Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dustin Richardson and Brian Shouse

Dustin Richardson just turned 26 years old and is a strikeout machine. Brian Shouse is 41 years old and earns his living with top-notch control and by inducing ground ball after ground ball. One of the two likely will break camp as the second lefty in the Red Sox bullpen.

With the starting rotation all but set in stone and the starting lineup likewise ready to go, Richardson and Shouse are competing for one of the few jobs actually up for grabs in spring training. The role either Richardson or Shouse would fill would be the Javier Lopez role -- generally a mop-up role with a chance to face some lefties in big spots on days Hideki Okajima might not be available.

The argument for Richardson
The 6-foot-6 Richardson doesn't throw 98 miles an hour like Daniel Bard does, but his strikeout rate does resemble that of the flame-throwing righty. Like Bard, Richardson was a starting pitcher until a rough season -- in his case, a 6.33 ERA in 22 starts at Double-A Portland -- gave the Red Sox reason to try him out of the bullpen.

He promptly put up a 2.41 ERA with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.33 in 18 2/3 innings in the Hawaiian Winter League, and he struck out 97 batters in 74 innings split between Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket last season. He then made 11 appearances in the Arizona Fall League and struck out 18 in 11 2/3 innings pitched.

His strikeout rate alone makes him a candidate to grow into an above-average reliever, and a few mop-up appearances in the back of the Red Sox bullpen would give him a chance to ease into a regular role. It's not as though he's done all he can do at Triple-A -- he only made seven appearances with the PawSox after his promotion from Portland -- but he's demonstrated in the minor leagues that he's capable of missing bats. The more experience he can get in the major leagues, the more quickly he's going to develop into the lefthanded strikeout reliever he potentially c ould be.

The Red Sox will choose Richardson if they want a mop-up reliever who can pitch multiple innings -- he has that background as a starting pitcher, after all -- and if they believe his learning curve would be accelerated by starting the season in the major leagues.

The argument for Shouse
With Boof Bonser in the fold, the Red Sox aren't in desperate need of a reliever who can go multiple innings. Shouse would take over for Billy Wagner as the second option against tough lefthanded hitters -- except, unlike Wagner, he's usually be a one-and-done pitcher who would be called upon to get just one out.

Consider his recent numbers against lefties:
2007: .214/.264/.262 (.526 OPS), 21 K, 6 BB
2008: .180/.197/.290 (.486 OPS), 28 K, 2 BB
2009: .224/.256/.373 (.620 OPS), 14 K, 1 BB

In 267 plate appearances against Shouse over the last three seasons, lefties have struck out 63 times and walked just nine times, a ratio of 7-to-1. Shouse has induced more double plays against lefties (seven) in that time span than he has allowed home runs (five).

If the job involves pitching to righties, Shouse probably isn't the guy: Righties have OBP'ed better than .350 against Shouse in every full season of his career, and he has has walked more righties than he's fanned in each of the last two seasons.

If the job involves retiring a tough lefty, though, it's hard to do much better than Shouse has done -- even at the age of 41.

The Red Sox will choose Shouse if Terry Francona believes he needs a Mike Myers-esque lefty specialist to use against lefties like Curtis Granderson, Adam Lind, Nick Markakis and Carlos Pena.

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