BOSTON, MA: Josh Beckett #19 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after getting out of trouble in the fourth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
The Red Sox didn't acquire another starting pitcher, which puts even more of a burden on Josh Beckett.
In January, I wrote that the Red Sox were guaranteed to get another starting pitcher. This is because I am bad at my job. Turns out the Red Sox most certainly did not need to get another starting pitcher. It was like the suggested donation box in the entrance of a museum. Turns out you can just walk right in, if you don't feel like paying. Unless you're trying to impress a date, you don't need to do anything.
Absent the acquisition of another starting pitcher, then, I burned up my February Red Sox quota on the bottom of the Red Sox rotation. There are a lot of interesting candidates, depending on how much of a purist you are with the word "interesting." Starship Troopers 3 was interesting, in a way.
There's a good chance that most of us have buried the true story, though. Everything so far has been something akin to, "Sure, the Red Sox have Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz, but after that, things get dicey." That naturally led into discussion about Matt Garza trades, Clockwork Orange-style re-educations of Roy Oswalt. But then I was reminded of this:
It was from last year. Edit: Or a few years ago, I'm told. Overall point stands, but my apologies for not checking on that first. So don't panic, Red Sox fans. But after last season's September debacle, he didn't exactly show up this year with washboard abs, either.
While we're being snarky, it's worth pointing out that he turned that level of fitness into the best ERA and ERA+ of his career last year. But that picture of Beckett looking like the before picture in a commercial got me thinking about how Beckett isn't exactly the most consistent and predictable pitcher in baseball. Even as pitchers go, Beckett stands out as being a bit enigmatic from year to year, whether because of his Body By Garces DVDs or not.
For all of the above-average control and strikeout stuff that Beckett's featured over his career, last season was the first year in which he's posted an ERA under 3.00. He's usually vacillating between the threes, fours, and fives -- if you're on the FIP or xFIP train, he's a lot closer to Jonathan Niese and Ricky Nolasco than to Roy Halladay.
Yet he's supposed to be one of the rocks and/or pillars of the rotation. Beckett is supposed to be one of the constants. Ol' Reliable: Josh Beckett. The guy who has cracked the 200-inning barrier once in the past four seasons. The guy who's had as many seasons with an ERA above 4.00 than below since he's been with the Red Sox. Ol' Reliable.
Well, Jon Lester is clearly the most reliable pitcher in the rotation. But while Clay Buchholz has loads of talent, he's only cracked 100 innings in the majors once in the last five years. That leaves the Red Sox counting on Beckett to be the healthy, top-of-the-rotation starter that he is ... about half of the time. This isn't the Red Sox hoping that Beckett will repeat his year; this is the Red Sox counting on it.
The Red Sox' offseason had a lot of "Okay, the Red Sox have Lester, Beckett, and Buchholz, now who can they get?", but it's worth a minute to step back and realize that the rotation might be even sketchier than we thought. Beckett is an oft-injured pitcher in iffy condition whose peripherals don't always line up with his runs-allowed totals, and who is often featured in spring-training articles that use the word "contrite." And he's the known quantity.
Long article short: I'm simply amazed that the Red Sox didn't get another pitcher, whether it was by overpaying for Gio Gonzalez or Gavin Floyd, or by overpaying for Edwin Jackson or Mark Buehrle. It could still work out -- the offense should still be stellar, and pitching works in mysterious ways -- but it's a heckuva short-term risk from an organization that hasn't wanted a lot to do with short-term risks over the last decade. Check back in September to see if it was the right move.
Wait, scratch that. Wait until October. We'll know more in October. Beckett was great last year. He's been great in previous years. He'll need to be at least very good for the scheme to work.