Tuesday, February 22, 2005

RED SOX PITCHING STAFF, PART THREE – WELCOME TO THE PARTY:

Finally we get into who is going to replace Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe in the starting rotation. Following the Bill Belichick 2-for-1 plan of building depth, the Sox imported four starting pitchers this off-season to offset the turnover in the rotation.

First, let’s be frank: Pedro Martinez was the #2 man in the rotation—not #1, not #1A or 1B, he was number two behind Curt Schilling; furthermore, at the end of last season, Derek Lowe was the #5 man in the rotation. Schilling, Martinez, Arroyo, Wakefield, and Lowe—that was the post-All-Star break rotation in order of effectiveness.

So how do you replace one of the best #2 men in the league? Not to segue, but I don’t want to bash Pedro’s performance on his way out—his me-first attitude, surliness, and general "diva of the clubhouse" routine, yes, I will bash—but not his performance on the mound. He wore down in September, no doubt, but that was in part due to pitching so many innings. When he got his rest in the playoffs, he did fine.

Back to my question of replacing Pedro: You make the rotation #1, #2A, #2B, #2C, & 3. After Schilling, the Sox can trot out crafty lefty David Wells; fire-balling Matt Clement; ERA under 4.00 while pitching injured Wade Miller; and journeyman lefty John Halama. Also, they still have holdovers Tim Wakefield and Bronson Arroyo.

Now the Sox have to figure out how to make seven go into five. They have the luxury of not having to rush Schilling, Wells, and Miller out of the gate (despite the silliness of playing the Yankees so many times in April). Wells should be ready to go without any injury problems, but the exhibition season is still young. His history of back problems is a legitimate concern. If the Sox don’t have all three ready to go for some catastrophic turn of events, they’re still in good shape. There’s very little need for a #5 starter in April. Clement, Arroyo, Wakefield, and Halama isn’t a great rotation, but they’re still better than Toronto, Baltimore, Tampa bay and a host of others for the month of April.

With Wells, in addition to his back, has the question of being 42 years old and not having a history of keeping himself in great shape. That said, he has the motivation of being turned down by the Yankees. Miller, if healthy, is a solid 15 game winner. It is way too early to see what we have him. The Sox will likely be realistic and ultra-conservative with Miller and leave him back at extended spring training until April rather than risk injury by rushing him out the gate in early April.

Clement is the conundrum. He has great strikeout statistics, a low ERA, a history of wildness and a baffling lack of run support. Run support shouldn’t be a problem with the Sox. If he keeps throwing the heavy sinker and nasty split, he should rack-up the groundouts and strikeouts with ease and put himself in position to win 15-18 games this season. If the Sox get Clement some runs early and often in his first few starts, they can build his confidence and get him on a roll.

John Halama is going to be interesting to watch this spring. He can start, he can long relieve from the pen, and he can come in to face a tough lefty. He’s bounced around a bit and got lost in the shuffle in Tampa Bay, but he’s a crafty lefty who needs a break. He reminds me a bit of Bronson Arroyo when the Sox grabbed him in 2003. Not that I’m saying Halama is even going to make the rotation let alone win ten games, but he’s a veteran with good stuff who just needs a break. Worst case scenario, he fills the role of #5 starter/long reliever that Byung-Hyun Kim and Ramiro Mendoza were supposed to fill.

In summary, the new additions may or may not be as effective as Pedro and D-Lowe, but they definitely have the potential to put the Sox in a position to win all year long and give the team a realistic chance to win on any night of the long, 162 game season.

And that is what it is all about.

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