. Falling apart at the end of the season has become a ritual for the knuckleballer. Over the past four seasons, Wakefield is 3-9 with a 7.79 ERA in the month of September. Take out September and he is 42-30 with a 4.03 ERA since 2006.
After three months on the shelf, any signs of life from Daisuke Matsuzaka would have been encouraging. But his performance in four starts over the final three weeks of the season was more than that. Daisuke just might be back. Sure, it was only four starts, and he still had too many walks, struggled against lefties and can't work late into games. But that was all true in 2008, too, and he went 18-3. Consider what he did in those last four starts, while keeping in mind the rust factor. Matsuzaka held righties to an MLB-best .088 batting average in the final three weeks, compared with .412 before his lengthy stint on the disabled list. Nothing defined his magicianlike 2008 season better than holding opponents to a .164 batting average with runners in scoring position. In the final weeks of 2009, opponents hit just .103 with runners in scoring position. Sounds familiar -- and promising for 2010.
Who am I? As a September call-up, I dazzled in my second career start, raising expectations to an almost unreasonable level. About to turn 23, I was penciled into the starting rotation out of spring training. That's when the path got a bit rough. Struggling, I was sent down in May. Called up later in the year, nothing had changed. Approaching 24, I started the following year in the minors trying to reclaim my promise. I pitched well enough that by July I got called up and finished the year as a key member of the rotation. I'm Clay Buchholz, right? Not exactly. Meet Roy Halladay, circa 2001. In 2002, Halladay went 19-7. In 2003, he won the Cy Young.
In the end, the results were essentially the same for Jonathan Papelbon (1.85 ERA, 38 saves), but that's only because Bill James hasn't figured out a way to track fans' blood pressure. Papelbon threw 4.15 pitches per plate appearance, easily the highest rate of his career. With nobody on and no outs, opponents hit .259 against him. Compare that with .078 in 2007. He walked the first batter he faced seven times, equaling the total in his first four seasons combined. In all, 61 plate appearances went to a three-ball count, more than twice as many as the 30 in 2008. So how did Papelbon put together a 1.85 ERA? He held opponents to a .128 batting average with runners in scoring position, the lowest for a Red Sox pitcher in the past 35 years.
Well, he certainly knows how to make a good first impression. Ramon Ramirez didn't allow an earned run in his first 13 appearances with the club, the longest such streak for a Red Sox pitcher in the past 55 years. Even if you take out that dazzling stretch, his ERA was a respectable 3.62 the rest of the way. That said, his poor performance against the Yankees can't be ignored. In 7 1/3 innings against New York, Ramirez had an 8.59 ERA, allowing 4 home runs, 7 extra-base hits and 7 walks.
Among pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched, Takashi Saito had the 10th-best ERA in the AL. So why were the Red Sox so quick to decline his 2010 option? In addition to being expensive, Saito was simply not as good as his numbers indicate. In tie and one-run games, opponents hit .313 off Saito, and he had more walks than strikeouts. In save situations, Saito had a 5.06 ERA, compared with a 2.15 otherwise. It's no coincidence that nearly half of his appearances were in games with a margin of five runs or greater.
Manny Delcarmen was perfect in April (0 ER in 13 IP), and anything but in September (14.14 ERA). Over the past 55 seasons, there have been 562 instances of a pitcher throwing at least seven innings for the Red Sox in September. Delcarmen's 14.14 ERA is the worst among all 562, eclipsing Vaughn Eshelman's 14.00 ERA in 1996. Allowing him to make 10 appearances, the Red Sox gave Delcarmen every chance to turn things around in time for the postseason. In fact, among AL pitchers with 10 or more appearances in September, Delcarmen's ERA was the second-worst in the past 55 years behind Mike Holtz for the Angels in 1997. From April through August, lefties hit .176 against Delcarmen, compared with .450 in September. Even stranger, Delcarmen held opponents to a .248 BA with nobody on base in the first five months. In September, opponents hit .529 off him with the bases empty.
In his three seasons in Boston, Hideki Okajima has gone from a great lefty reliever to a great lefty specialist. That's a nice way of saying Okajima was terrible against right-handed hitters in 2009. Although he held lefties to a .167 average, righties hit .309 with seven home runs off him. By September, this disparity reached a ridiculous level. In the final month of the season, lefties hit .083 against Okajima and righties .476. Okajima also failed in a quest to make obscure Red Sox history. With zero losses in 68 appearances, he fell two shy of Javier Lopez's club record for appearances without a loss set in 2008.
So is Daniel Bard the Sox closer of the future? Perhaps no statistic is more important to closers than strikeouts per nine innings. Based on that, Bard is going to be something special. With 11.49 Ks per 9 IP, Bard set a Red Sox rookie record, a mark previously held by Rich Garces. In the past decade, only Jose Valverde, Takashi Saito (who was 36) and Rafael Soriano had a higher rate as a rookie.
Nick Green, Jonathan Van Every, Dusty Brown
Three position players -- Nick Green, Jonathan Van Every and Dusty Brown -- pitched for the Red Sox in 2009, the most in franchise history. In fact, you have to go back to 1928 to find the last time multiple position players pitched in the same season for the Red Sox. That's when the immortal Jack Rothrock and Doug Taitt took the hill. By the way, the 2009 trio combined for a 2.45 ERA.