This is not an emergency because the Red Sox are doing very bad things on the field through 4 games. This is an emergency, because in typical Nation fashion, people are freaking out (I even heard Mark Bertrand from 98.5 say that Crawford was off to a slow start. After game 1!). So your ol’ buddy X Mark is here to talk you all off the ledge.
The hitting will still be excellent this year. On August 3rd last year, the day after Kevin Youkilis’ season ended and a full 2 months before the season ended, the Red Sox trotted out the following lineup:
This was not a one day lineup either. This lineup or something similar to it was a fairly regular occurrence for the last 2 months of the 2010 season. Even prior to Youk going down, the lineup was not much better on paper. And yet, they still managed to finish 2nd in the AL in runs to only the Yankees. So what did this 2nd best offense do this offseason? How about pick up two of the best offensive players in baseball (Gonzalez and Crawford) while getting another two of the best offensive players in baseball healthy (Youkilis and Pedroia).
We are gonna play my favorite game real quick: Player A vs Player B.
Player A through 4 games: .133 BA, .188 OBP, .133 SLG, 2 Hits, 1 Walk, 6 SO, 1 RBI
Player B through 4 games: .091 BA, .286 OBP, .182 SLG, 1 Hit, 2 Walks, 7 SO, 1 RBI
Last year, the Red Sox finished 23rd in bullpen ERA and easily had the worst of any AL contender. So again, the Sox went out and overhauled the bullpen, bringing 4 new members to the opening day roster and seriously improving their depth in the minors. Bobby Jenks, Denis Reyes and Matt Albers have looked great so far. Wheeler has looked decent despite giving up a homer to the Rangers when everyone was giving up homers to the Rangers. Papelbon was sort of a mixed bag in his lone (non save) appearance, but he did strike out the side. And then there is Bard. If anyone really thinks we have an issue with Bard and his 98 MPH fastball, then you probably do not know a whole lot about baseball. By the nature of their craft, relievers will have a bad outing here and there and because they typically only pitch an inning at a time, that bad outing will look REALLY bad. Again, we all need to relax. The bullpen still should be a strength this year.
This is the area where it is ok to worry, but not for the reasons you think. The reason why it is ok to worry about the rotation is because it was ok to worry about the rotation in the offseason. The rotation is now and was 2 months ago the Sox biggest weakness. Lester and Buchholz should still be studs at the top (did you see Clay’s stuff Sunday? So good), and Dice K should still be one of the best 5th starters in baseball. The problem then as it is now is what to do with Mr. Beckett and Mr. Lackey (combined salary this year: $31 million). Beckett had a crappy year last year with decent peripheral stats meaning we could see a little bit of a bounce back. Lackey had a very average year last year, but came on strong in the second half so maybe we could see a bounce back out of him too. Unfortunately they both have been trending downward in recent years and the older they get, the better they will not get. I am finding it hard to be optimistic on these two as anything more than middle rotation starters. Luckily this is where they slot into our rotation (please ignore how Tito set up the rotation to start the season, this does not mean he thinks Lackey is our true number 2), but unluckily if we want to be the dominant team in the AL we are going to need more than that from them.
The reasons why people ARE worrying is because of each starters performance in their 2011 debuts, but this is misguided because we should not expect this trend to continue. First, we will look at Lester, Lackey and Buchholz because they all had exactly the same problem in their starts: the long ball. Last year, according to the LA Times, the league average HR per 9 rate was 0.96. Here is the same rate for these three pitchers in 2010 and career:
Lester: 0.6, 0.8
Lackey: 0.8, 0.9
Buchholz: 0.5, 0.9
All were better than league average last year (Buch and Lester considerably so) and all are better than league average in their careers (and I guarantee that the league average HR/9 has been higher than 0.96 during these guys careers). This weekend they combined to give up 9 home runs in 15 1/3 innings for a HR/9 of 5.3!!! For comparison, Buch only gave up 9 HR all of last year and he is almost halfway there this year! This SCREAMS fluke.
Second, we will look at Beckett, who needed 106 pitches to get through just 5 innings against a below average Cleveland lineup. Last year in Beckett’s worst year since his Boston debut, he walked 3.2 batters per nine innings, his worst rate since that first season. The years between he posted the following walk rates: 1.8, 1.8 and 2.3. Beckett was injured most of last year and his much bigger problem were his rate of home runs (1.4 HR/9, way above league average). When healthy, he has great, almost Schilling-like control and all indications are that he is going into this season in top health. Add in the fact that he is a notorious slow starter, especially in cold weather, and we cannot look at this start with any real meaning.
For the final time, the Sox have played 4 games. Championship teams have lost 4 in a row or more almost every single year. It is glaring because it is the beginning of the season, but it is largely meaningless. We have 158 glorious games to go and have a chance to witness a potentially great Boston team with a youngish core that will be here for many years to come. Sit back, enjoy, and RELAX!