After posting the worst ERA in team history last year, the Boston Red Sox need to be more effective at keeping their opponents off the scoreboard. The hope is Boston’s pitchers will improve with the return of manager John Farrell, who served as the team’s pitching coach from 2007 through 2010 and oversaw the development of young hurlers Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. Based on what we’ve seen so far in spring training, it seems safe to say the Red Sox will enjoy much more success on the mound (and fantasy baseball teams) in 2013.
Jon Lester SP — As recently as 2010 Lester was one of the best pitchers in the league, but in 2012 he was one of the worst. His strikeout rate and fastball velocity decreased for the third consecutive season. On the bright side, his walk rate has improved in back-to-back seasons, plus his FIP, xFIP, SIERA and LOB% all suggest that luck was not on Lester’s side last year. He’s been lights-out thus far in spring training and is clearly motivated to prove last season was an aberration. He’s going to have a big rebound year and provide great value relative to where he’s going in fantasy baseball drafts.
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Fantasy baseball projections: 16 wins, 3.66 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 172 strikeouts
Clay Buchholz SP — Buchholz has earned a reputation as a fragile pitcher because he’s never started 30 games in a season nor completed 200 innings. Last year he took a big step towards shedding that label by approaching both benchmarks last year (29 and 189.1, personal bests), though a mid-season DL stint did cost him four weeks. His 4.56 ERA was inflated by his brutal beginning and disastrous finish to the season, brief slumps that obscured how well he pitched in between. In his 18 starts (13 of which were quality) from Memorial Day weekend through September 20th, Buchholz compiled a 2.79 ERA, averaged more than seven innings per start, and held opponents to a .225 batting average. He was Boston’s best pitcher last summer and has continued to thrive during spring training, indicating that he should be in line for a nice bounce back season.
Fantasy baseball projections: 14 wins, 3.82 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 124 strikeouts
Ryan Dempster SP — Dempster, like a right-handed Mark Buehrle, is reliably good but rarely great. Since putting together a phenomenal 2008 that garnered Cy Young consideration, he’s settled down into a solid mid-rotation starter. Over the past five years he owns a 3.74 ERA (114 ERA+), 1.30 WHIP and more than 2.5 strikeouts per walk while averaging nearly 200 innings per season.
That said, there are reasons not to like Dempster, starting with his age. He’ll be 36 in the spring and has logged more than 2,000 innings on his right arm. It’s also concerning that after spending his entire career in the National League, he flopped in his AL debut with the Texas Rangers last summer. He was up and down during his brief stint with Texas and will probably hit his share of bumps in the road with Boston, too.
Fantasy baseball projections: 13 wins, 4.13 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 166 strikeouts
John Lackey SP — Lackey’s been a massive bust since signing a five-year, $82 million contract with Boston prior to the 2010 season. Since leaving Los Angeles he has a 5.26 ERA, 1.50 WHIP and -0.6 bWAR. After missing all of 2012 recovering from Tommy John surgery, Lackey needs to bounce back and start earning his paycheck. Nobody knows what to expect from the 34-year-old former Angels ace, but he must find a way to contribute this year and be a quality backend starter behind Lester, Buchholz and Dempster. He has a lot to prove, but will his body cooperate?
Fantasy baseball projections: 11 wins, 4.75 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 112 strikeouts
Felix Doubront SP — Doubront was one of the few bright spots from last year, mainly because he was the only starting pitcher on the Sox who didn’t fall short of expectations. In his first full season the southpaw topped Boston’s staff in wins and strikeouts. Though he struggled with his command and consistency (as most young pitchers do), the 25 year-old is intriguing because of his elite ability to miss bats. His 9.3 K/9 rate ranked third in the American League behind only Max Scherzer and Yu Darvish. He’s still a work in progress, but if he can polish his control and be more economical with his pitches he might deliver a breakthrough season.
Fantasy baseball projections: 12 wins, 4.40 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 181 strikeouts
Joel Hanrahan CL — Hanrahan has quietly been one of baseball’s better closers in the last two years. In 2011, his first season as an everyday closer, he saved 40 games, posted a tidy 1.83 ERA and made his first All-Star team. He was named to the All-Star team again last year even though his ERA rose by nearly a full run and his walk rate more than doubled. On the bright side, his K/9 ratio jumped from 8.0 to 10.1, a figure right in line with his career 9.9 mark, and he still saved 36 games.
However, there’s underlying evidence that his recent success has been enhanced by good fortune. In 2011 just one of the 54 fly balls he allowed left the park. Last year his opponents mustered a paltry .225 BABiP against him, and Hanrahan managed to strand almost 90 percent of runners that reached base against him. Accordingly, his 4.45 FIP, 4.28 xFIP, 4.26 tERA and 3.80 SIERA were all well above his 2.72 ERA, indicating that he did not pitch nearly as well as his ERA suggests.
Hanrahan is an upgrade over the oft-injured Andrew Bailey, but regression to the mean combined with the transition to a less favorable pitching environment could cause problems in his American League debut.
Fantasy baseball projections: 35 saves, 3.19 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 65 strikeouts