Monday, October 5, 2009

Rest part of reason for Lester-Beckett choice

Terry Francona tried to tell reporters he'd chosen Jon Lester over Josh Beckett to start Game 1 of the American League Division Series because the starting rotation just happened to fall that way naturally.

"When you look at how our rotation was set up -- and Beckett knows we feel this way, because for us to get where we want to go, we're going to have to lean on both of them -- to flip-flop then around would have meant one guy was on normal rest and another guy was on 10 (days' rest)," Francona told reporters after Sunday's game.

That, though, is a cop-out. When the Red Sox scratched Beckett from his start last Monday, they could have inserted him back into the rotation whenever they wanted. They could have pitched him on Wednesday, for example, and then had him ready to pitch on six or seven days' rest in Game 1. Instead, they skipped his turn entirely and didn't bring him back until Saturday -- ensuring he was lined up between Lester and Clay Buchholz.

But when he started talking about Lester and Beckett pitching in Game 4 and Game 5, potentially, he started making much more sense.

You have to assume the Yankees will choose the Wednesday start to force the Detroit/Minnesota winner to turn around and play in New York the day after a one-game playoff in the Twin Cities. That hands the Red Sox this schedule:

Thursday: Lester (six days' rest)
Friday: Beckett (five days)
Sunday: Buchholz (six days)
Monday: Daisuke Matsuzaka (nine days) or Lester (three days)
Wednesday: Lester (five days) or Beckett (four days)

The Game 4 starter, Francona hinted, would depend on how the series had progressed to that point. If the Red Sox lead 2-1 at that point, Matsuzaka probably would start. If the Red Sox trailed 2-1 and faced elimination, Lester probably would start.

"We think Lester is situated where he comes back on short rest (in Game 4), and that would have Beckett, if there's a Game 5, on regular rest," Francona said. "There are a lot of options that are open to us that we're interested in exploring."

Here's why: Jon Lester hasn't started on three days' rest in his major-league career. Josh Beckett has made one start on three days' rest -- but that was in 2004. There's not much you can take from that information.

Lester, though, has a far better track record on four days' rest than Beckett. Here's how the two break down in their career numbers:

Four days' rest
Beckett: 4.00 ERA (113 starts)
(In 2008, it was 4.57. In 2009, it was 4.73.)
Lester: 3.93 ERA (46 starts)
(In 2008, it was 2.91. In 2009, it was 3.99.)

Five days' rest
Beckett: 3.90 ERA (77 starts)
Lester: 3.13 ERA (30 starts)

Six days' rest
Beckett: 2.93 ERA (33 starts)
Lester: 3.94 ERA (14 starts)

If there's a guy you want to bring back on short rest, based on those numbers, it's probably Lester. If there's a guy to whom you want to give an extra day, it's probably Beckett.

Oh, and the fact remains that Lester has been a better pitcher all season than Beckett. He took longer to see his numbers reach an elite level -- in part because of horrendous luck -- but he still has a better strikeout ratio (10.0 per nine innings) than any pitcher in the major leagues other than Justin Verlander. He's earned that Game 1 start.

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