Entering the 2013 Major League Baseball season, the Boston Red Sox’ rotation appeared to be a deficiency that would stifle them from flourishing. They finished with the fourth highest staff ERA in 2012, sporting an abysmal 5.19 ERA. The only acquisition they would end up making in the off-season to bolster the instability was the addition of Ryan Dempster — who as we know, did not work out as planned. So, what went right for the same group of pitchers in 2013? Of course, they added Peavy at the trade deadline as well. Now let’s attempt to quantify what worked for each pitcher in 2013 and let’s also try to answer the question of whether the success will carry over into 2014.
Jon Lester: It appears that the difference between the dismal 4.82 ERA in 2012 to the much more respectable 3.75 ERA in 2013, seems to live and die with the effectiveness of his fastball. In 2012, hitters clubbed an imposing .906 OPS off of his fastball, compared to a .721 OPS in 2013. Hitters hit for an unsustainable .356 BABIP off of it in 2012 and a much more reasonable .293 BABIP in 2013. So, Lester was the recipient of some bad fortune — especially off of his go-to-pitch. He increased the average velocity on his fastball by .4 in 2013, which also could have been a factor for his success throwing the heater. The HR/FB ratio was cut in half off of his fastball in 2013. A combination of better luck and increased speed on his fastball — all demonstrate that the Red Sox’ ace will not encounter the same struggles he endured in 2012.
John Lackey: For starters, you could actually tell what Lackey was throwing when he attempted to throw an off-speed pitch in 2013. The face of ridicule and the chicken and beer debacle, Lackey pitched splendidly to the tune of a 3.52 ERA last season, which was just a year removed from when he underwent Tommy John Surgery. Lackey threw his fastball over 1,000 times more than in 2011, as hitters hit for a .769 OPS off of it in 2013, which was a lot better than his 1.011 OPS against it in 2011. He also relied on his off-speed pitches less and as a result hitters went down on strike three 20.3% off of his curveball, compared to a mediocre 11.9% in 2011. He reinvented his repertoire in terms of usage for each pitch. He went back to his roots and threw that fastball more often and he had hitters guessing on when that big breaking ball would appear. Pending a complete remodel of his sequencing, Lackey should do fine this season.
Felix Doubront: Even though the southpaw’s put-away pitch (curveball) was not nearly as effective as it was the season before, Doubront threw his two-seam fastball and regular fastball much more adequately. Opposing hitters hit for an .822 OPS off of his fastball and a .934 OPS against his two-seam heater in 2012. In 2013, those formidable numbers subsided significantly as hitters only hit for a .770 OPS against his fastball and .777 OPS off of his two-seamer. Doubrount managed to induce a lot more ground balls, too, off of both improved pitches and less fly balls. All of this spiked his success despite the fact that Doubront’s velocity took a snag, as we saw both of his fastballs diminish in average velocity by nearly two mph. With all that being said, if Doubront can resurrect something close to his .447 OPS and 50.5 strikeout percentage versus his curveball in 2012, along with his improvement throwing the fastball, than we’re talking about a potential premier pitcher in MLB — if he can learn to get past the 6th inning.
Jake Peavy: I was very skeptical about how Peavy’s performance would translate to the hitter-friendly confines of Fenway Park, because of the fact that he posted a disconcerting 46.6 FB% last year. He finished with the third highest FB% among pitchers who tallied 140 or more innings. Sure, he could “escape” with that menacingly high number in the much more neutral U.S. Cellular Field but the notion that would translate into prosperity in Fenway was preposterous. And yet, his ERA was .24 points lower in a Boston uniform than it was in a White Sox uniform. However, there are clear signals that Peavy will regress in 2014. For starters, his BABIP was unsustainable at .256 in his tenure with Boston and it seems likely that number will deviate towards neutral and along with it, so will his run prevention totals. Also, his HR/FB ratio was cut in half at an unfeasible 6.6% in his brief tenure in Boston. It was at an anticipated 13.3% in the first half of 2013 with the White Sox. It is plausible to think that Peavy will not be able to get away with the fly balls he has been allowing and 2014 may commence the beginning of the end for the proud duck boat owner.
Clay Buchholz: Let’s get this out-of-the-way — Buchholz’s BABIP at .254 will not carry over in 2014 but with a 1.74 ERA there is room for regression and still have the ability to be a very potent pitcher. Everything worked swimmingly for the right-handed pitcher in 2013, as all legs of his arsenal were working masterfully. His opponent OPS against the fastball fell over .250 points with the same exact .273 BABIP in both 2012 and 2013; his opponent OPS against the cutter fell over .250 points; his changeup was the most effective it had been in three years and hitters struck out on it 31.4% of the time; and his curveball was the only pitch that did not improve but still hitters only managed to churn a respectable .651 OPS off of it. All of his pitches were rejuvenated in 2013, and while an ERA at 1.74 is unlikely to be attainable, he still projects to be an All-Star caliber starter.