Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Who's Number Five?

One thing I've learned to do in my two and a half years as a math major is dealing with being wrong. I am wrong constantly while doing my homework and taking exams. I suppose I was wrong before college too, but I like to pretend I wasn't. Well, I was also very wrong about this offseason. I have been convinced all winter that the Red Sox were going to end up with Roy Oswalt. I've said it multiple times in multiple forums, but it now seems unlikely. According to most reports, it appears the veteran right hander will be pitching in either St. Louis or Texas next year. Edwin Jackson is still a free agent as well, but I wouldn't expect the Red Sox in on him unless a one-year deal would be in play. There are also trade options such as Gavin Floyd available. However, for the sake of this post, I will delve into the possible options to fill out the rotation after Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard that are currently on the 40-man roster or non-roster invitees list.

The first guy is probably the fan favorite to grab the final rotation spot, but I'd keep him in the bullpen. Of course, I am talking about Alfredo Aceves. He was the third most valuable reliever for the Red Sox last year, contributing one win per Fangraphs as the team's swingman. Although it is a very small sample size (just 9 career starts out of 114 career appearances) Aceves has been much worse starting games. His strikeouts dip significantly, he walks more batters. Because of this, you get a FIP of 4.94 as a starter versus one of 3.87 out of the bullpen. Instead, it would be smarter to keep him in the bullpen, using him at all different times. He could come in and pitch multiple innings when the starter gets knocked out early, but he could also serve as a late innings, high leverage reliever. His versatility is invaluable.

The next group of guys to be considered are the pitchers they've brought in on minor league contracts to add depth. This group includes three guys who fans will recognize, but none of whom will inspire too much hope across the Nation. First, the Red Sox signed Carlos Silva. He didn't throw a single Major League pitch in 2011, and started just seven games in the Yankees minor league system. However, he was a two win pitcher just two years ago for the Cubs. His biggest asset is his ability to avoid walks, holding a career 1.73 BB/9 rate. His biggest shortcomings have been health, he's only thrown 200 innings twice in his career, and home runs, as he has a career 1.11 HR/9 rate. In 2010, his home run rate was lower than typical because of a low HR/FB ratio that was much lower than what he consistently had been giving up. He relies heavily on a sinker that has been losing its sink slightly every year Pitch F/X data has been available. Next, the Red Sox signed Aaron Cook. He started 17 games last year for Colorado and was worth one win for the team. He's an extreme ground ball pitcher who strikes out very few batters but also gave up a decent home run rate despite pitching in hitters friendly Coors Field his whole career. If Cook ends up getting the start, he will likely need a stronger defensive infield behind him, leading to Punto starts. Finally, the Red Sox have recently signed former Met John Maine. Due to injuries, he hasn't pitched more than 100 innings since 2008, and has only done it two times in his career. He is a fly ball pitcher, which will not help his HR totals in Fenway, but he will also have a Crawford/Ellsbury/Sweeney outfield tracking down balls that stay in the yard. His greatest concern is health and control. He has a career walk rate of 4.07 per 9, and hasn't gone below that rate since 2007. If he could ever harness that control, he'd be the best best of this group. Out of this group, I'd prefer to see Cook as the number five pitcher, followed by Maine, then Silva.

The Red Sox also have a couple of in house young pitchers to consider. Firstly is a guy they just traded Marco Scutaro for. Mortensen is on the team's forty man roster, and was added in a salary dump move for the Red Sox. However, he does have 13 career starts and is a viable option at this point. He doesn't seem to have many major assets, though, as he strikes out only slightly more batters than he walks and he gives up a good amount of home runs. He is just a replacement level pitcher. Next, the team could look at old friend Andrew Miller. I don't know about the rest of Red Sox fans, but this suggestion gives me the creeps. The former first round pick has been given ample opportunity to show he can start controlling his pitches, and his walk rate remains through the roof. If he hopes to return to the big leagues for an extended period of time, it will not be in this starting rotation. He will have to learn how to pitch out of middle relief. Finally, the team could look at Felix Doubront. He has been in the higher levels of the Sox organization since 2010 and has put up solid minor league numbers in that time. However, he has not pitched well in the bigs so far. He pitched in 11 games last year and lost all control, averaging about 1.75 more walks than strikeouts per nine innings. However, he looked much better in 2010 with a 4.12 FIP. As long as he can control his stuff, he has the most upside for the number five spot.

The Red Sox don't have the most attractive options for their final pitching spot. Their offense should be fine, as should their bullpen, but the rotation still scares people, for good reason. At this point, I think upside needs to take a big role in filling out the starters, and because of this Doubront would be my choice. He is the guy who would be most likely to stick in this spot. After him, I'd rank the rest Cook, Maine, Miller, Silva, Mortensen. If this group doesn't tickle your fancy, and really, it shouldn't, don't worry too much. The roster is never totally set until July 31st (or August 30th, but the waiver month typically doesn't involve major moves), and the team could easily make a trade for a starter mid-season.

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