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A statistical Red Sox preview, part two

Posted by Andrew Mooney  April 5, 2012 02:52 AM

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Below is part two of the Red Sox statistical preview, which focuses on the pitching staff. All numbers are from Baseball Think Factory's 2012 ZiPS projections. Part one can be found here.

Jon Lester
16-8, 3.46 ERA, 30 GS, 187.1 IP, 163 H, 72 ER, 18 HR, 74 BB, 186 SO

Lester figures to be the ace of the staff, and he’s earned it, with four consecutive All-Star caliber seasons. The Sox would be pretty disappointed to get numbers much worse than these out of Lester, and they’d probably like to see him top 200 innings. The only red flag is the drop in his strikeout numbers last year—he got fewer swings and misses, and, according to PITCHf/x data, lost about one mile per hour on his fastball.

Josh Beckett
10-6, 3.80 ERA, 25 GS, 154.0 IP, 144 H, 65 ER, 19 HR, 47 BB, 133 SO

Lost in all the rending of garments surrounding the events of last September was the fact that 2011 was one of Beckett’s best seasons, the first one in which he held a sub-three ERA. Still, ZiPS expects a bit of a decline, justified by Beckett’s career-low .249 BABIP, which is 44 points below his career average. However, the thumb injury is somewhat worrisome. This shallow rotation can’t afford a loss of one of its mainstays for any significant period of time.

Clay Buchholz
10-5, 3.63 ERA, 20 GS, 116.2 IP, 109 H, 47 ER, 11 HR, 45 BB, 83 SO

Speaking of pitchers the Sox can’t afford to lose, the rotation simply must have Buchholz healthy for most of the year. This projection factors in the concerns about his durability, predicting he’ll start just 20 games. When active, though, he has the potential to be one of the best No. 3 starters in the game, which would be invaluable for a team that rounds out its rotation with none other than …

Felix Doubront
Daniel Bard

The grand experiment: can Bard, an ace reliever, and Doubront, a late-season call-up, really hold down the back end of the Boston rotation? Their ZiPS projections aren't really applicable, as Bard is assuming an entirely different role and Doubront has only 35.1 career innings under his belt.

As starters, both pitchers have a spotty history in the minors. Bard never pitched above Class A, and he ended 2007, his first and last season as a starter, with an ignominious 7.08 ERA in 22 starts. Doubront fared slightly better, rising all the way up to AAA Pawtucket, but he sported a less-than-stellar 4.22 ERA in his 18 appearances with the PawSox, 16 of them starts. Valentine has expressed faith in Bard's ability to adapt to the rotation, but for a general idea of how well relievers make the transition to the starting rotation, check out this piece by Grantland's Jonah Keri. In general, it’s not pretty. Stay tuned.

Andrew Bailey
4-1, 3.04 ERA, 52 G, 53.1 IP, 45 H, 18 ER, 4 HR, 16 BB, 53 SO

Toss these projections out the window. Bailey will be sidelined until at least the All-Star break as he recovers from thumb surgery.

Alfredo Aceves
6-3, 3.76 ERA, 40 G, 79.0 IP, 75 H, 33 ER, 7 HR, 31 BB, 52 SO

Well, here’s your Opening Day closer. For as lights out as Aceves was last year—2.61 ERA in 114.0 innings pitched—his peripheral pitching numbers are a little shaky. His 1.90 strikeout-to-walk ratio was second lowest on the team among pitchers with more than 50 innings pitched. Compare that to Jonathan Papelbon, the prototypical high-strikeout, low-walk closer, whose 8.70 SO/BB ratio was tops in the major leagues among closers, and start firing up those defibrillators—the ninth is going to be a little more stressful this year.

Mark Melancon
5-3, 3.59 ERA, 52 G, 57.2 IP, 54 H, 23 ER, 5 HR, 20 BB, 48 SO

There’s a reasonable case to be made that Melancon should, in fact, take over the role of closer until Bailey returns. He had more strikeouts and fewer walks per nine innings than Aceves last year, and a much less troubling BABIP (.290 to Aceves’ .233). If Aceves struggles early on, I doubt Bobby Valentine will have much problem promoting Melancon to ninth-inning work.

Daisuke Matsuzaka
5-4, 4.37 ERA, 14 GS, 80.1 IP, 75 H, 39 ER, 8 HR, 40 BB, 66 SO

Maybe Bobby V. can speak Japanese, but if he brings about any sort of resurgence from Matsuzaka, count me as a believer. Don’t expect too much from Dice when he returns mid-season. He’ll be an improvement on Tim Wakefield as a spot starter, but anything beyond that is an unexpected bonus.

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Stats Driven is powered by David Sabino, who over the last two decades has been a source of statistical analysis on the pages of Sports Illustrated, New York Times, and Chicago Tribune. David has written about all seven recent Boston-area championships for Sports Illustrated Presents commemorative issues, was the creator of such long time features as SI’s Player Value Ranking, NBA Player Rating and long running fantasy football and baseball columns.

He has also authored or made contributions to many books, including the Sports Illustrated’s 100 Fenway: A Fascinating First Century.

Now living in Marblehead, he’s focusing his attention on the Boston sports scene, specifically delving into the numbers affecting the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins, with the goal of informing and entertaining real fans. You can follow him on Twitter at @SabinoSports.

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