Like most of the rest of us, ESPN.com's Buster Olney has floated the theory that John Smoltz might be better served pitching out of the bullpen than as part of the starting rotation:
"The Red Sox could talk to him about shifting to the bullpen, perhaps, but he is not well-suited to pitch on consecutive days, and there's no guarantee that he would be any better than he's been so far."
The Red Sox may or may not yank Smoltz from the starting rotation and place him in the bullpen. Terry Francona has demonstrated time and time again that he's willing to have far more patience with his players -- he often points to Dustin Pedroia's woeful April two years ago as an example -- than anyone else. But with little margin for error at this point in the season, it seems like an exercise in stubbornness and futility to let Smoltz make his next start.
(It's an exercise in stubbornness and futility, too, to keep playing Mike Lowell in the field and to keep sending David Ortiz up to the plate. But we digress.)
Olney makes two points about the viability of Smoltz as a reliever:
1. Smoltz might not be effective pitching on back-to-back days.
2. There's no guarantee he'll be any better in the bullpen.
Let's go in reverse order and start with the second point.
No, there's no guarantee Smoltz would be any better as a reliever than he has been as a starter. But while Smoltz's splits look terrible in virtually every way -- check out this checklist of disaster -- there is some cause for optimism:
Opposing hitters by inning
1st inning: .267/.405/.300
2nd inning: .185/.241/.222
3rd inning: .385/.385/.692
4th inning: .474/.500/.737
Opposing hitter by times through the order
First time through: .250/.342/.313
Second time through: .388/.397/.657
Third time through: .400/.429/.900
Smoltz has done OK in the first and second innings of the games he's pitched, and he's done OK the first time he's seen opposing hitters. It's the second time through the order and the third or fourth inning that has done him in.
If the Red Sox made him a one- or two-inning reliever -- something, remember, he does have experience doing -- they might be able to get the most out of him.
The problem is the grind of relieving. Olney points out, correctly, that a 42-year-old coming off a long recovery from shoulder surgery might not be well-suited to pitching out of the bullpen on back-to-back days.
But Francona doesn't use his relievers on back-to-back days.
Check out the numbers for Red Sox relievers:
* No days of rest: 48 appearances (5.77 ERA)
* One day of rest: 102 (3.96 ERA)
* Two days of rest: 65 (2.55 ERA)
* Three days of rest: 14 (1.59 ERA)
Of those 48 instances in which Francona has called upon his relievers on back-to-back days, Ramon Ramirez (11) and Hideki Okajima (11) have almost half by themselves. Daniel Bard still only has done it once, and even Jonathan Papelbon only has pitched on back-to-back times just eight times this season.
There's reason for that: Red Sox pitchers' effectiveness has tended to go up drastically when they've had a day or two to rest their arms.
Smoltz might still have an issue pitching every two days or every three days rather than the every-fifth-day routine to which he's grown accustomed. But if the biggest concern is his ability to pitch on back-to-back days, well, that shouldn't stand in the way.