Boston Red Sox: Pitch like you’re paid




Earl Wilson

Pitcher Earl Wilson won 56 games for the Red Sox (1959-66), including double-figures four years in a row. Almost ruined the ’67 Impossible Dream by winning 22 for Detroit; would have won 23 but his bullpen blew a lead, and eventually the pennant, in Game 160. Career record of 121-109 and 3.69 ERA.


Time goes by like pouring rain: Jed Lowrie went to Stanford and finished his coursework for his degree in political science this spring with a 17-page paper comparing the baseball and football unions, according to Perhaps Lowrie is smart enough to figure out how to fit five infielders into four positions, because so far the Red Sox haven’t. Lowrie is the odd one out for two reasons: 1. the Sox have big investments in shortstop Marco Scutaro and Adrian Gonzalez, and 2. he can’t stay healthy. Ailments have limited Lowrie to 239 at-bats over the last two years; last year he slugged .526 and had a .907 OPS in limited time. Lowrie will be 27 next month and his career, like the degree from Stanford it took eight-and-a-half years to earn because of baseball, has been interrupted long enough.

I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door: If you’re looking for top Sox prospects, check San Diego, because that’s where they sent Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo and Reymond Fuentes for Gonzalez. There’s not a whole lot left at the upper levels (the bottom is better stocked), but if they need catching — and since their tandem is Jason Varitek and Jarrod Saltalamacchia they will, Ryan Lavarnway might help. He’s 23 and coming off back-to-back 20-plus home run seasons, has a good eye and a career .878 OPS. He finished last year in AA without any dropoff, and if nothing else, his name is easier to spell.

What is this man doing here? The Red Sox are desperate for relief, and moreso for left-handed relief, but Randy Williams isn’t it. The Red Sox are his fifth team, and he’s never posted less than a 4.58 ERA for any of his first four. That was in 2009 with the White Sox, and they were the only one of Williams’ teams to bring him back. They were sorry, as he allowed 37 hits and a 5.40 ERA in 25 innings in 2010 (bet that went over well with Ozzie Guillen). In 73.2 major-league innings, Williams has a 5.74 ERA and .871 OPS against. Next time you see Hideki Okajima and think it can’t get worse, Williams is evidence it can.

Outlook: Interesting thing about the 2010 Sox. Despite all the injuries to position players — Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Cameron, Lowrie — they missed the playoffs not because of their offense (they were second to the Yankees in MLB in runs scored), but because of their pitching.

So what do they do? They tinker with the lineup, naturally. They added Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez and return their injured players, and lose Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez. They should score 800 runs or so, improve defensively in left field and catcher, slip at third base.

For all the questions about the rival Yankees’ starters, the Red Sox have just as many for more money. And their bullpen is worse. The Sox need Josh Beckett to recover, John Lackey to rebound and Daisuke Matsuzaka, who never met a three-ball count he didn’t like, to do both.

They need Jonathan Papelbon to close or get out of Daniel Bard’s way, and they need to craft a bullpen out of Matt Albers and Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler and Okajima and Felix Doubront and Dennys Reyes and assorted others. Good luck to new pitching coach Curt Young with that.

The Sox were 23rd in team ERA last year, and that’s not because of Fenway Park. They were 27th in blown saves and 29th in throwing out only 20% of potential base stealers (only the Yankees were worse, at 15%).

Boston is paying more than $40 million to Beckett, Lackey and Matsuzaka. Last year the three combined for 29 wins and a 4.84 ERA. A better return on that this year and the Sox are in the playoffs. A similar one and next winter it’ll be the pitching staff which gets turned over.

Remember when: This is the 70th anniversary of Ted Williams’ summer of .406, which was Williams’ best season but perhaps not his most remarkable. That would be 1957, when at age 38 for most of the season, he batted .388 with 38 home runs and a .731 slugging percentage. Add five infield hits, and he would have had a second .400 season.

Williams retired with lifetime averages of .344 (batting), .482 (on-base), .634 (slugging) and 1.116 (OPS). For comparison’s sake, Stan Musial, Williams’ counterpart in the National League, retired with a .976 OPS, 140 points less; Joe DiMaggio’s was .977, 139 points less.

Today, do a YouTube or Google search for Ted Williams and you’re more likely to get the former homeless man with the made-for-radio voice.


Next: Tampa Bay

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One Response to Boston Red Sox: Pitch like you’re paid

  1. Morton Kotler says:

    Great piece. I hpe Epstein is paying attention.

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