Friday, February 13, 2015

Can the Sox Win Without an Ace? They Already Have.



So in perusing various Red Sox stories the other day, I came across Sean McAdam at CSN New England doing a "Five Questions" piece. And the first question, if the headline here didn't give it away already for you, was "Can they win without an ace?"

McAdam's response, in part:
Of the team's three championship teams in the past 11 seasons, each was headed by a true ace -- sometimes more than one. In 2004, Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez were classic No. 1 starters. In 2007, that role was filled by Josh Beckett. More recently, Jon Lester was the team's ace in its surprising 2013 run.
Now, I have broached this topic more than once on these pages. But to say it again: as much as I like Jon Lester, he is most definitely not an ace. He is a 2 forced to pitch as the top guy in the rotation by circumstance.

From 2006-14, Jon Lester led the AL in a statistical category exactly once: His K/BB ratio of 9.7 is 2010. Which, unsurprisingly, was his best overall season and the only one where he truly pitched like an "ace".

In 2013, the year that Lester was an "ace" according to McAdam, he wasn't even in the AL top 10 of any meaningful statistical category except for wins and innings pitched. Which was as much a function of Boston's superior bats and defense as it was Lester's natural talent.

Compare that to 2004 and 2007. In 2004 you had a real ace in Schilling, going 21-6 with a 3.26 ERA and finishing as the runner-up in the Cy Young voting. Pedro, who had set the bar for aces with his transcendent 1999 and 2000 seasons, had a more pedestrian year by his standards but was still solid.

In 2007, Josh Beckett put together the best season of his career, going 20-7 with a 3.27 ERA. He also led AL Pitchers in Fielding Independent Pitching at 3.08 and was the Cy Young runner-up. To be fair, you could question how much of an ace Beckett has been over his career. But for that year, he was.

The one place Lester was an ace was in the 2013 post-season. He was 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA. Opposing hitters had a cumulative .560 OPS against Lester. Had McAdam framed his answer using the post-season as his focus, you aren't reading this right now.

I feel like I have to say this again...I like Lester a lot. I hope he kicks a lot of ass in Chicago.

But Boston has proven already that they can win without a true ace at the top of their rotation. 2013 was about defense and hitting. And if you look at the team Boston has assembled for 2015, they are looking for that again. Especially in the infield, where having Sandoval will tighten up third. One would also think that Bogaerts will have to do better than 2014 when he had 20 errors at short and a disappointing .961 fielding percentage.

We'll have to wait and see how the Sox do this year. But trying to win a another title with a solid rotation that doesn't have a proven ace?

We already know they can do that.

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