Just when it seemed the Boston Red Sox couldn't get any lower than fried chicken and beer in the club house, the baseball world witnessed Jon Lester’s career-worst 11 runs against Toronto, Daniel Bard’s transition from the bullpen to the starting rotation and Josh Beckett’s golf game.
Though the pitching staff is not fully to blame, the latter are reasons to why the Boston Red Sox generated their worst record since 1965 and first 90-loss season since 1966. Former pitching coach turned manager, John Farrell, is ready to take on the task to rejuvenate some familiar faces, add to the roster and size up potential prospects to make sure the Sox will be a threat on the mound this season.
Here is a preview of what to expect in 2013.
Anticipate big things from Jon Lester. Though he is coming off his worst season of his career (9-14, 4.82 ERA), the lefty has nothing but dedication to the team that brought him up. Even after lingering trade rumors and lack of support from fans, Lester continues to express his desire to stay in Bean Town. Also keep in mind, it was under John Farrell that Lester pitched a no-hitter and won game four of the 2007 World Series.
It should come as no surprise that former manager Bobby Valentine’s relationship with the players was one like an estranged stepparent, forced to get along with the kids in front of others, but disengaged behind closed doors. Lester crumbled under Valentine’s reign with only nine wins during the season.
However, having John Farrell back is just the revival Lester needs. He even tweeted about his excitement to get back to work after the Sox’s new hire and told ESPN that Farrell's new role is “a good thing.”
Speaking of a rough 2012, did anyone say Clay Buchholz? Lester and Buchholz may have more in common than you think. They are both great faces for the organization having both been drafted by the Sox, their names simultaneously echoed in the Cy Young conversation and both the pitchers performed well under Farrell.
In 2010, Buchholz showed his star potential with a 17-7 record, 2.33 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, an All-Star game appearance and finishing sixth in CY Young Award voting. Don’t linger on his 4.56 ERA or the fact he let up five home runs against the Yankees on Fenway’s 100th anniversary. There is no reason to hit the panic button on Buchholz based on his 2012 season alone.
Felix Doubront was a breath of fresh air for the 2012 Boston Red Sox. Though the left handed pitcher finished with a 4.86 ERA, he started strong early in the season and his wins always seemed to come at times when the Sox needed it most. For instance, he kept the Sox from being swept by the Yankees in early July and he was the first staff member to reach 10 wins.
Doubront also held the longest streak for a young pitcher to start four games with only three or fewer earned runs in six or more innings. He has had some bumps transitioning from the minors, but it is clear Doubront has the talent. The ability to produce throughout the longevity of a season will come with time and experience, something Doubront has been lucky enough to start working on early on.
John Lackey is back. Though the right-handed pitcher had a stomach churning, eye burning and teeth gritting season in 2011, earning a 6.41 ERA with 114 earned runs. He also appears to be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery.
Farrell has made it clear that Lackey will play a vital role for the starting rotation. When Lackey is healthy, it is almost a guarantee that within a season he will pitch at least one shutout, throw nearly 200 strikeouts and keep his ERA under four. Lackey may not be your ace pitcher, but he sure is consistent and reliable, and those are two traits that are worth gold in baseball.
Ryan Dempster signed a two-year contract worth $26.5 million with the Red Sox at the end of last season. The right-hander was brought in to be rotation savior, but there is speculation on whether or not he can handle the job.
In Chicago, Dempster dominated with a 2.25 ERA and 83 strikeouts over 104 innings pitched. His main concern will be to stay healthy in Boston. He was placed on the disabled list twice in 2012, one of the main reasons he didn't sign the three-year deal he was hoping for.
If Dempster can stay healthy and prove his skeptics wrong, he can sufficiently fill the role as the fifth starter.
WEEI, Boston Sports Talk Radio, reported that Matt Barnes—the 22-year-old taken in the first round of the 2011 draft—is one of the most promising Red Sox pitching prospects. In five Low-A starts, Barnes dominated with a 42-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio, earning the right-hander a 0.34 ERA and a promotion to high High-A.
After eight starts, Barnes added a 1.37 ERA, 53 strikeouts and 8 walks in 46 innings to his resume. His best strength is his fastball, which typically ranges from 93-95 miles per hour and maxes out at 98 mph.
Although, if wants to hang with the big leaguers, it is imperative that he improves his off-speed pitches. With a mid-70 mph curveball and a solid change up, he has the ability to climb the ladder to the starting rotation. Barnes has all the right mechanics, it is just a matter of improving his strength and durability before he takes the mound.
Back in August, Bleacher Report told its readers that Rubby De La Rosa would be a key to Red Sox rebuilding project, and that notion still stands. De La Rosa became a BoSox prospect when the organization cleaned-house and sent Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Nick Punto and Josh Beckett packing.
The Dominican’s scouting report reads that as of right now, he has the “ceiling of a No. 3 starter on first division team.” In order to obtain a promotion, De La Rosa needs to become more consistent with his slider and refine his fastball commands. He has the ability to throw a 98 mph fastball and usually averages in the mid-90s, but his mechanics need some fine-tuning.
Allen Webster is another top prospect for the Sox’s rotation. Like De La Rosa, he was acquired in the blockbuster trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Webster was originally overlooked because he was an average shortstop throughout his high school career.
After dedicating more time to pitching, he is now performing at a Double-A level at only 22 years old. Since starting in Double-A in 2011, Webster is 12-12 with 202 strikeouts.
The right-hander even landed the 95th spot on Baseball America’s top-100 prospects of 2012. If Webster’s current progression is any indication of his future growth, the Red Sox rotation is far from a mirage.