Lefty Jon Lester shall once again anchor Boston's formidable rotation in 2014.
With spring training and the 2014 season just around the corner, the Boston Red Sox are poised to defend their third World Series title in the last 10 years.
An elite core of pitchers was at the heart of Boston's championship last year and is poised to be another critical factor in ensuring the Red Sox have an equal chance of backing up that crown this forthcoming season.
Boston made relatively few moves regarding the pitching staff. Aside from the addition of a few arms to solidify the bullpen, the current staff looks much like it did in 2013.
Yet the Red Sox did address one of their offseason needs by signing veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski to a one-year deal, thus replacing former Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia who left the team via free agency.
What should fans and analysts expect out of Boston's pitching and catching in 2014?
Will they live up to the same rapport developed last season, or are they due for a setback coming off the lengthy and grueling pressure of a full postseason?
It is worth an evaluation.
In this slideshow, we shall take a look at the projections for Boston's pitchers and catchers before they are due to report on Saturday, February 15.
I am staying away from prospects like Blake Swihart and Brandon Workman, not because of their undeniable potential, but rather because they do not have a significant body of work to evaluate at the major league level. Let us focus more on the established talent.
Not only will we evaluate scouting reports from each player—including statistical analysis and projections—but we will attempt to determine what type of impact each player will have over the course of the 2014 season.
To determine these potential impacts, we will take an average of recent years' statistics and attempt to factor in some other variables, such as numbers at Fenway Park, versus other teams within the AL East, etc.
Let us take a look.
One of Boston's biggest moves in the offseason was to address the loss of Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The need was alleviated when the Red Sox signed veteran backstop A.J. Pierzynski to a one-year, $8.25 million deal.
Pierzynski will take over as Boston's primary catcher with veteran backup David Ross spelling him.
The Red Sox will also have to take a look at handling Ryan Lavarnway.
A.J. Pierzynski, C
2013 Season: .272 BA, .722 OPS, .998 Fielding Percentage
With Saltalamacchia gone, Pierzynski takes the reins as Boston's primary force behind the plate. The signing made sense for the Red Sox in a number of ways.
First, Boston had no interest in retaining Saltalamacchia for the length of the contract he was seeking. The team is counting on prospect Blake Swihart to eventually take over the job in coming years. This is why Pierzynski's one-year deal makes sense.
In addition, Ross is not an everyday player, and Boston does not utilize him as such. Lavarnway could be destined for the scrap heap.
Say what you want about Pierzynski's reputation, but the fact is that the 37-year-old veteran is still performing at a high level. He is a career .283 hitter, and that average has not dipped below .260 over the course of a full season since 2005.
While Pierzynski has never homered at Fenway, he does own a good career OPS there—.751 in 121 plate appearances.
Pierzynski should be able to continue that trend, and likely hit a few out, at Fenway this season.
His performance in 2014 shall be directly tied to Boston's decision about how to handle him after the season. While they do have a prospect in the folds, Pierzynski may be able to justify another season in Boston following 2014.
2014 Projected Numbers: .277 BA, .762 OPS, .990 Fielding Percentage
David Ross, C
2013 Season: .216 BA, .681 OPS, .997 Fielding Percentage
While Ross has never been viewed as a significant offensive threat, he is known as a defensive-minded catcher who is equal to any No. 2 on a team's roster.
He thrived in this role in 2013, taking significant playing time away from Saltalamacchia late in the season.
Ross' scouting report on Soxprospects.com has this to say:
Defensive-minded catcher with some pop in his bat. Ross has outstanding catcher's tools, including great game-calling ability and an excellent arm. Doesn't make great contact but has flashed power in the past against both right-handers and left-handers. Strikes out a lot, especially against high-velocity pitchers. Gets on base at a decent clip.
In a backup role, those are attributes that any team would take.
Furthermore, Ross may be used by manager John Farrell against left-handed pitchers over the course of the season with lefty Pierzynski batting against righties. As both players are 37 years old, expect Farrell to utilize this platoon often. This should give Ross plenty of at-bats in 2014.
The defensive mindset and ability to call quality games are also paramount to his outlook.
2014 Projected Numbers: .225 BA, .745 OPS, .993 Fielding Percentage
2013 Season (Majors): .299 BA, .758 OPS, .993 Fielding Percentage
The door for Lavarnway may be closing in Boston.
Despite a successful limited campaign at the big league level in 2013, the addition of Pierzynski further pushes Lavarnway down the Red Sox's depth chart.
The fact that he has bounced back and forth from the majors to minor leagues over the past three seasons also hinders any likelihood of him being a contributing factor in 2014.
Lavarnway has showed difficulty handling big league pitching from an offensive perspective, per his profile on Soxprospects.com, and this may be a primary reason why the Red Sox have not turned to him for a full-time role.
With Swihart emerging as the potential future catcher in Boston, Lavarnway's days with the Red Sox could very well be numbered.
2014 Projected Numbers: Designated for assignment or fails to make the 25-man roster.
Righty Burke Badenhop was acquired to bolster an already formidable Red Sox bullpen.
The Red Sox bullpen was a primary factor in their 2013 World Series crown.
Expect nothing different in 2014.
The additions of veteran relievers Burke Badenhop and Edward Mujica add depth to what is already a vital asset to Boston's 2014 prospectus.
Badenhop and Mujica will join a plethora of relievers like Junichi Tazawa and Craig Breslow, further adding to a staple of the Red Sox's recent success.
Edward Mujica, RHP
2013 Season: 2-1, 2.78 ERA, 1.005 WHIP
Despite losing the closer job for the St. Louis Cardinals last season, one cannot overlook that Mujica had a pretty solid campaign over the course of the year. His WHIP numbers are a perfect indication of this.
According to his 2013 prospectus on FanGraphs, Mujica relies heavily on a split-finger fastball (56 percent) as well as a standard fastball (39.6 percent) with occasional use of his slider.
Having logged 64.2 innings in the regular season last year, Mujica is also durable. He also has practical closing experience, which should bode well if incumbent closer Koji Uehara is unable to do the job.
Mujica figures to take on some of the setup role along with relievers Tazawa and Breslow, per John Fahrer of BoSox Injection, adding further stability to the back end of Boston's bullpen.
We should expect to see an effective Mujica this season and him being an added strength to an already dominant pen.
2014 Projected Numbers: 1-3, 3.02 ERA, 1.125 WHIP
Junichi Tazawa, RHP
2013 Season: 5-4, 3.16 ERA, 1.200 WHIP
In 2013, Tazawa was one of those reliable relievers that Boston could count upon to preserve leads late in ballgames.
There is nothing different to expect in 2014.
As such, it was a good thing the Red Sox were able to avoid arbitration by signing him to a one-year deal before this upcoming season, per Ricky Doyle of NESN.
According to his prospectus on Soxprospects.com, Tazawa has a fastball that can top out in the mid-90s as well as an effective curveball that he can rely upon to get hitters out ahead in the count.
In 2013, he was most effective at home, logging a 2.81 ERA at Fenway Park. His numbers against righties and lefties are virtually identical, with hitters batting .266 and .264, respectively.
Tazawa is a favorite to resume setup duties along with Mujica and Breslow in 2014. Barring any setbacks, there should be no reason to assume he falls off this season.
2014 Projected Numbers: 4-4, 3.35 ERA, 1.224 WHIP
Craig Breslow, LHP
2013 Season: 5-2, 1.81 ERA, 1.123 WHIP
What Tazawa does from the right side of the mound, Breslow is equally as effective from the left.
There is the old adage of pitchers being able to land jobs if they are left-handed and able to get lefties out. Breslow does that and more.
In 2013, Breslow was best against right-handed hitters, with opposing righties batting only .208 against him.
Breslow is also extremely effective in the eighth inning, having posted a 1.11 ERA during the frame last season.
The fact that he is equally effective against righties means that Farrell does not have to remove him when there are various right- and left-handed batters to be faced in opposing lineups.
Breslow is among the better left-handed relievers in baseball right now, and that trend should continue in 2014.
2014 Projected Numbers: 4-2, 2.45 ERA, 1.283 WHIP
Andrew Miller, LHP
2013 Season: 1-2, 2.64 ERA, 1.370 WHIP
With Breslow locking down the featured lefty setup position in Boston's bullpen, fellow lefty Andrew Miller will also play a prominent role in securing the Red Sox's pitching depth.
Miller missed a sizable portion of 2013 due to a foot injury, but he should be good to go for spring training, per John Tomase of the Boston Herald (subscription required).
Miller, who was once a highly touted prospect, developed into a quality reliever after some concerns regarding his command.
Just like Breslow, however, being a lefty out of the pen who can equally get righties and lefties out further cements his need within the Red Sox organization.
BoSox Injection writer Harry Burnham suggests that Farrell may struggle to get Miller into the mix over the course of 2014, the direct result of having plenty of quality arms.
While the context of that statement is true, the one thing that cannot be overlooked is the fact that playoff-caliber teams need plenty of pitching. In fact, one could argue that you cannot have too much of it.
Miller fits that bill.
2014 Projected Numbers: 3-2, 3.42 ERA, 1.410 WHIP
Burke Badenhop, RHP
2013 Season: 2-3, 3.47 ERA, 1.187 WHIP
Aside from having a cool name, Badenhop is also an effective reliever who should become an integral part of Boston's bullpen.
Boston acquired Badenhop from the Brewers after he posted a 3.47 ERA in 62.1 innings pitched.
Badenhop relies heavily on his fastball, and his secondary pitch is an effective slider, according to his chart on FanGraphs. He is also very effective in inducing ground balls—an element that always has value late in ballgames.
Unlike Breslow and Miller, Badenhop is most effective only against right-handed hitters, who hit only .229 against him last year.
As suggested by Doyle, Badenhop's numbers are not particularly staggering, yet the righty can be used effectively if inserted into the right situations.
This is exactly what Red Sox fans should expect Farrell to do with Badenhop.
2014 Projected Numbers: 3-3, 3.52 ERA, 1.281 WHIP
Koji Uehara, RHP
2013 Season: 4-1, 1.09 ERA, 0.565 WHIP, 21 Saves
To say that incumbent closer Koji Uehara had a dominant 2013 campaign is an understatement.
Look no further than the reception of the ALCS MVP award last season.
His stats, with an ERA barely over 1.00 and allowing just over one baserunner every two innings, are pretty staggering to say the least.
Uehara's best pitches are his fastball and split-finger fastball, according to FanGraphs, and are primary reasons behind his recent success.
After such a dominant season, what can the Red Sox expect out of him in 2014?
There are two ways to look at this.
First, Uehara is entering the final year of a two-year, $9.25 million contract. Will that be an incentive for another solid season?
Perhaps, but the other factor is that Uehara will turn 39 years old this April. It is rare to see pitchers who can excel at that age.
Thus, should we expect a drop-off in production?
In all likelihood, it will be difficult for Uehara to replicate the season he had in 2013. Yet this does not mean Uehara will be completely ineffective either.
Boston appears ready to continue tabbing Uehara as the closer in 2014, as suggested by BoSox Injection writer Michele Pettis.
And if he does not work out, or falls to an ailment, the Red Sox will have other pitchers, like Edward Mujica, ready to take over.
2014 Projected Numbers: 3-2, 2.75 ERA, 0.980 WHIP, 29 Saves
Are Ryan Dempster's days of starting for the Red Sox over?
Ryan Dempster, RHP
2013 Season: 8-9, 4.35 ERA, 1.432 WHIP
At 36 years old, it is safe to assume that veteran righty Ryan Dempster's best days are behind him.
His days of starting in Boston may be over as well.
Toward the end of the 2013 season, manager John Farrell stated that Dempster would be used in a bullpen role for the rest of the season, acccording to Jenny Dell of NESN.
Dempster could also be used in a bullpen role in 2014 due to the fact that he will likely be competing for the No. 5 role with fellow starter Felix Doubront—who is described in detail on the next slide.
Doubront is considerably younger and cheaper than Dempster, who is entering the final season of a two-year, $26.5 million contract.
If getting younger and cheaper is at the heart of the Red Sox organization—indicated by the reliance upon young stars like Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts—then Dempster's days in Boston could be numbered.
Barring any trade, which cannot be overlooked entirely, Dempster will likely be used in a relief role in 2014. The fact that the aging veteran has plenty of starting experience also keeps him relevant in case one, or more, of the Red Sox's starters misses time with injury.
At this point, Dempster is nothing more than an expensive insurance policy—a facet also argued by BoSox Injection writer Rick McNair.
Trading that lofty salary would be a difficult move for general manager Ben Cherington, although it is not beyond possibility.
Yet the most likely scenario is for Dempster to assume a bullpen role in 2014 and be worked into the rotation only if needed.
2014 Projected Numbers: 4-5, 4.16 ERA, 1.421 WHIP
Felix Doubront has been a nice option at the back end of Boston's rotation.
Felix Doubront, LHP
2013 Season: 11-6, 4.32 ERA, 1.429 WHIP
Left-handed pitcher Felix Doubront may be one of the Red Sox's arms who could benefit the most from age and attrition of Boston's starting rotation.
At 26 years old, it is safe to assume Doubront is entering his prime and, while he may never be tabbed as an elite starter, he does offer reliable stability in the rotation.
Let us take a look at what Soxprospects.com has to say about him:
Left-handed pitcher who has filled out well over the last several years. Fastball sits 91-93 mph. Throws both two-seam and four-seam varieties. Average-to-solid-average fastball command. Struggles to consistently hit spots and control heater in stretches. Deceptive 3/4 delivery, as hitters don't pick up the ball until late, causing his fastball to look a little faster. Needs improvement being more efficient with pitch count to go deeper into games and stick long-term as a starter. Projects as a back-of-the-rotation starter at the major league level.
The scouting report pretty much sums up what Doubront has become within the Red Sox organization over the past two years starting at the major league level.
Doubront will likely be competing for the No. 5 starter alongside Ryan Dempster as the Red Sox enter spring training, per Yardbarker.com, with the other being relegated to bullpen duty.
If 2013 was any indication of what suits Doubront best, starting should be in his future.
In 6.2 innings of relief during 2013, Doubront was tagged with a 14.85 ERA and a .457 batting average against. While this is a small sample size of this area, it does give indication of where Doubront's strength is, and that is within the rotation.
With Doubront a cheap commodity in the Red Sox organization, it is hard to gauge the team's future plans with the lefty.
Yet, left-handed starters are a worthy asset, and if Doubront can continue trending upward, there should be little reason to assume he struggles in 2014.
2014 Projected Numbers: 10-8, 4.17 ERA, 1.298 WHIP
Jake Peavy, RHP
2013 Season: 12-5, 4.17 ERA, 1.147 WHIP
The Red Sox attempted to solidify their rotation when they landed veteran righty Jake Peavy from the Chicago White Sox last season.
Peavy was brought on to alleviate Boston's rotation that had suffered the loss of Clay Buchholz to injury, and Peavy did a nice job of shoring up the Red Sox's pitching needs.
While most effective with his fastball and cutter, Peavy also features a changeup, curveball and slider—the changeup being the most reliable of his off-speed pitches, per FanGraphs.
Peavy owns a 3.00 ERA in three regular-season starts at Fenway Park, so it is hard to gauge his overall effectiveness at home for the forthcoming season, given the small sample size.
He did perform well initially for the Red Sox, posting a 4-1 record with a 4.04 ERA and giving them a solid veteran presence in the most crucial time of the season, per Conor Duffy of BoSox Injection. Still, Peavy went 1-0 in four starts during September and October and posted a 5.40 ERA during the same timespan.
So, what should fans expect out of the 32-year-old starter?
The former Cy Young Award winner is no longer pitching like he used to back when he was among baseball's elite starters. That is known.
The question is: How effective will he be amidst the pressure of the AL East, and will Red Sox fans ever see a glimpse of what once made Peavy so great?
In all honesty, Peavy is likely becoming an expendable commodity. With future prospects like Brandon Workman in the fold, Peavy's future with the Red Sox may be in doubt.
The one reason to keep Peavy is that starters like Buchholz are injury-prone, thus necessitating him to be retained.
Assuming Peavy is not traded before, or during, the 2014 season, fans should expect him to be nothing more than a No. 4 starter at this point in his distinguished career.
2014 Projected Numbers: 9-13, 4.25 ERA, 1.191 WHIP
Clay Buchholz, RHP
2013 Season: 12-1, 1.74 ERA, 1.025 WHIP
It would have been nice to see Clay Buchholz start the entire 2013 season, yet injuries limited his campaign to a mere 16 starts, before coming on strong to finish Boston's postseason.
Looking at those numbers when he did start, there is no reason to assume—aside from injury—that Buchholz will fall off in 2014.
More on the injuries later.
Buchholz has No. 1 stuff, as suggested by his numbers. He owns a career 3.39 ERA at Fenway Park and is equally effective against both right- and left-handed batters—opponents are hitting .242 and .247 against him, respectively.
Yet the primary concern with Buchholz is whether he can stay healthy.
Over his seven-year career, Buchholz has been able to start at least 25 games only twice, in 2010 and 2012. That is a point of frustration given the raw talent Buchholz has on the mound.
If he can stay healthy—and that is a big if—Buchholz could land the No. 2 spot in the rotation behind Jon Lester.
But the Red Sox cannot count upon Buchholz being healthy for the duration of a full season, which is likely indicated by the plethora of starters on Boston's roster.
Look for depth to be a key factor here in the greater picture.
For the sake of projections, let us assume that Buchholz is able to stay healthy in 2014 and make at least 25 starts.
If he can do that, while matching the numbers his talent suggests, the Red Sox should be in good shape.
2014 Projected Numbers: 10-5, 3.48 ERA, 1.280 WHIP
John Lackey, RHP
2013 Season: 10-13, 3.52 ERA, 1.157 WHIP
Red Sox righty John Lackey is a perfect indication that wins and losses do not necessarily reflect on the overall effectiveness of a pitcher in this era.
Aside from his record, Lackey posted better numbers in almost every significant category in comparison to Boston's No. 1 ace Jon Lester.
More on Lester to come.
Lackey bounced back from his injury-plagued 2012 absence in great form and was a key factor in Boston's return to prominence, thus justifying the average yearly salary of $16.5 million he is making.
In spite of recent rumors that suggested Lackey could be used as trade bait, signs are pointing to him remaining with the Red Sox in 2014, per Ian Browne of MLB.com.
That bodes well for a Boston rotation looking to maintain its effectiveness this upcoming season.
Lackey brings a heavily relied-upon fastball, along with an effective curveball and slider to the mix, per his scouting report on Yahoo! Sports. He also occasionally mixes in his changeup.
The slider is his most effective out pitch with batters hitting a mere .151 against it.
So, what should we expect out of him in 2014?
At 35 years old, Lackey is still effective at the major league level, and it is hard to see age catching up with him in the near future.
Some regression could be expected out of the veteran, and it is possible that he will be competing for a No. 3 spot in the rotation behind Lester and Clay Buchholz.
This is an argument made by BoSox Injection analyst Harry Burnham.
There are those who would argue that it would have been wise to trade Lackey when his stock was high, following the 2013 World Series. Yet it is as equally pertinent to retain solid pitching, especially when the rigors of a full season start to take their toll.
As such, retaining Lackey makes sense.
2014 Projected Numbers: 10-9, 4.10 ERA, 1.213 WHIP
Jon Lester, LHP
2013 Season: 15-8, 3.75 ERA, 1.294 WHIP
There is no discounting the importance of lefty Jon Lester in the Red Sox rotation.
As the bona fide No. 1 ace of the staff, Boston will once again count upon Lester's abilities to carry the rotation through 2014.
After another stellar year in 2013—followed by an immaculate postseason—what can we expect out of the 30-year-old left-hander?
Following any postseason run, there is the question of fatigue the next season. Yet this could be offset by the fact that Lester is entering a contract year and is vying for an extension.
It is worth noting that Lester stated he would be willing to take less money in order to stay in Boston, as reported by Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston.
According to his scouting report on Soxprospects.com, Lester delivers both four- and two-seam fastballs that can reach the mid-90s. An effective changeup, cutter and curveball also add to his repertoire.
In 2013, Lester was almost equal versus right- and left-handed hitters—batters hit .257 and .237, respectively. At home, Lester owned a .237 batting average against compared to .263 on the road. Those numbers are relatively in line with what he has posted over his career.
Barring injury, it is hard to assume Lester will suffer any sort of drop-off in 2014.
According to Paul Prims of BoSox Injection, Lester should be equally effective this upcoming season. He writes:
Expect another typical Lester year as long as his health is good. He seemed to figure out some things during his struggles last season. Namely that he can’t just use his fastball and cutter as his only two main pitches. He has learned to be more of a “pitcher” as opposed to a thrower. All the great power pitchers learned to do it and went on to have long, successful careers. He’s given no one any reason to believe it will be any different for him in the future, health permitting.
This is a good sign for Lester and the Red Sox in 2014. Now, if they can just get that contract extension out of the way.
2014 Projected Numbers: 16-7, 3.52 ERA, 1.260 WHIP
Projections are mere educated guesses at best. Yet, judging by the nature of one's past performances, it is possible to gauge expectations entering each season.
Some will rise, while others will fall. There is no doubting that.
Fortunately, Boston's pitchers and catchers remain at the heart of its recent success and shall continue to be a cornerstone this upcoming season.
If the Red Sox can get an equally effective pitching and catching tandem in 2014, there are few reasons to assume they will not be able to return to postseason form.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the Boston Red Sox. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.