Oct. 2, 2012; Bronx, NY, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Jon Lester (31) pitches during the fourth inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

Boston's Starting Pitching: The Elephant in the Room


The Red Sox were the most active team in major league baseball during the offseason. They deliberately reversed the over-spending, big budget excesses that started in 2008 and ended in ruins in 2012. They bargained hard, stingily offering modest one and two-year contracts to free agents with the notable exception of Shane Victorino who received a three-year $39 million contract.

After the dust settled Boston had acquired 10 new players and only spent roughly half of the $270 million they got after what can only be characterized as the Dodger Dump. August 2012 was a coup and the resulting offseason work was, if not spectacular, a shrewd and hard bitten display of negotiating resolve.

The Sox filled holes in the outfield, at first base and shortstop while bagging additional catching support in the form  of David Ross. What they didn’t do, the elephant in the room if you will, is do anything meaningful with their starting pitching. Boston acquired free agents Ryan Dempster (RH starting pitcher), Joel Hanrahan (RH closer) and 37-year old reliever, Koji Uehara. Let’s be frank. None of Boston’s pitching acquisitions are going to suddenly make this starting staff a great one.

What Boston appears to have done so far is what many fans feared; hoped that new manager John Farrell and pitching coach Juan Nieves would somehow take an as-of-late overpaid, under-performing starting staff and infuse them with sound mechanics, discipline, health and leadership.

Jon Lester is at a crossroads in his career. After a promising start and an inspiring fight with cancer, Lester appears to have lost both his mental toughness and control over the past two years, suffering from bouts of wildness in the early innings and periods where he’s been smacked around soundly. Through it he’s been sullen and cranky. Lester needs a bounces back season almost as much as…

July 15, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox pitcher John Lackey (41) in the dugout against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

John Lackey came to Boston with high expectations and a salary to match. What we’ve come to learn is that he was probably injured or on the cusp of injury when he arrived. Teammates say he’s great. Fans and the media haven’t had the same experience. After Tommy John surgery at the end of the 2011 season, Lackey is in as good a position to succeed as at any time since he arrived in Boston. A native of Abilene, Lackey will need a heart as big as Texas to overcome his critics, which leads us to another Texan…

Oct 1, 2012; Bronx, NY, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Clay Buchholz (11) pitches during the first inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Clay Buchholz has also been a victim of his early Red Sox success. In just his his second MLB start Buchholz no-hit the Baltimore Orioles.Buchholz best season was 2010, when he went 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA. In between those seasons his balky back has limited him to a 26-24 record and 4.75 ERA in his four full seasons. Buchholz’ physical health is the key to allowing him to go deep in games and be effective, just like…

September 29, 2012; Baltimore, MD, USA; Boston Red Sox pitcher Felix Doubront (61) pitches in the second inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Felix Doubront showed early promise in his first full season as a Boston starter but tired and faded in the second half of the season, ultimately going 11-10 with a 4.86 ERA in 2012. Here’s hoping Doubront has spent some time with Boston strength and conditioning coaches in the offseason. Doubront, more than any other Boston pitcher, is the key to a successful starting rotation. Otherwise Boston’s season could be in the…

Ryan Dempster, 35-years old, is a total wild card heading into the 2013 season. Dempster was a combined 12-8 with a 3.38 ERA with the Cubs and Rangers in 2012. Detractors say the crafty righty hasn’t lived in the AL East and is therefore and unknown quantity. Still, Dempster is only one of 18 active pitchers with over 100 wins. After 2003 Tommy John surgery and three years as a reliever, Demster’s fastball dropped from the mid 90s to the high 80s.

Dempster has supplemented his fading fastball with a split-finger fastball and a slider. The splitter is particularly effective against left-handed hitters and he can throw the slider to both sides of the plate. On average lefties batted just .197 against him in 2012.

If chinks appear in the pitching armor early, Farrell and Nieves should be prepared to explore options like Allen Webster and Matt Barnes. Don’t delay gentlemen. Bobby Valentine can tell you both chapter and verse just how quickly things can get out of hand in Boston’s pressure cooker.

Next Red Sox Game View full schedule »
Tuesday, Sep 22 Sep7:05at New York YankeesBuy Tickets

Tags: Boston Red Sox

  • John Fahrer

    On paper, this is an upgraded rotation. They tried to get Dan Haren before the Angels declined his option. But the Halos weren’t going to allow the player to fly in for a physical.

    When Haren hit the market, they were still interested, but he chose the Nats who are presently a contender.

    If Dempster and Lackey can pitch well enough to make 30 starts and eat a combined 360-400 innings, that would be a huge contribution.

    Lester and Buchholz should do better. In the case of Lester, Farrell has stated he notices that Lester’s mechanics have been off since he left.

    Hopefully Doubront avoids a sophomore slump.

    Very encouraged in what the bullpen looks like and the spot starter options.

    Ruby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, Chris Hernandez, Steven Wright, Franklin Morales, Alfredo Aceves, and Drake Britton probably have dibs to start before Matt Barnes. Remember, the guy hasn’t pitched a single game in the upper levels of the minors. But if he does what he did last year, he could be up by September.