The 2013 Red Sox benefited from some good health and some good fortune. Jon Lester, John Lackey, Ryan Dempster, and Felix Doubront all started at least 27 games each. Injuries to relievers closers Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey only opened the door for Koji Uehara to have one of the best seasons ever for any reliever. Lester and Lackey had huge redemption seasons. Clay Buchholz put in his usual half season, but what a dominant half season it was.
The personnel pitching for the 2014 Red Sox will not look very different from 2013. Dempster decided at the start of Spring training to walk away from $13.2 million and sit out the 2014 season. The Red Sox bolstered their bullpen depth by adding Edward Mujica.
We are familiar with the faces. We are familiar with their pasts. What should we expect in 2014?
Jon Lester (16-12, 3.66 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 210 IP, 178 K
Lester is as durable as they come. He has made at least 31 starts each of the last six seasons. He has won at least 15 games five of the last six seasons. He is also entering the last year of his contract. He will have every motivation to have a huge year. Lester pitched some of the best baseball of his career the second half of last year and in the postseason. Good timing. Cha-ching. Cha-ching. Lester will have over 100 million reasons to continue the trend. Don't think he didn't notice Max Scherzer just turned down a six-year, $144 million contract from the Tigers. He did.
John Lackey (12-14, 4.14 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 191 IP, 165 K
In the history of Boston sports there may not be a story of redemption greater than John Lackey's. Rightly or wrongly, he was the poster child for the September collapse of the 2011 team. Fans shed no tears when he missed the entire 2012 season following Tommy John surgery. Lackey lost weight and culminated his comeback in 2013 by being the winning pitcher in the clinching World Series game for the Red Sox. If ever there was a case for how useless a statistic "wins" is, it would be Lackey. Lackey won 12 games in 2011 despite a 6.41 ERA. He cut his ERA almost in half (3.52) in 2013, but only won 10 games. Some years it seems there is always that one pitcher that just gets no run support. That guy was Lackey in 2013. Lackey has seen his strikeout numbers increase since his TJ surgery. His control has also improved.
Having said all that, I expect a drop off. Kind of like how, on the offensive side, I predict a World Series hangover for Mike Napoli, on the pitching side I predict one for Lackey. Scientific, I know.
Clay Buchholz (12-6, 3.45 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 144 IP, 116 K)
The hardest thing to predict about Buchholz is how many games he will be able to, actually, take the mound. When he is on the mound, he is really, really good. There are certain pitchers (see Bret Saberhagen) who alternate good years with bad, or injury-prone, years. No rhyme or reason for it. Buchholz started 28 games or more in 2010 and 2012. Maybe 2014 will see a full season out of Buchholz. Buchholz doesn't strike out many batters, but he also doesn't give up many home runs. He is a proven winner (58-33 career record), so expect good things every time he takes the mound. How often will that be, though? Careful how you sleep, Clay.
Felix Doubront (10-12, 4.55 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 170 IP, 154 K)
The only thing holding Doubront back from hurling 200 innings this year will be his lack of efficiency. It is not uncommon to see Doubront pushing 100 pitches in the fifth inning. He has flashed signs of sheer brilliance, but hasn't been able to sustain it over consecutive months. Will 2014 be the year he puts it all together? I'll believe it when I see it.
Jake Peavy (9-8, 4.29 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 166 IP, 130 K)
How much does Peavy have left in the tank? His fastball velocity has been on a steady decline. He is barely tickling 90 nowadays. Peavy makes up for his diminished velocity with a variety of deliveries and release points in an attempt to deceive hitters. He is as savvy and competitive as they come. But is savvy and competitive enough? His strikeouts are dropping and he is giving up more and more home runs. Not a good recipe for pitching in Fenway. I fully expect him to be elsewhere come September. Then again, I thought he would be elsewhere by now.
Brandon Workman (7-8, 4.30 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 138 IP, 127 K)
Workman was a key component of the Red Sox bullpen down the stretch last season. His future is in the starting rotation, though. He will, likely, start the 2014 season in Pawtucket. He will provide insurance if any of the starters gets injured (I'm looking at you, Buchholz), or traded (Peavy). I expect him to be in the rotation at some point during the year and to rack up 12-16 starts. Workman has shown impressive strikeout to walk ratios every step of his career. He will have some rough patches, but, in the end, he will be alright. He may prove to be a key to the Red Sox success in 2014.
Junichi Tazawa (3-5, 3.34 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 61 IP, 59 WHIP)
Tazawa was really good for five months, then really bad in September (6.48 ERA). We've seen that formula for the demise of another dominant Red Sox setup man. I'm not saying Tazawa will be another Daniel Bard, but I am concerned. Tazawa pitched in 71 games last year and maybe that was ten games too many. We'll see how he rebounds this year.
Edward Mujica (4-4, 3.93 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 48 IP, 39 IP, 4 SV)
Color me concerned. I think there is something wrong with Mujica's arm. I have no foundation for this except a gut feeling based on reports I read at the end of last season. You might not want to take a look at his September stats from last year.
If the Red Sox get the Mujica who was the best reliever in baseball the first half of 2013, they got a major steal. They also got a legitimate insurance policy in case Uehara goes down. If last year taught us nothing else it is that every team needs at least a couple of legit closers.
Koji Uehara (1-2, 1.77 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 55 IP, 79 K, 34 SV)
Yeah, I am predicting a down year for Uehara. How crazy is that-- a 1.77 ERA and 0.78 WHIP as a down year? Consider he had a 1.09 ERA and a 0.57 WHIP last year. I kept waiting for him to break down last year from overuse, but the 38-year-old held up all season. As long as he is healthy, there is little doubt he will dominate. He is the master of the 10-pitch, five minute save. Can he hold up a second year in a row?