Division Debate: Will the Red Sox or the Rays Rule the Mound in '09? (Rays Side)

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Division Debate: Will the Red Sox or the Rays Rule the Mound in '09? (Rays Side)

Spring Training is among us once again. With that comes the countless predictions and debates over who has the better pitching staff, the best hitters, etc.

FenWest, the Red Sox Co-Community Leader, was given the question to debate the Red Sox and Rays' pitching rotations for the upcoming season. There was no Rays Community Leader for her to debate with, so I volunteered to do the job.

I do not expect to blow you out of the water, especially since the Rays are obviously not my favorite team, nor in the same league as my Phillies.

But I will try my best to tell you why the Rays will rule the mound over the Red Sox in 2009.

First, let me introduce you to each starting rotation.

For the Boston Red Sox, they send superstar right-handed pitcher Josh Beckett in as their ace. Over his eight-year career, Beckett has gone a terrific 89-62 with an ERA of 3.78 and a WHIP of 1.22. The 28-year-old has pitched for 1188.2 innings, while striking out 1131. His batting-average-against for his career is .241.

Daisuke Matsuzaka is listed as the number two pitcher in the Sox's rotation. The right-hander has been a Major League pitcher for just two seasons, yet at the age of 28 and after a few years as a Japanese League pitcher, Dice-K is not necessarily a youngster.

So far in his MLB career, Matsuzaka has gone 33-15 with a 3.72 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP. He has pitched for 372.1 innings, recording 355 strikeouts, and a batting-average-against of .230.

At the third slot in the rotation, Jon Lester steps in. The 25-year-old lefty (the only lefty in the rotation, I may add) has serviced the Sox for three seasons, while recording a 27-8 record. Lester has posted a 3.81 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP over his career. He has struck out 262 batters over 354.2 innings pitched, while recording a .265 batting-average-against.

Newly acquired Brad Penny is the number four pitcher. The 30-year-old has pitched for nine seasons in his MLB career. The righty has a 94-75 career record, all the while posting a 4.06 ERA and 1.34 WHIP. In his 1460.1 innings pitched, Penny has struck out 1032 batters with a .266 batting-average-against.

Tim Wakefield rounds out the rotation at number five. Wakefield is a modest 42-years-old, and has pitched for 16 seasons. The knuckle-baller has posted a career 178-157 record with a 4.32 ERA and 1.35 WHIP. He has pitched in 2802 innings and struck out 1907 batters. His career batting-average against is .252.

On to the Rays and their studly, dudly pitching staff. I am hilarious, I know.

Twenty-seven-year-old James Shields represents the Rays as their ace headed into the season. The three-year pro has pitched in 554.2 innings, while recording a 32-24 record. He has a .259 career batting-average-against and a 3.96 ERA, a 1.20 WHIP, and has struck out 448 batters.

Scott Kazmir, possibly the most talented pitcher on the staff, is a five-year veteran and is the number two pitcher. The 25-year-old has a career 47-37 record with a 3.61 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP. Kazmir has 783 strikeouts in 723 innings and a .242 batting-average-against.

Next up for the young and talented Rays is 25-year-old Matt Garza. The three-year veteran has a mediocre 19-22 record with a 4.02 ERA and 1.39 WHIP. In 317.2 innings pitched, Garza had 233 strikeouts and a .267 batting-average-against.

Up fourth in the rotation is Andy Sonnanstine. The righty is a two-year veteran at the age of 25 (the magic number in Tampa, it seems). Sonnanstine has a 19-19 record thus far in his career with a 4.97 ERA, and a 1.31 WHIP. He as struck out 221 batters with a .284 batting-average-against in 324 innings.

Mitch Talbot, Jeff Niemann, and Jason Hammel appear to be in the running for the fifth spot in the rotation. David Price was in that group, yet manger Joe Maddon has indicated that Price will start at triple-A.

Talbot and Niemann have just one season of big league experience, while Hammel has three.

Now that the statistics have been thrown all over you, considering I needed to do more research for this since I'm not a fan, it is time for why I think the Rays will rule over the Red Sox in '09.

First of all, we need to look at last season.

Last season, the Rays finished in sixth place in the bigs in starting pitching ERA with an ERA of 3.95. The Red Sox finished in eighth place with an ERA of 4.02. That, my friends, is a difference of 38 earned runs over the entire season.

Many Red Sox fans will attribute that to Beckett.

I understand Beckett was the not the healthiest he could have been last season, but is he really still a stand-out ace? Beckett is now eight years into his career, and really only has two seasons, possibly three, worthy of an all-star appearance.

He has had an ERA of under 3.50 just two times, in which he has won more than 10 games (had a 3.04 ERA one time, when he went 9-8 with the Marlins, but that was the only other time he had an ERA below 3.50).

Just to compare this, Hamels already has two seasons with an ERA below 3.50 in just a three-year career. Those two seasons are his only full seasons in the Major Leagues.

Do not get me wrong, Beckett is a great pitcher. Yet he is a bit overrated at this point in his career. He is a big game pitcher who knows how to get it done when he needs to. I would love to have him on the Phillies. Just do not be fooled by a few great years, spotted with inconsistencies.

The Rays also led the Red Sox in walks and innings pitched, keeping their own arms rested with less walks, and keeping their bullpen arms rested along the way.

Second, we need to look at the youth of the Rays.

Now that youngsters like Garza, Kazmir, and Sonnanstine have their feet wet and have experienced a real baseball season, the only way to go is up. The gang has learned from last season, and definitely gained much confidence.

On the other side, the Red Sox have four starting pitchers at the age of 28 or older. Beckett is 28, with eight years of service, Dice-K is 28, with two years in the MLB and five years in Japanese baseball, Penny is 30, with nine years of play, and Wakefield is 42, with 16 seasons under his belt.

Jon Lester is their only pitcher who has yet to reach the climax of his career. Matsuzaka is not going to grow into any better of a pitcher, Beckett is starting his decline, Wakefield has been declining for a few years now, and Penny's inconsistent career is also wearing down.

The Rays are a completely a different story with their youth, as I said above. Their oldest starting pitcher is their ace, Shields, who is 27. Not bad.

Finally, many managers love competition in their clubhouse. The Rays have it, the Red Sox do not.

Coming into Spring Training, the fifth spot in the Rays' rotation was up for competition between Hammel, Niemann, Talbot, and Price. Now that Price is likely out of the race, it only adds to his motivation to get back to the bigs.

Two of the other three, Talbot and Niemann, are young pitchers who have performed well enough in the spring to earn the job. Hammel is a three-year veteran who may be in the lead for the job.

As we have seen from these three so far, especially Niemann, competition really does help a pitcher.

Recent play, youth, and competition is what will help the Rays rule the mound in '09 (over the Sox that is, the Red one's).

Am I right? Am I wrong? Who knows. We will know come playing time.

These debates are pretty much futile anyway. But what the hay, they are fun.

I enjoyed stating my case for the Tampa Bay Rays, probably the toughest team to know about since they are the Rays—a nobody team who finally became a somebody.

Thanks to FenWest for doing this with me, and thanks to Nino Colla for thinking of the premise and the question.

Here's to Major League Baseball in 2009!

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