The Red Sox will begin the second half of their season tonight in Tampa Bay. Their first half was disappointing to say the least. Here’s a brief recap of what we have seen so far in 2012:
Record: 43-43, 4th place in AL East
Pythagorean W-L: 47-39 (What their record should be based on their runs scored and given up)
Runs Scored Per Game: 5.02 (2nd in AL) [4.46 League Average]
Runs Given Up Per Game: 4.52 (9th in AL) [4.37 League Average]
So what do these numbers tell us? The Red Sox are hitting well but their pitching has underperformed immensely. With Beckett, Lester, and Bucholz having sub par seasons thus far, we can at least hold onto some hope that they will get better. The team has also fallen victim to a little bit of bad luck based on their Pythagorean W-L record being 4 games better than their actual record. With some good luck in the second half they should be able to close that gap and make a run at the playoffs.
With Jon Lester’s struggles this season I have heard people say that he is not going to become the “ace” pitcher they thought he could be. Jon Lester does not need to become an “ace”, he has been one for four years. I am not sure where the impression that he wasn’t an “ace” came from, but lets look at how he compared to the rest of the American League from 2008 through 2011.
Ranks among AL starting pitchers 2008-2011 (min. 648 IP):
ERA – 3.33 (5th)
Wins – 65 (3rd)
FIP – 3.43 (5th)
K/9 – 8.68 (2nd)
WAR – 20.9 (4th)
I split the list into two groups; the first is the more traditional stats used to evaluate pitchers and the second group is the more advanced and accurate metrics. Looking at either group puts Jon Lester at the top of the AL with the other aces like Verlander and Sabathia. But unfortunately, looking at these numbers also makes his first half performance even more disappointing.
After dropping 3 of 4 to the Yankees in the most important series so far this year, the Sox limp into the All-Star break at an even 43-43. The Sox seemed to have turned a corner last week, going five games over .500 after trudging through the first few months of the 2012 season. But at 40-35, they split with the Mariners and got swept by the Athletics, scoring just 14 runs in 7 games out west. This was a horrible stretch of games, dropping five out of seven to two of the worst hitting teams in the MLB.
After a disastrous road trip, Boston returned home to get slugged around Fenway by the Yankees. The final first half series against the Bronx Bombers highlighted the biggest disappointed for the Red Sox since last year’s September collapse, the starting pitching. Despite all the injuries on the offensive side of the ball and Adrian Gonzalez’s continued power outage, the home town team still stands 2nd in the American League in both hits and runs scored.
Coming into this season the Sox rotation looked pretty formidable, featuring Lester, Beckett, Buchholz, Dubront, and Bard. Daniel Bard then went all Rick Ankiel on everybody and cannot find home plate with a gps anymore. Beckett is a coin toss for every start on whether he goes seven strong innings or is out after four and given up six runs. Buchholz was terrible in his first six starts (despite his record) allowing at least five runs in all six games. Just when Clay started pitching well and getting his act together, he goes down with a somewhat freak injury (esophagitis) and misses the final few weeks of the first half. Dubront has been decent, and would be considered a pleasant surprise to this rotation had the top three played anywhere close to their potential.
But the biggest disappointment in the 2012 season so far has got to be the man at the front of the rotation. People in Boston have been waiting for Jon Lester to finally have that one break out season where he was in the running for his first Cy Young and carried this team on his shoulders. Lester so far this season, is 5-6 with a 4.49 ERA. Since 2008, Lester has not won less than 15 games (including winning 19 in 2010) or lost more than 9. In those four seasons, his highest ERA was 3.47 (2011). Even more telling this season are his strikeout and walk numbers. Since 2010, Lester’s K/9 has dropped from 9.74 to 7.53 and his BB/9 has increased from 2.71 to 3.13. Just using the eye test with the “Ace” of the staff can tell you how much Lester has struggled this year, routinely throws 20+ pitches in the first inning and rarely in the game past the 7th inning (twice all season).
The Sox are currently 4th in the AL East, 9.5 games back from the Yankees. However, with the new second wild card added to baseball this season the Red Sox are still in the running for a playoff spot. They sit only 2.5 games back from the Orioles for the chance to play their way into a Divisional Playoff Series. If the Red Sox are going to contend in the second half, they are going to need the offense to tread water until healthy and for Lester, Beckett, and Buchholz to step up their performance and win games for their team.