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It just takes one more run...

The Local 9 - March 19, 2010
By James Wheeler

I won’t begrudge anyone for having their concerns about the Red Sox offense in the upcoming campaign. I would love to have a solid middle of the lineup power hitter to offer protection to the rest of the lineup just as much as the next guy. That being said there are two sides to every ballgame, offense and defense, and there are two aspects to every player acquisition, cost and return. Over the past few seasons the cost of acquiring the legitimate offensive threat that Red Sox fans are pining for has been more than the organization is willing to pay. Every free agent wants maximum money for a decade long deal and every trade rumor involves the Sox shipping Ellsbury, Buchholz, Bard, and the deed to Fenway Park in exchange for any player of worth.

It would have been great to sign Mark Teixeira during last offseason as he would have provided the slugging power that the Red Sox are lacking on paper. As much as I don’t like the guy, and this feeling predates the pinstripes, he’s the type of baseball player that transcends eras. He would have shored up the offense for the foreseeable future and provided more than adequate defense at first base. Regardless of how good he is, I have doubts that the Red Sox ever had a legitimate chance to add Teixeira to their roster. The argument could be made that he still held a grudge against the organization stemming from the way they treated him after originally drafting him in 1998. There is also the fact that his agent has a trend of always allowing the Yankees to make the final offer. As great as it would have been to have Teixeira in the fold, there are benefits to not having $20 million per year tied up in one player for the next decade. That benefit is the flexibility to acquire more pressing needs, as well as, the ability to retain the talent the team has already invested in.

From its onset the winter of 2009-10 looked as if it would be a boring one from a free agent perspective given the lack of impact players on the market. Sure there was outfielder Matt Holiday, but I would argue that he was overvalued and was wise to convince the St. Louis Cardinals to outbid themselves so he could remain in the N.L. We could have and some (myself included) would protest we should have, resigned Jason Bay, but it appears now that any chances of that happening ended during the season when the Red Sox front office withdrew a 4 year deal after Bay’s agent had flown into town for the press conference. With no “exciting” players available, the Sox moved in a sensible direction by signing serviceable players such as Scutaro and Cameron to short term deals at reasonable prices. None of the deals were long enough or expensive enough to handcuff the Sox if they didn’t work out, like deals made in past seasons (Lugo). I assumed that was the extent of the hot stove season for the Sox. Then much to my enthusiasm Boston announced it had signed John Lackey to a 5 year, $82 million dollar contract.

Since I’ve been a Red Sox fan, the teams rotations have been laughably thin, consisting of a front line starter like Pedro Martinez or Derek Lowe and not much else. Even in 2007 when the Sox cruised through the regular season to the playoffs our rotation had Julian Tavarez taking the mound every fifth day for a total of 23 starts. In years past, we’ve seemed content to rely on “low risk, high reward” options in the back half of our rotation. Pitchers such as David Wells, Wade Miller, Matt Clement, Brad Penny, and John Smoltz, were expected to provide quality innings for a team expecting to compete for a playoff. Last year was no exception when we had four pitchers with ERAs over 5.50 make 50 starts for our team. Those four, Penny, Matsuzaka, Smoltz and Byrd, went 14-22, pitched 264.3 innings or 5 innings per start, placing a heavy burden on both the bullpen and the lineup every time they took the mound.

Compounding the lack of a solid rotation in 2009 was the horrible defensive play of the Red Sox. Last year, the Red Sox ranked second to last in defensive efficiency (.678), the measure of the number of balls put into play which are converted into outs. Our team was also last in the number of double plays turned. It doesn’t take a higher education to realize the less efficient your defense, whether it be errors or failed double plays, the more opportunities you give the other team to score. This increases the number of pitches thrown to get out of each inning, which in turn decreases the number of innings starting pitchers last. The end result of the equation is an offense overburdened by having to produce more and more runs to win games.

By signing John Lackey, the Red Sox have added a pitcher, who has averaged 30 starts, 197.88 innings pitched and 3.49 ERA over the last five seasons, to a rotation that already has Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. This emphasis on pitching brings to mind the 2004 trade which added Curt Schilling to a rotation that included Derek Lowe and Pedro Martinez. With three top flight pitchers at the front of the rotation, Clay Buchholz and our previous third starters (Wakefield & Matsuzaka) will be matched up more favorably against other teams’ fourth and fifth starters.

Looking back at 2009 from a statistical point of view between our pitching and our defense, it’s amazing the Red Sox won 95 games. On paper our offense has lost some of its trademark power, but when you combine quality starting pitching, a bullpen that features Jonathan Papelbon (151 saves, 1.74 ERA as a closer) with an upgraded defense, maybe the Red Sox front office isn’t pulling a fast one on the paying customer this year. It’s easy to forget that a team only has to score one more run than their opponent to win a game. In my eyes, our deep rotation and strong bullpen will be what keeps the Red Sox playoff bound, we just have to score 95 more runs than our opponents.

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