Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Josh, Jon, and John: Three Aces?

Like many of you, I follow several baseball sites, both on Twitter and Facebook, and I have more than a few bookmarked on my web browser. Many of them are primarily about the Red Sox, but I do follow a fair amount that cover all of MLB, and I saw an interesting argument popping up on Facebook this evening over the best rotation in baseball.

Being the homer I am proud to be, I would obviously say the Red Sox, but I'm willing to listen to debate. However, one of the posters contended that the Red Sox didn't have even one legitimate ace, but three #2 pitchers. This is, at best, absurd. Let's look at the numbers of the Red Sox top 3 starters, shall we?

Joshua Patrick Beckett:

Career: 206 (average) IP, 108-68 (.609 W-L%), 3.79 ERA, 1330 SO
2009: 212.1 IP, 17-6 (.739 W-L%), 3.86 ERA, 199 SO
2010 Bill James Projection: 221 IP, 15-9, 3.62 ERA, 206 SO
Most similar pitcher: John Lackey

Jonathan Tyler Lester:

Career: 207 (average) IP, 42-16 (.724 W-L%), 3.66 ERA, 487 SO
2009: 203.1 IP, 15-8 (.652 W-L%), 3.41 ERA, 225 SO
2010 Bill James Projection: 206 IP, 13-10, 3.84 ERA, 184 SO
Most similar pitcher by age: Johan Santana (!)

John Derran Lackey:

Career: 219 (average) IP, 102-71 (.590 W-L%), 3.81 ERA, 1201 SO
2009: 176.1 IP, 11-8 (.579 W-L%), 3.83 ERA, 139 SO
2010 Bill James Projections: 208 IP, 13-10, 3.81 ERA, 166 SO
Most similar pitcher: Josh Beckett

Now, let's compare these numbers to those of the best pitcher in MLB, one we can ALL agree is a bona fide ACE:

Harry Leroy Halladay [I guess we know why he goes by "Roy," eh?]:

Career: 232 (average) IP, 148- 76 (.661 W-L%), 3.43 ERA, 1495 SO
2009: 239 IP, 17-10 (.630 W-L%), 2.79 ERA, 208 SO
2010 Bill James Projection: 240 IP, 17-10, 3.23 ERA, 179 SO
Most similar pitcher: Tim Hudson

Clearly, a pitcher doesn't have to measure up to Roy Halladay to be an ace, because if that was the case, he would be the only one. So what makes an "ace?" All three of the Red Sox players in question have won clinching games of the World Series (all, interestingly enough, at age 23): Beckett for the 2003 Marlins , Lester for the 2007 Red Sox, and Lackey for the 2002 Angels. Now, you can't hold that against Halladay, as he was stuck in purgatory, pitching for the Blue Jays. However, credit must be given to the three in question for pitching so well, at such a young age, in high-pressure situations.

As far as straight-up statistics go, Jon Lester is probably the ace of the Red Sox staff, regardless of his actual position in the rotation. [It is interesting to note that Bill James, while very accurate in his predictions for Lackey and Beckett, severely underestimated Lester last year.] Lackey and Beckett are almost carbon copies of each other statistically, and either could be the number one pitcher on nearly 2/3 of MLB teams, while I would take Lester against just about anyone in baseball.

Are all three of the Red Sox top starters aces? Maybe not. But there's no way in hell you can label all three of them #2's - especially in what might be a contract year for Beckett (or a year when he has to prove he deserves his extension). In any case, the fact that we can even be having this conversation is exciting... Is it Sunday yet?

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