It’s a much-needed commodity to find a pitcher you can mark down for 200 innings and 30-plus starts in a season. You need it to win in the regular season, and it’s that much more vital come October.
The Boston Red Sox, who have won more World Series titles than any MLB franchise since the turn of the millennium (three), have had one constant in each of their title runs. All three squads had top-line, bulldog starting pitchers who gave quality innings atop the rotation. Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling and Derek Lowe in 2004. Schilling and Josh Beckett in 2007. Jon Lester and John Lackey in 2013.
Having fallen out of contention and into last place in the AL East, the Red Sox traded their two bulldogs from their 2013 title run in exchange for a pair of right-handed power bats — another commodity that has gone the way of the dinosaur — in Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig,in addition to a strong young arm in Joe Kelly, all with hopes of assembling a 2015 team that can return to contention.
With an upgraded offense, the Sox now need the pitching staff to be revamped for the team to avoid what would be a fifth playoff DNQ in six seasons. While those potential reinforcements (i.e. Cole Hamels, Chris Sale, James Shields, etc.) are almost certainly outside the organization and will be added in the offseason via trade or free agency. But for the time being, the Red Sox have to see what they have within the organization.
At the same time, however, they have to make sure the young pitchers are being managed properly, and aren’t taking on a workload that is too strenuous at this point of their careers. Pitchers with the skill set like Lester and Lackey are invaluable, but it’s a process for a pitcher to reach that point. Rome wasn’t built in one day, after all.
Moving to a six-man rotation addresses both of those needs. Clay Buchholz and Kelly, both of whom are pitchers with major league experience and can handle a major league workload, will work close to a regular schedule. Meanwhile, the other starters auditioning for a spot on the 2015 team in Rubby De La Rosa, Brandon Workman, Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo and so on will work on a modified schedule. One that gives them innings without giving them too many innings.
Of the four aforementioned young pitchers, three of the four have already surpassed their career mark for innings pitched in a season. De La Rosa’s 148 innings — 88 of which have come in Boston — far exceeds his previous high of 110 1/3, which he logged throwing in the Los Angeles Dodgers system in 2010. Webster (157 IP) and Ranaudo (156 IP) have eclipsed their career highs of 145 and 140, respectively. Workman is creeping up on input of 151 2/3 he set pitching through the end of October of last season, with 135.
While it’s important to let them cut their teeth at the big league level, it’s important to avoid putting them in a rough position. When none of the four having ever pitched the amount they have (a good portion of those 151 1/3 innings for Workman last year were in relief), you can’t trot them out there every fifth day.
Setting a six-man rotation and sitting those four occasionally gives the opportunities that quite a few pitchers in the Boston system have earned, but not received yet. Matt Barnes, who has been one of the best pitchers in the International League over the past month, is one candidate to get a spot start or two. Henry Owens, Edwin Escobar and Brian Johnson are in line for show-me-what-you’ve-got starts late in September.
It’s a situation that many teams would love to be in during September if being in the pennant race wasn’t on the menu. The Red Sox have so many options and so many different directions they can go in. Going with a six-man rotation will allow them to weigh those options more while preserving the arms that could be a big piece of the future, or a big piece of an offseason deal for an established veteran.
The six-man rotation is the ultimate best of both worlds scenario. And it’ll allow us to find out a lot more about these guys by the end of the month.
Pat O’Rourke is a Red Sox writer for RantSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter or join his network on Google.