"FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, LET THE BOY PITCH IN YOUR HOUSE!!" Photo from this site.
I imagine this is a bit of East Coast hyperbole that could be disproved by someone with a couple hours and Baseball-Reference.com at his/her disposal, but here goes: Since Major League Baseball expanded to 30 teams, I cannot imagine there has ever been a team with more starting pitching depth than the Red Sox have right now.
I mean, Clay Buchholz just carried a perfect game into the ninth inning Monday, and he’s no better than eighth on the Sox’ depth chart. Justin Masterson certainly ranks ahead of him, since he’s in the majors, and the Sox didn’t sign John Smoltz last winter so that they could send him to the bullpen or Pawtucket once his rehab assignment ends (he made his second minor league start last night and is on schedule to debut for the Sox in mid-June).
Buchholz is 3-0 with a 1.31 ERA and a 49/12 K/BB ratio in 48 1/3 innings at Pawtucket this year and 27-12 with a 2.29 ERA and a 466/107 K/BB ratio in 392 1/3 innings overall as a minor leaguer since he signed with the Sox in 2005. At Pawtucket alone, he is 8-5 with a 2.15 ERA and a 147/42 K/BB ratio in 130 1/3 innings over 25 starts.
Nick Cafardo made a good point in his Sunday notes May 17, when he wrote that more development wasn’t a bad thing for Buchholz since he was just approaching the 500 professional innings that big league teams used to think pitchers needed before they were ready for the majors. (He’s actually at 501 after Monday) Curt Schilling had 890 1/3 innings under his belt—including 725 1/3 at the minor league level—before his first full season with the Phillies in 1992.
But still…Buchholz seems pretty darn developed right now. My guess is the Sox know Buchholz is ready to contribute at the big league level, but that they don’t mind being extra careful in light of his struggles last year.
In addition, the Brad Penny experiment has gone much better than most of us anticipated. Bob Ryan said yesterday he thinks the Sox are going to deal Penny before the trading deadline, but that still leaves them with six starters for five spots if Smoltz returns. And if Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jon Lester and Tim Wakefield are all healthy, then that would, presumably, leave Buchholz in Pawtucket.
Might it be time for the Sox to go with the six-man rotation, as it appeared they might be ready to do when they re-signed Schilling in November 2007? Like then, they’ve got the optimal staff with which to try it: A pair of 40-somethings in Smoltz and Wakefield, a hurler who is used to pitching once a week in Matsuzaka and a couple of young homegrown starters whose innings the Sox would like an excuse to limit in Lester and Buchholz.
Theo Epstein said on the conference call announcing the return of Schilling that the Sox had pondered the possibility of a six-man rotation but that he didn’t want to commit to it because those things have a way of not working themselves out. And that’s exactly what happened: Schilling never threw another pitch and Sox starters were so decimated by injuries that the likes of David Pauley and Charlie Zink made starts for Boston last year.
If the Sox have better luck this season in the injury department, maybe they can unofficially go with the six-man rotation by handing every starter some “structured time off,” as Epstein called it in November ‘07. Conceivably, the Sox could give a different starter two weeks off beginning July 1—these would be like furloughs, except, you know, they’d get paid—and run through the rotation by the end of the regular season.
And with September roster expansion, the Sox would only have to come up with a DL-worthy ailment for four pitchers. Or maybe only three, since the All-Star Break provides a chance to give someone 10 days off anyway. Or maybe only one, since Lester and Buchholz can still be optioned out.
I’m just thinking out loud. Such suggestions are easier made than implemented, especially when it comes to something as radical as changing the big league rotation as we know it. But geez, somebody’s got to do something to get Buchholz up to the majors before he makes a run at Schilling’s minor league innings total, right?
Email Jerry at firstname.lastname@example.org.