How the Jake Peavy-to-Red Sox Deal Impacts Tight AL East Race

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How the Jake Peavy-to-Red Sox Deal Impacts Tight AL East Race

A year ago at this time, the Boston Red Sox were in no position to be aggressive at the trade deadline. Given the sorry state of their roster and the sorrier state of their clubhouse, there was no point.

This year, however, there are many points. And on Tuesday night, the Red Sox stood up and proclaimed loud and clear that they want the AL East, darn it.

Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com was the first with the news:

Rob Bradford and Alex Speier of WEEI.com were the first to report that the deal was a three-way trade between the Red Sox, Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers. According to Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com, the trade involves Jose Iglesias going to Detroit, Brayan Villarreal also going to Boston and an assortment of minor leaguers going to Chicago.

The buzz on Tuesday centered around a possible deal for Cliff Lee after Heyman wrote that the Red Sox were the "biggest player" for the Philadelphia Phillies' ace left-hander. But instead of the 2008 American League Cy Young winner, the Red Sox are getting the 2007 National League Cy Young winner.

Just as good? No, not really. But plenty good enough. Peavy is the proverbial welcome addition for the Red Sox. They didn't part with anything they're going to miss to get him, and he will upgrade the club's already strong chances of winning the AL East.

Now, before we go any further, you have to understand this about Peavy: That 4.28 ERA of his must be ignored in order for his true quality to be seen.

There's lots to like about the season Peavy is having. I'll sum it up with the following numberific table:

Year WHIP K% BB% BABIP xFIP SIERA
 2012 1.10  22.0  5.6   .272  3.99  3.63
 2013 1.14  23.5  5.3  .278  3.68  3.47

(Note: These lovely numbers come to us straight from FanGraphs.)

The numbers in this table are very similar, and that's the whole point. Peavy's ERA isn't the respectable 3.37 it was last year, but his actual performance really hasn't varied that much.

If anything, he's been better. That's what those last two columns indicate, anyway.

If those concepts are alien to you, xFIP is an ERA estimator that evaluates pitchers on things they can control with a special emphasis on normalizing their home run rates. SIERA is also an ERA estimator—it's more complicated, but it tends to favor high-strikeout, low-walk pitchers.

Like, you know, the subject of this particular discussion.

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB's official YouTube account.

The issue for Peavy in 2013 has been home runs. He's allowed 14 in 80 innings, which is a few too many. The Red Sox can only hope that trend will subside in Boston, and it just might. Per ESPN's Park Factors, Fenway Park is playing as one of the worst home run parks in baseball this year. U.S. Cellular Field is toward the top of the ranks, as it is every year.

The bigger concern is the move from the AL Central, the American League's weakest division, to the AL East, the American League's strongest division. Presently, the only team in the division that doesn't rank in the top seven in MLB in runs scored this season is the New York Yankees (because the baseball gods have a weird sense of humor like that).

But let's see how Peavy has done against the competition over the last two years...

  • Against the Tampa Bay Rays, five earned runs over 14.0 innings in two starts.
  • Against the Yankees, four earned runs over 8.0 innings in one start.
  • Against the Toronto Blue Jays, five earned runs over 21.1 innings in three starts.
  • Against the Baltimore Orioles, one run over 7.0 innings in one start.

That's 15 earned runs over Peavy's last 50.1 innings against Boston's divisional competition. That's a 2.69 ERA. It's not worth much, but this combined with that numberific table will do for a sign that Peavy should be able to keep from falling to pieces in the AL East.

So there's that, and now for the repercussions of Peavy's arrival.

Him entering the rotation means Brandon Workman exiting the rotation, and Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald has a tease straight from Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington about where Workman is headed:

This makes for an intriguing experiment. Workman throws hard as a starter. He should be able to throw harder as a reliever, and he'll be a unique weapon if he can make good use of his curveball and changeup. If he works out, the Red Sox will have the righty reliever they need to take some pressure off of Junichi Tazawa.

What's less clear is what's going to happen at third base, but Iglesias' departure certainly won't hurt the Red Sox from an offensive standpoint. The BABIP gods turned on Iglesias several weeks ago, holding him to five hits in his last 43 at-bats with no walks.

To find a suitable replacement for Iglesias at the hot corner, the Red Sox could make a move on Phillies veteran Michael Young. He wouldn't cost much in terms of prospects, and ESPN's Jayson Stark has reported that Young will consider waiving his no-trade clause to go to Boston.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Paging Xander Bogaerts...

Or the Red Sox could recall Will Middlebrooks. Or they could stick with Brandon Snyder for a bit longer until they're ready to give Xander Bogaerts a shot to be their very own Manny Machado.

Whatever the solution, the Red Sox hardly backed themselves into a corner by dealing Iglesias. As he surely would, Cherington knew what he had at his disposal and chose to part with a piece the Red Sox will be able to live without.

As for what all of this means for the rest of the AL East, it's simple: A team that was already pretty well equipped to finish off a resurgent season is now better equipped to do so.

Even if the Red Sox are forced to live with an offensive black hole at third base for the rest of the season, they have more than enough offense to overcome the burden, and it's unlikely that their old Achilles heel will bite them again.

It was starting pitching that doomed the Red Sox in 2011. Their starters had an ERA north of 1,000,000.0 or some such number in the month of September, and the offense was powerless to keep the losses at bay.

That won't be happening in 2013, and saying so really doesn't involve going out on a thin limb.

Boston's starting rotation has felt wobbly at times ever since Clay Buchholz made his last start way back in early June, but it's generally been able to keep it together. Per FanGraphs, Red Sox starters have a 3.79 ERA over the last 30 days, good for 12th in MLB. And that's with John Lackey finally hitting a rough patch and Ryan Dempster continuing to flirt with danger every time out.

If Peavy pitches as well as he should, the Red Sox have a security blanket in case Lackey's dream season finally comes crashing down. If Lackey continues to pitch well, however, the Red Sox will have two top-of-the-rotation types going for them. That will take the pressure off of Jon Lester and Felix Doubront while allowing for Dempster to be reclassified into what he's been all along: a fifth starter.

Maybe Buchholz will get healthy eventually and make the rotation even better. If he doesn't, that prospect is no longer as frightening as it was before the Peavy trade. In the event Buchholz has already thrown his last pitch this season, the Red Sox are covered better than they were before.

Which team has the edge in the AL East race after the Jake Peavy trade?

Submit Vote vote to see results

The Orioles, Yankees and, to a much lesser extent, the Blue Jays are now looking up at a Red Sox team that shouldn't be taking a tumble down the standings in the final two months of the season. Such a thing was already unlikely, and it's even more unlikely now that the Red Sox stand to get roughly 10 starts out of a very good pitcher.

The Rays, meanwhile, are going to need to get even hotter in order to put some distance between themselves and the Red Sox, which is more or less impossible because it's hard to be any hotter than they've been over the last few weeks. Indeed, Tampa Bay is more likely in for regression, while the Red Sox are in for improvement.

Either way, it looks like a two-team battle for the division title, and what's certain is that neither club is going to run away from the other. The Red Sox and Rays are both built for the stretch run, and both know full well that a one-game wild-card playoff is a lousy consolation prize.

One of the two is going to win the AL East. Everyone else, thanks for playing.

 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

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