John Farrell

The Red Sox and the quest for innings and left-handedness in their starting rotation

December 10, 2014 - 3:59 pm

SAN DIEGO -- In five full big league seasons from 2010-14, Clay Buchholz has averaged 145 innings. In his first season as a full-time big league starter in 2014, Joe Kelly logged 96 1/3 innings. Those are the only two known members of the 2015 Red Sox. Neither pitcher has a demonstrated, reliable ability to handle a full-season workload of 200 innings. As such, the Red Sox may prioritize pitchers whose track records suggest the potential to do just that. "We always go through an exercise in budgeting, or coming up with a budget number of innings that need to be accounted for," said Sox manager John Farrell. "You take into account what individual pitchers have done in previous years and what you project them to be able to provide upcoming. We knew going in that there were going to be a couple of spots needed for innings eating and very quality innings pitched. Ideally, if you can get a couple of 200-inning pitchers, they don'€™t go on trees, but that'€™s the goal." That might help to explain some of the Sox' interest in Diamondbacks lefty Wade Miley, who has logged at least 198 innings in each of the last three seasons. The need for innings stability might also have the Sox particularly intrigued by pitchers like Jordan Zimmermann (203 innings a year for the last three years) and Rick Porcello (who threw 200 innings for the first time in 2014 but has never been on the DL). Other potential targets such as free agents James Shields (averaging an astounding 233 innings a year over the last four years) and Ervin Santana (averaging 207 innings a year for the last five seasons) might gain prominence as Sox targets for the same reason. Ideally, the Red Sox would like to add a left-hander to their rotation as well given that, for now, their only two starters (and, in all likelihood, all the candidates for the fifth starter's spot) are right-handed. However, Farrell suggested that the necessity of having a lefty in the rotation has diminished in recent years in the American League East. "I think you always like to have that at your disposal to match up or to map out your rotation how it might fall depending on the upcoming schedule," said Farrell. "[But] when you look at what'€™s changing in our division, this once was and just was a few years ago a very left-handed hitting division. That'€™s shifting, when you see the changes that have gone in Toronto, in Baltimore, probably with some changes that still might take place down in Tampa, that might be the case as well, you'€™re seeing a little bit more right-handed offense starting to emerge in other cities." The task that confronts the Sox remains considerable. There are high-quality options available, but the Sox don't get to pick whomever they want from the pool of available players, and must instead outbid others in either the free agent or trade markets. Still, Farrell echoed the view of GM Ben Cherington in suggesting that the Sox have reason to be confident about their ability to round out their rotation, even with Jon Lester off the market. "I think the market clearly states what Jon'€™s abilities are, the person he is, I don'€™t think a team puts that kind of offer out  to try to sign a pitcher like Jon if they'€™re not confident and pretty sure of the person, how he prepares, the leader that he was to our team and our pitching staff in the time here. But like I said, we wish him well. He'€™s a talented guy and we'€™re going to miss him," said Farrell. "Our goal is to put a team that'€™s going to be able to contend not only for a division title, but one that will play deep into October. And we feel like on the offensive side, things are in place to do that. And yet, we'€™re incomplete when it comes to the pitching staff. ... I think we'€™re very confident that, given the number of potential pitching options that exist, that we'€™ll have a strong rotation, a very strong pitching staff overall."