In Good Hands

Evan BrunellFeatured ColumnistSeptember 30, 2008

When the news of Josh Beckett’s strained oblique broke, I’ll admit it, my heart dropped and my shoulders sagged. The one thing that fans and pundits alike thought that the Red Sox had going for them in the post-season was the best post-season, big game pitcher since Curt Schilling.

Knowing that Josh Beckett would kickoff game one of the ALDS in Anaheim on Wednesday night nearly mitigated the Angels home field advantage.

But now, even with the prospect of Josh Beckett pitching game three, some of the experts (I am looking at you Ken Rosenthal) have gone so far as to change their picks for the ALDS as a result of this news.

How could the Red Sox replace someone who in nine career post-season starts was 6-0 with a 1.73 ERA? Could they still be considered World Series contenders without their ace on the hill setting the tone for how things get done in October?

At the same time however, what were your expectations for the season when Josh Beckett started the season on the disabled list? Coming into the year, the Red Sox pitching staff was deep, but realistically, Beckett at the top made that depth a reality.

Beckett’s stellar 2007 campaign, 20-7 with a 3.27 ERA, seemed like a harbinger of things to come. In fact in our 2008 Wisdom of Crowds community projections, Beckett’s expected line looked something like this: 19-8, 3.40 ERA, 200 innings pitched, 192 K’s.

We all know that due to injury, Beckett’s 12-10 record and 4.03 ERA over 174.3 innings pitched, was a far cry from our expectations this season.

The answer lies in the pitcher whose season our Wisdom of Crowds community projections thought would approximate the stats that Josh Beckett did contribute this season; Jon Lester.

While our community projections thought the world of Beckett’s prospects, we pegged Jon Lester for another solid year in his continued development at the Major League level; 14-9, 4.17 ERA over 174 innings pitched.

Lester’s 16-6 record, 3.21 ERA and remarkable 210 innings pitched are remarkably similar to what our community expected of their ace, Josh Beckett, this season.

If I were to have approached this analysis with one of those “pitcher A/pitcher B” columns that we all love to hate (but secretly love), everyone would have (a) seen right through it and (b) picked Jon Lester over Beckett to take the ball in game one of the playoffs.

Want further proof that we are in fine hands? Look no further than the top five games pitched by Red Sox pitchers this season as measured by game score where Lester’s name is penciled in next to three of the top five pitched games by Red Sox pitchers this season. Glance further down that list and you can see Lester eating up one third of the game scores 67 or better.

Even with Josh Beckett’s recent success since returning from the disabled list (2.16 ERA over his twenty-five innings in his final four starts), Jon Lester only won American League Pitcher of the Month for the month of September with a 4-1 record and a 2.14 ERA.

Don’t get me wrong, having only one start instead of a potential two from Josh Beckett in a short series definitely hurts, it isn’t because of the man replacing him on the pole. You can look to and extra start by Daisuke Matsuzaka instead of Beckett, and specifically a potential game five and feel justifiably nervous. But seeing number 31 take the hill in game one shouldn’t give you any pause. For me, it actually gives me a measure of comfort.