Why the Red Sox Need an Ace

need an ace

The Red Sox’ lack of a discernible ace has been one of the most hotly-discussed issues this spring. Whilst some fans have shown considerable frustration, a disproportionate amount have tried to glorify what is, essentially, the messy result of blowing negotiations with Jon Lester, crediting the front office for concocting a genius master plan that somehow wound up with Clay Buchholz likely taking the mound on Opening Day. Ultimately, if the Red Sox are serious about making, never mind lasting deep into, the postseason, I believe they need an ace. Right now, they don’t have one, which is a major problem.

John Farrell doesn’t see it that way. The manager has typically been very vocal in need an acebranding his rotation ‘underrated’ and expressing pleasure at his new found ability to send a proven Major League starter to the mound every day. Similarly, the media has, by and large, defended the Sox’ decision not to acquire an ace, pointing to the recent success of the ace-less Orioles and reminding people that none of the past 26 Cy Young Award winners have led their team to a World Series championship in the same year.

I understand that view. I respect that view. I just do not agree. Yes, specialized, hard-throwing bullpens and depleted offenses have diminished the need for elite starting pitching, but that need hasn’t entirely disappeared. In my opinion, every team still needs that one reliable warrior; that one defiant horse; that one true stopper anchoring the rotation. Right now, the Red Sox simply don’t have that guy.

With a 4.30 career ERA and a 1.359 career WHIP, Rick Porcello is the quintessential third or fourth starter. Wade Miley will eat innings, but his 4.34 ERA and 1.401 WHIP last year are less than inspiring. As for Buchholz, Joe Kelly and Justin Masterson? Well, nobody truly knows what to expect. They could be great; they could be horrible. There’s no way to tell.

What we do know is that none of those guys will overwhelm a rival lineup; none of them will throw the ball past opposing batters with consistent regularity; and none of them are likely to have an ERA below 3.00. In short, none of those guys is an ace befitting the Boston Red Sox.

I know we live in a highly analytical age, where an opinion unsubstantiated by sabermetric proof is scoffed at by the masses, but, quite frankly, I still believe there is a lot of value in the tangible, human, element of the game. Without doubt, there is value in having at least one starting pitcher everybody else is petrified of; one pitcher who opposing teams hope to avoid when they roll into town for a four-game series. Every great Red Sox team has had that scary warrior, that fire-breathing ace, from Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez, to Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett and, most recently, Lester. Essentially, this current crop just isn’t in the same class, which is a sad departure from tradition.

All of the aforementioned legends were extremely adept at stopping regular season losing streaks, and each wrote a brilliant legacy in the postseason, when the value of an ace becomes truly apparent. We saw it last October, when Madison Bumgarner, a thoroughbred leader, put the Giants on his back and carried them to a third World Series title in five years. After watching such an incredible display, every baseball fan asked “who can do that for us?” With the season less than two weeks away, the Red Sox are still to provide an answer.

Offseason Review: Did the Red Sox Do Enough?

red sox offseason

In signing two of the top free agent position players and revamping a depleted starting rotation, the Red Sox undoubtedly made progress this offseason. Yet, deep down, questions still remain as to whether they improved enough, and whether management could’ve done even more to upgrade a messy roster and steer Boston back to the postseason.

In analyzing the winter work of Ben Cherington, it’s important to remember the thorough incompetence of the baseline roster he sought to improve. As you are probably all too aware, the 2014 Red Sox were awful, ranking 18th in runs, 24th in slugging, 23rd in ERA and 22nd in WHIP. At 71-91, they finished dead last in the AL East, 25 games behind the runaway Orioles. Only three teams American League teams compiled a worse record.

Offseason Review

Accordingly, in seeking a swift rebuild, Cherington was at an immediate disadvantage, with the Red Sox basically trying to win a race after giving a head start to all their closest opponents. They would have to work incredibly hard just to get back in the conversation.

Thus, no time was wasted, as Boston committed a combined $192.5 million to Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez and Justin Masterson, before acquiring Rick Porcello and Wade Miley via trade, dealing from surplus to add quality.

The success of this approach, and, by extension, the degree to which the Sox will improve in 2015, rests largely on the ability of those five new arrivals to significantly outperform their predecessors. The probability of that happening is relatively high, with the collective 2014 WAR of the incoming players sitting at 11.5, compared to the awful 3 WAR accumulated by the forebears in the same position, namely Yoenis Cespedes, Will Middlebrooks, Brock Holt, Anthony Ranaudo, Rubby de La Rosa and Allen Webster.

Theoretically, the net increase of 8.5 WAR should help the Sox back above the .500 threshold, but, at this point, it’s difficult to foresee a quantum leap back into the 90-win range required to secure a wildcard, let alone the 95-win plateau typically needed to clinch the AL East.

Of course, we’ve seen this team march from worse starting points to loftier destinations, most recently in 2013, but, this time round, there seems to be far more uncertainty and far less magic surrounding the team. As Opening Day approaches, there are still so many landscape-altering factors to be determined, all with potentially major affects on the baseline win-loss record. Will the new superstars meet their expectations? At what point do the Sox abandon their no-ace strategy and pursue elite, frontline starting pitching? What impact will the new hitting coach have? Is the clubhouse culture compatible with another worst-to-first turnaround?

At this point, we just don’t know. This Sox team is harder to define and quantify than most in recent memory. In all likelihood, it’ll be better than the 2014 incarnation, but to what extent? Ultimately, that will only be discovered once this perplexing blend of players jogs onto the diamond in competitive action. Nobody knows what to expect, which, after all, is why 162 actual games are required to capture a definitive answer.

‘Tis The Season For Red Sox Trades!

red sox trades
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In need of adding starting pitchers to their rotation, the Boston Red Sox made a move early today acquiring lefty Wade Miley from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for starting pitchers Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa. Additionally, the BoSox moved arguably their most valuable piece of trade bait today in Yoenis Cespedes to the Detroit Tigers for Rick Porcello.

Unlike Webster and De La Rosa, Miley does not overpower hitters with his fastball. red sox trades wade rileyThe southpaw sits at 91MPH and heavily relies upon his slider for success. 2014 was not Wad Miley’s best season to date, but there were a few positives that can be taken away from it. Despite posting a 4.34 ERA in 33 starts, he managed to strike out 183 men in 201.1 innings and pitched much better on the road.

What Boston gave up in return may seem like a bit much for Miley, but the deal will work out well for both sides.

The Red Sox are looking to compete next year so they need a proven starter. Webster and De La Rosa have more upside than Miley, but right now the Red Sox are looking for consistency and were afraid to take a risk in 2015. Do not be surprised if Allen Webster has a breakout season next year as a starting pitcher and if Rubby De La Rosa is a highly-effective reliever.

With Anthony Ranaudo as the most qualified young candidate to start in 2015, perhaps the organization will take a step back and look to obtain an ace and a two starter next.

Headed to the Motor City along with Cespedes is Alex Wilson, who owns a career 3.38 ERA in 44 MLB appearances, and Gabe Speier, a 19-year-old who pitched well in the Gulf Coast League this past season but is not considered a top prospect by the Red Sox organization.

The Red Sox made out like bandits on this one despite both sides winning the trade. Even though Rick Porcello may seem like a big league veteran as he has played in the league since 2009, keep in mind he is only 25 years old which is three years younger than Alex Wilson.

With this in mind, Porcello had his first true breakout year last season when he red sox trades rick porcelloposted a 3.43 ERA in 32 appearances for the Tigers in which he ate up 204.1 innings and walked just 1.8 men per nine innings pitched. Expect him to pitch even better in 2015 and develop into a star pitcher in no-time.

In the Red Sox rotation, there is no question as to whether or not Porcello could be an effective number two starter because he could be based off of how well he pitched in 2014. He is set to earn $12.2 million next season which puts him on the cheaper side for a pitcher of his ability, saving the Red Sox a bit of money.

Cespedes, who the Red Sox acquired at the trade deadline in the Jon Lester deal, clubbed 22 home runs with a .301 OBP in his time split between Oakland and Boston in 2014. With the Boston Red Sox outfield crowded to being with (not to mention after the acquisition of Hanley Ramirez) it became apparent that the club would need to trade Cespedes.

Now Boston must look to get a true ace.

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