It seems appropriate that for my inaugural post, I am going to pick on the Red Sox. Even though I’m really picking on Tim Kurkjian for some pretty hazy analysis. The only thing keeping me from unleashing a blitzkrieg-style onslaught is that the purpose of the article is fuzzy. I’m not sure whether or not he’s picking the five most intriguing rotations, or the five best. If it is the latter, then God have mercy on Mr. Kurkjian’s soul. But the section at the bottom entitled “The Rest of the Best Five Rotations” makes me pessimistic.
Anyway, Kurkjian seems to think the Red Sox have the best rotation in MLB. Let’s hear it:
The team we’ve chosen has as many questions — six — as it has starting pitchers: a rookie from Japan, a guy with a 5.01 ERA last year, a 40-year-old who only recently decided that 2007 won’t be his last season, a closer turned starter, a lefty with cancer in remission and a 40-year-old knuckleballer.
Ok, this is a bad start. Tim has, in record time, pretty much shredded his own argument before he even began. However…
…if everything falls right, the Red Sox could have the best rotation in baseball with Daisuke Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling, Jonathan Papelbon, Jon Lester, and Tim Wakefield.
This is stupid. I’m going to ignore the “if everything falls right” thing, because I don’t want to have a stroke at age 20. There are also about a hundred “if”s, “even though”s, “can”s and “could”s in this article. If you’re picking the best rotation – as it seems is Tim’s intent – it’s usually a good idea to pick one with some stable track record of aptitude, or some statistical indicators of impending aptitude. The Red Sox rotation, as a whole, fails on both these counts. Consider the 2006 Red Sox rotation:
- Curt Schilling: 204 IP, 183 K, 28 BB, 28 HR, 3.97 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 116 ERA+
- Josh Beckett: 204 IP, 158 K, 73 BB, 36 HR, 5.01 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 92 ERA+
- Tim Wakefield: 140 IP, 90 K, 51 BB, 19 HR, 4.63 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 100 ERA+
- Daisuke Matsuzaka: never pitched before in MLB
- Jon Lester: 81 IP, 60 K, 43 BB, 7 HR, 4.76 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, 97 ERA+ before cancer
- Jonathan Papelbon: closer last year, 68 IP, 75 K, 13 BB, 0.92 ERA, 0.78 WHIP
Here’s what I take from the facts before us:
- Schilling is still moving along as an above-average pitcher, but he is 40 years old. He probably isn’t getting any better. He is still a good pitcher.
- Beckett was an abomination last year, giving up the second most HR in the league and allowing the fifth most walks. And also, he was lucky, with opposing hitters’ BABIP only .265 – below the .290 average. Someone please explain to me why we are fawning over him.
- Wakefield is the operational definition of an average pitcher. 100 ERA+ = average. He’s 40 years old, although who knows if age is as much of a factor with knuckleballers. He also throws like a fairy.
- Matsuzaka has never thrown a pitch in MLB, although I believe he will be very good and probably the best pitcher on this staff.
- Lester’s WHIP makes my eyes bleed. Strikes are your friend, Jon.
- Papelbon was the best relief pitcher in baseball last year before shoulder trouble shut him down. Now, the Red Sox are moving him into the rotation to give him more regular work, thus strengthening his shoulder. I’m still not sure how 200 IP is better for a bad shoulder than 68 IP, but I’ll leave that aside. It’s tough to predict how he’ll do, but PECOTA has him at a 4.07 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP, which is good.
Let’s summarize. The Red Sox have the best starting rotation if, as Kurkjian said, “everything falls right”. What is “everything”?:
(1) Schilling remains good at age 40, (2) Wakefield remains average at age 40, Beckett stops giving up (3) dingers and walks and remains lucky, (4) Matsuzaka meets the lofty expectations placed on him, (5) Lester realizes there’s a plate over which he must throw the ball to get strikes, and (6) Papelbon makes a smooth transition from 68 IP to 200 IP without hurting his problematic shoulder.
As you can see, the intersection of six separate, independent events must occur for the Red Sox to have the best rotation in baseball. This is incredibly unlikely. This is like saying “if everything doesn’t suck, everything will be fine”. That’s not good enough for best rotation. At all. Shame on you, Tim Kurkjian.