Recent years have seen mounds of praise heaped upon Boston Red Sox GM and Executive VP Theo Epstein. Much of it is well-deserved; Epstein is a great baseball mind and has helped the Red Sox overcome nearly a century of futility while winning 2 World Series.
But if we’re going to hail him for his brilliance, we should give equal time to his gaffes. I have 3 particular blunders in mind.
When the Red Sox went all-in for the right to negotiate a contract with Japanese import Daisuke Matsuzaka, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand I had faith that braintrust knew what it was doing. On the other, I struggled to see how any single player could be worth the required price.
When the Red Sox inked John Lackey to a multi-year deal, I was skeptical that he would justify the contract amount. His performance with the Angels was certainly good, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it great.
And when the team extended Josh Beckett’s contract for another 4 years, I was nervous. Because Beckett has a history of nagging injuries and has only ocassionally put up true ace-like numbers.
I expressed my doubts about all 3 of these signings at the time, and though I have tried to be optimistic since then, history has more or less justified my concern. I’ll preface the rest of this post by admitting that any of these guys could turn things around at any time and be very effective. In no way am I suggesting that any of the 3 are useless. But consider the facts.
Since the end of the 2006 season, the Red Sox have spent a combined $296.2 million on these 3 players.
Let that sink in for a moment.
Even in the sports world, where the word “million” doesn’t faze us in the slightest, that’s a mighty big number. We’re not talking millions, or tens of millions. We’re talking almost 300 million.
- From the start of 2007 until the end of 2010, Beckett earned $40.1 million in salary.
- Beckett was extended last year to the tune of 4-years, $68 million.
- John Lackey was signed to a 4-year deal worth $85 million.
- Daisuke Matsuzaka cost the team $51.1 million before he was even signed- that was just the posting fee.
- Matsuzaka then agreed to a 6-year, $52 million contract following negotiations.
In total, $296.2 million.
At the time of Beckett’s extension, Fox Sports characterized the deal as “solidifying one of baseball’s best rotations”. I remember reading that and disagreeing, but wanting to support the club I had fervently hoped that I was wrong and Fox was right.
So far, that’s not the case.
Since the start of the 2007 season (including the beginning of 2011), here’s what the trio of hurlers has done:
- 1,529 innings pitched
- A collective 4.21 ERA
- A collective 1.33 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched)
- A collective 2.41 K:BB (strikeout to walk ratio)
During that same time period, here’s what all American League starters have done:
- A collective 4.49 ERA
- A collective 1.38 WHIP
- A collective 2.09 K:BB
The Red Sox starters’ ERA equate to roughly 93.5 runs allowed in a 200-inning season. The A.L. average equates to roughly 100 runs.
In fact, the combined ERA for Beckett, Dice-K, and Lackey gives them an ERA+ of 107. If you aren’t familair with that stat, it essentially compares a pitcher to the league’s overall numbers. A value of 100 means that the pitcher in question was exactly average; anything higher is better. To put the 107 in a crude context, the 3 Boston pitchers were 7% better than average for this time frame. Contrast that with the fact that in any given year, league leaders have ERA+ values of 150 to 200 or higher.
107 is awfully mediocre, all things considered.
Then there are the baserunners. Compared with Boston’s 3, the league as a whole allowed an extra baserunner every 20 innings. That’s basically 1 extra baserunner for every 3 starts.
Are you beginning to see how small the difference has been between these 3 pitchers and “average”?
We’ve put in almost $300 million. And this is what we’ve gotten in return. So while the 0-6 start doesn’t have me panicked, and while I still think the Sox (overall) are one of the game’s best teams in 2011, there really is something to worry about here. Unless things change in a pretty drastic way, this club will have wasted a lot of cash. A lot of time. And a lot of opportunties.