Having already given my analysis for the Sox position players, I'm now moving on to the pitching staff.
The pitching was the main reason that the Sox stayed relatively competitive for most of the year. Though tonight's drubbing at the hands of the Kansas City Royals won't help these numbers, the Sox are second in the American League and eighth in baseball in team ERA.
However, that doesn't mean that everyone on the staff got the job done.
Mark Buehrle: B+
Gavin Floyd: B
John Danks: A-
Jose Contreras: D
Assortment of fifth starters: C+
The top three pitchers in the Sox rotation carried this unit and were the strongest part of the team. Buehrle, Danks, and Floyd are all currently in the top twenty in the AL in ERA. This is especially impressive considering they play in US Cellular Field, one of the friendlier hitting parks in the league.
The performance of their last two starters, unfortunately, wasn't as strong.
Jose Contreras had a few solid stretches that prevented me from giving him a failing grade, but he was still a disappointment. His ERA was almost five-and-a-half, and that totally ignores a whopping 14 unearned runs, several of which came on his errors. His inability to consistently last until even the sixth inning put a lot of pressure on the bullpen.
The fifth-starter spot was the mixed bag that you would expect.
Bartolo Colon started in the role and was very up and down. His ERA looks respectable at 4.19, but he had several bad starts and didn't go deep into games.
Clayton Richard had a similar stint in the rotation; he had stretches where he looked unhittable and stretches where he couldn't give the team five innings.
Carlos Torres and D.J. Carrasco were highly suspect in late fill-in starts after the team traded Richard.
Freddy Garcia has been fairly solid in his six late-season starts. He will probably return to that role next season.
The rotation is the biggest reason to be optimistic about the Sox next year. They already had one of the best starting rotations in the league this year, and former Cy Young winner Jake Peavy will join them next year.
Regardless of your thoughts on how well his performance in Petco will transfer to the Cell, you can't deny that he is clearly a sizeable upgrade over their back end of the rotation options this year. In fact, he is probably the most talented player in the Sox rotation and will help give them arguably the deepest and best rotation in the league.
Middle Relief: D
Long Relief: B+
These grades are debatable depending on how you classify the individual relievers. I'm mostly basing the set-up grade on Thornton and Dotel and the middle relief grade on Linebrink and Pena.
The Sox had five main relievers most of the year as well as stints from Clayton Richard, Tony Pena, and a number of minor players.
The best reliever for the Sox by a good margin was Matt Thornton.
He was dominant, posting an ERA of 2.73 while striking out 78 batters in 66 innings. Frankly, they should have used him as their regular eighth-inning reliever instead of some of their other options.
Bobby Jenks was okay in the closer role. While he's struggled at times (especially in July), he still generally got the job done. His strikeout rate actually went up this year; the problem is that he has allowed seven homers on the year as well as a few more hits. I wouldn't exactly complain if he returned, especially given the current alternatives. However, he's starting to get more expensive and it wouldn't surprise me if the Sox shopped him.
The real issue with the bullpen was their lack of dependable options in the sixth through eighth innings outside of Thornton.
Scott Linebrink has gotten progressively worse as the season went on. It's gotten to the point that I visibly shudder when they bring him in. His WHIP is a disgustingly high 1.64 and he has a depressing seven losses on the season. Unfortunately, he will likely be back next year as he has two years remaining on his contract.
Octavio Dotel also caused some problems, though he was more streakier. At times he was dominant, as shown by his 3.32 ERA and strikeout rate above 11 per nine innings. However, he has a habit of putting guys on base (1.47 WHIP) and when he is not on top of his game things can get ugly.
Tony Pena has been very similar to Dotel since he was acquired. Though his stuff is pretty solid and he can strike people out, he doesn't have nearly enough command to be consistently effective.
The second biggest bright spot in the pen was D.J. Carrasco. He generally got the Sox through the middle innings without making the deficit significantly worse. Unfortunately, he was used far too often because of the struggles at the back end of the rotation.
The Sox need to add at least one legitimate bullpen arm if they intend to compete next year. It has become painfully obvious that they can't depend on Linebrink and Pena to complement Jenks and Thornton at the back end of the pen. While relievers can be extremely streaky, they'll minimally have to replace the likely departing Dotel and hope for the best.
While the pitching staff still needs a few tweaks, there is reason to believe that there is enough talent in the organization to compete. The rotation should be stacked, especially considering that top prospect Daniel Hudson will be waiting in the wings if something goes wrong.
It will all come down to the middle relief. While the rotation should be very good, you can't expect them to go seven innings every start to think about the number of times that the Sox gave up the lead late in a close game. Wrt. Someone besides Jenks and Thornton will have to step up to solidify the bullpen.
If that happens, the Sox should be in good shape. If not, that will put more pressure on an offense that also needs some work.