Saturday, May 2, 2009

John Farrell has some work to do

It appeared, as spring training unfolded and the season began, that Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell had the easiest job in the world. He was in charge of making sure that Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka and a stable of talented relief pitchers did just one thing: Pitch well. His job, it seemed, was going to consist of a lot of butt-pats and go-get-'ems.

But that's suddenly very, very far from the case.

Those talented relief pitchers have done just what they've been asked to do. Red Sox relievers, in fact, have a 2.81 ERA and have held opponents to a .227 batting average. Manny Delcarmen hasn't allowed an earned run in 14 innings this season; Ramon Ramirez hasn't allowed a run of any kind dating back to last September.

But the starting rotation -- the Beckett-led, Lester-led, Matsuzaka-led rotation that was supposed to be the class of the American League -- has faltered in a big way, and it's time for Farrell to earn his money. The Red Sox are winning games in spite of their starting pitching -- not because of their starting pitching.

So far this season:
* Beckett has a 7.22 ERA and 5.0 walks per nine innings;
* Lester has a 5.40 ERA and a .305 batting-average-against;
* Matsuzaka has a 12.79 ERA and is on the disabled list;
* Brad Penny has an 8.66 ERA and has almost as many home runs allowed (five) as strikeouts (six);
* As a team, counting Tim Wakefield's outing on Saturday, the Red Sox have just 10 quality starts in 24 games -- which means their starting pitcher has failed more than half the time to finish the sixth inning and/or hold the opponent to three runs or fewer.

Let's say it again: The Red Sox were supposed to win games because of their starting pitching. So far, they've won games in spite of their starting pitching.

When they get a quality start from their pitcher this season, as you might expect, the Red Sox have gone 9-1. But when they don't get a quality start, they're still treading water at 6-8 -- something you have to attribute both to the team's hitters and to its relievers.

In fact, the Red Sox have seen their starter allow at least five earned runs in each of their last four games -- and they've won two of those four games. That's not a trend that's going to keep up.

And that's going to have an impact on what so far has been a sensational bullpen, too. Delcarmen and Ramirez have been pretty much untouchable, but both are on pace to pitch upwards of 94 innings this season; Jonathan Papelbon already is on pace to best his career high in innings pitched, too.

Red Sox pitchers are averaging around 5 2/3 innings per start; only Wakefield is averaging better than six innings when he takes the ball. Even worse, the group has needed an average of close to 100 pitches to get those 5 2/3 innings -- it's like the entire staff has been brainwashed by Matsuzaka.

The Red Sox have survived subpar starting pitching thus far thanks mostly to a friendly schedule that has allowed them to feast on the Orioles, Indians and a shorthanded Yankees team. (Seriously: Jorge Posada hit cleanup. That's not the same lineup you're going to see from the Yankees in September.)

Pitching coach John Farrell has some serious work to do. You can't win a pennant, let alone a World Series, when your starting pitchers have a 5.68 ERA.

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