Starting pitching wasn’t a bright spot for the Boston Red Sox in 2012. Nine different arms toed the rubber as a Red Sox starter last season and as a whole, the club managed just a 121 ERA-, finishing 25th in baseball. The conversion of Daniel Bard as a starter never got off the ground, Daisuke Matsuzaka finished with an ERA higher than his K/9, and their former ace Josh Beckett finshed as a Dodger. Despite all of this, there’s actually reasons for some optimism in Boston’s rotation as they have several starters who ought to merit your fantasy consideration entering 2013.
Jon Lester enters as the #1 starter for Boston, and coming off a 4.82 ERA and 1.38 WHIP, that wouldn’t seem like a particularly good thing if you’re a Boston fan. But Lester’s results in 2012 were peculiar in all sorts of ways. His HR/FB% was at a career high 13.9%, his strand rate a career low 67%, and he didn’t get much love on batted balls either with a .312 BABIP. These things combined helps explain why the ERA predictors thought his 2012 wasn’t that much different from his 2011, and most projection systems expect a reasonable bounce back season. It’s probably safe to expect something much more akin to his career averages of 3.76 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, and around a 8.0 K/9 rate. He’s going around the 14th to 15th round in standard formats, which is a pretty solid risk to take assuming he’s your #4 starter.
Behind Lester is Clay Buchholz and Ryan Dempster. Buchholz’s 4.56 ERA and 1.33 WHIP didn’t do much for anyone’s fantasy squad taken as a whole, but if you were one of the shrewd owners who picked him up mid-season, there was a lot to like. His second half ERA was 3.76 to go with a 1.15 WHIP, as he held opposing batters to a .227/.293/.376 slash line. The improvement was almost entirely due to better control and a normalized home run rate after an unseemly 3.54 BB/9 and 1.52 HR/9 rate in the first half. He won’t post fantastic strikeout numbers, but Buchholz could be good for an ERA in the 3.50-ish range with a WHIP around 1.30 and ought to be good for a decent number of wins. He’s been getting drafted at the tail end of most standard drafts, and certainly merits a flyer as a #5 or an insurance bench stash.
Dempster started off 2012 with a sparkling 2.25 ERA and then seemingly imploded in Texas with a 5.09 ERA. But his xFIP at both stops registered at 3.72 and 3.86, so his performance was actually fairly similar, he just had a miserable strand rate and home run rate in Texas. He turns 36 in May, so his best years are likely behind him, but Dempster misses enough bats to keep him interesting. If he can give you 180 innings, he ought to contribute 160 or so strikeouts. Couple that with an ERA right around 4.00 and a 1.30 WHIP, and he’s useful enough to have around. He’s being selected right behind Buchholz in most draft formats so it won’t cost you much to stash him away in case he starts to pull his recent inexplicable ability to outperform the predictors. If Dempster starts off hot, I could see him as interesting trade fodder for the pitching starved.
The back end of the rotation is manned by Felix Doubront and John Lackey. Doubront is probably the only one of the two that you want to give any fantasy attention to. His overall line of 4.86 ERA and 1.45 WHIP doesn’t jump out at you as particularly helpful, but it’s worth noting that 160 innings were the most of his professional career, and his second half numbers showed that he was likely just running out of steam. If you take his first half 4.41 ERA and 1.38 WHIP, throw in some (perhaps irrational) expectation of improvement, you could pull a real gem off the scrap heap. If you believe Bill James, he sees a 3.70 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and an 8.42 K/9 — all of which could easily slot in as your #4 starter in a good rotation, while costing you a last round flier or a buck.
Lackey is an interesting case. Coming off Tommy John surgery, Lackey hasn’t recently been the kind of pitcher to blow hitters away — he relied on locating his cut fastball and complementing it with a good slider and decent curve. The days of Lackey striking out 20% of opposing batters are long gone, but then again, that Lackey has been gone since 2006 and he’s still demonstrated he can be an effective starter without the swing-and-miss repertoire. If his arm strength returns and his location comes with it, it’s possible he could turn into the 2010 version of himself which would have made him somewhat useful at the back of fantasy rotations. Something in the 4.10 ERA range with a WHIP that will probably make you use foul language and a strikeout rate in the 15-16% range.
Because Lackey is fragile, you should consider the possibility of Franklin Morales who filled in admirably when wheels were routinely coming off in Boston last season. Morales as a starter posted a 4.14 ERA over 45.2 innings pitched with a 9.26 K/9 and a 1.25 WHIP. He was slightly more effective as a reliever, finishing with a 3.77 ERA and 1.23 WHIP. Overall, Morales flashed a 94+ average fastball, a terrific change, and although he might start the season in the bullpen, it’s pretty likely he’ll see some starts in 2013 either due to injuries or deficiencies in the existing starting five.
Behind Morales, the Red Sox are giving a good deal of Spring innings Chris Hernandez, Allen Webster, and to knuckleballer Steven Wright, all who will likely make up a good portion of the Pawtucket staff. In dynasty leagues, don’t forget Rubby de la Rosa, even though he’ll probably start the season at AA.
Your preliminary depth chart with Steamer projections: