In recent seasons, the Boston Red Sox have made a point of making pitching the focal point of their organization. So far, it has been paying off. The Red Sox have made the playoffs in each of the last three years, winning one World Series and reaching the ALCS twice. The Red Sox pitching staff has been characterized by strength at the top and depth throughout the organization. In the starting rotation, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett have become a two-headed ace, while closer Jonathan Papelbon has led an impressive bullpen.
Jon Lester has become one of the best left-handed pitchers in baseball and the ace of the Boston Red Sox’s staff. Lester notched one of the highest strikeout rates in baseball in 2009, punching out 225 batters in 203.1 innings, a rate of 9.96 per nine innings. Lester is showing himself to be a great second-half pitcher, recording a 2.82 ERA and 1.15 WHIP after the All-Star break.
Josh Beckett had an inconsistent 2009, having two months with an ERA over 5, but two with an ERA below 2.5. Overall, Beckett notched a 3.86 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 212.1 innings. Beckett’s 199 strikeouts ranked sixth in the AL as he sat down batters at a rate of 8.43 per nine innings. Beckett demonstrated a great ability to suppress the long ball in 2009, as he has through most of his career, with exception of a five start stretch in August in which he gave up 14 of his 25 home runs.
The Red Sox made their big splash this offseason by signing former Angels’ ace John Lackey to a long-term deal. Lackey has dealt with various injury issues during the last two season, limiting him to 163 and 176 innings respectively. He has consistently put up a high-3’s ERA and turned it up a notch during the playoffs, where he has a 3.12 ERA in 78 career postseason innings. Lackey should serve as an excellent third starter in a deep Red Sox rotation.
Daisuke Matsuzaka missed most of the 2009 season after a series of conditioning issues related to the World Baseball Classic. He pitched a few games at the start of the season and a few more during midseason, never getting his velocity or movement back on his pitches until a late season comeback. Matsuzaka returned in September, making four starts and pitching his brand of baseball, tallying a 2.22 ERA, 20 strikeouts, and 12 walks in 24.1 late-year innings. Without a WBC to worry about in 2010, Matsuzaka should be back to business as usual as a low-ERA, low-innings, middle of the rotation starter for the Red Sox.
Clay Buchholz established himself as a legitimate starting pitcher in 2009. The 25-year old former first round pick by the Red Sox finished the year with a 4.21 ERA and .256 opponents’ average in 92 innings. Buchholz improved as the season went on, finishing with nine quality starts in his last 12 games. He earned the third start for the Red Sox in the playoffs and allowed only two runs in five innings of work. He is set to start the season with a regular job in the Red Sox rotation for the first time in his career.
Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield is coming off of his first All-Star season in 2009, but his durability is starting to wane. Wakefield has not reached 200 innings since 2005, but he has been an excellent first-half pitcher for the Red Sox and the team has no plans of moving him to the bullpen. Boston may very well start the season with a six-man pitching rotation.
Boston’s bullpen is led by All-Star closer Jonathan Papelbon whose 1.85 ERA and 10.06 K/9 make him a dominant stopper. He is joined by a duo of excellent setup men, lefty Hideki Okajima and righty Dan Bard, one of last year’s top rookies. Bard is a fireballer capable of reaching 100 mph on his fastball with a huge strikeout rate which finished at 11.49 K/9 last year. Ramon Ramirez (2.84 ERA), Manny Delcarmen (4.53 ERA), and one of Boof Bonser, Scott Atchison, Fabio Castro, Robert Manuel, or Ramon A. Ramirez will round out Boston’s bullpen, one of the best and deepest in baseball.