Theo Epstein And Starting Pitching

Theo Epstein was hired as GM of the Red Sox on November 25th, 2002, so he's coming up on nine years at the helm.  The fatal flaw with Epstein's disappointing 2011 club was starting pitching, which prompted me to investigate his work assembling rotations.

2003 – Won wild card.  4.30 rotation ERA ranked fifth in AL.

Epstein had nothing to do with the '03 rotation, so we can strike it from his record.

2004 – Won World Series.  4.31 rotation ERA ranked third in AL.

Epstein deserves credit for 40% of this group, and Schilling was of course crucial.

2005 – Won wild card.  4.56 rotation ERA ranked seventh in AL.

  • Tim Wakefield – He signed an extension in '05 with a recurring $4MM club option, so perhaps he became part of Epstein's ledger here or with the '06 season.
  • Bronson Arroyo
  • Matt Clement – signed by Epstein in '04
  • David Wells – signed by Epstein in '04.
  • Curt Schilling
  • Wade Miller – signed by Epstein in '04.

This was not an impressive group, and most of them can be attributed to Epstein.

2006 – Missed playoffs.  5.00 rotation ERA ranked 11th in AL.

  • Josh Beckett - Seth Mnookin's 2006 book Feeding the Monster mainly credits president Larry Lucchino for the November '05 Beckett trade, as Epstein was on hiatus.  The book says assistant GM Jed Hoyer was in constant consultation with Epstein at the time and was wary of making the deal.  Beckett had a rough '06 season, during which Epstein extended him potentially through 2010.
  • Curt Schilling
  • Tim Wakefield
  • Jon Lester – The 2002 draftee officially goes on the ledger of interim GM Mike Port, though Epstein was in the organization as assistant GM by that point.
  • Matt Clement
  • Kyle Snyder – claimed off waivers by Epstein in '06.

2007 – Won World Series.  4.21 rotation ERA ranked second in AL.

2008 – Won wild card.  4.02 rotation ERA ranked third in AL.

2009 – Won wild card.  4.63 rotation ERA ranked eighth in AL.

  • Josh Beckett
  • Jon Lester – Prior to this season, Epstein signed Lester potentially through 2014.
  • Brad Penny – signed by Epstein as a free agent in '08.
  • Tim Wakefield
  • Clay Buchholz – drafted by Epstein in '05.
  • Daisuke Matsuzaka
  • John Smoltz – signed by Epstein as a free agent in '09.

2010 – Missed playoffs.  4.17 rotation ERA ranked sixth in AL.

  • John Lackey – signed by Epstein as a free agent in '09.
  • Jon Lester
  • Clay Buchholz
  • Daisuke Matsuzaka
  • Josh Beckett – A new extension for Beckett was completed by Epstein prior to this season, running through 2014.
  • Tim Wakefield – Wakefield's recurring option had been exercised three times.  Prior to this season, Epstein hammered out a new two-year extension.

2011 – Missed playoffs.  4.49 rotation ERA ranked ninth in AL.

  • Jon Lester
  • Josh Beckett
  • John Lackey
  • Tim Wakefield
  • Clay Buchholz
  • Andrew Miller – signed by Epstein as a free agent in '10.

Epstein has put together eight rotations in his time as Red Sox GM.  Three could comfortably be described as above-average.  Schilling and Arroyo, his best starting pitching acquisitions, came eight years ago.  So far Buchholz has been the only drafted starting pitcher to make an impact in one of Epstein's rotations, with '06 pick Justin Masterson becoming a major piece of the '09 trade for Victor Martinez.  While Matsuzaka has been disappointing as a whole, he made major contributions in '07 and '08.  Epstein also deserves credit for extending Wakefield, Beckett, and Lester.

Free agent starting pitchers have been a problem, with significant dollars spent on Lackey, Clement, Penny, and Smoltz.  And for a $103MM commitment, Dice-K has not paid off.

The Red Sox seem to have relative stability in their recent rotations, and Lester, Beckett, and Buchholz will be part of the 2012 group.  Still, a major acquisition seems likely this offseason.  For all of Epstein's positive contributions to the club, his ability to acquire good veteran starting pitching must be questioned.

74 Responses to Theo Epstein And Starting Pitching Leave a Reply

  1. seokbuwhal 4 years ago

    In all honesty though, how many current GMs in the AL East have been able to sign good starting pitching free agents? Outside of this year’s Yankees (Sabathia, Garcia and Colon) The record for free agent starters is terrible (Lackey, Burnett, Pavano, Wright, Burnett (Blue Jays stint was marred by injuries)) Very few free agent signing pay off in this division.

    • Hey, don’t forget how Mussina worked out the Yankees!
      It spelled the beginning of the end for the Orioles.
      Worst decision by Angelos as far as I am concerned, right next to not renewing Pat Gillick!

      • WolandJR 4 years ago

        Don’t for get about Angelos’s decision to run Davey Johnson out after winning the division in 1997. That is the one that I never forgave Mr. Angelos for.

    • stl_cards16 4 years ago

      Free Agent signings rarely work out in any division, especially pitchers.  It has nothing to do with the AL East besides that it’s generally for more money because it is the Sox or the Yankees paying, so it gets magnified more.

  2. BoSoxSam 4 years ago

    Boston needs to go after CJ Wilson.

    • I hope they do! You can have him!

    • jordan 4 years ago

      no we don’t…. not at the price it will cost the sox…..

      • BoSoxSam 4 years ago

        Lackey/Wakefield/anyone else

        Tell me that isn’t an exciting rotation. We can’t trade for anybody and we desperately need the pitching. Drew is coming off the books and will be likely replaced in-house by Kalish/Reddick. The offense at most needs tweaking, but we need the pitching, so why would it be that big a deal to spend on a pitcher like Wilson? Lord knows we need the guy.

        • NomarGarciaparra 4 years ago

          Please don’t start showing off the rotation again. We’ve been doing that for the past 2 season and in the end, the rotation turned out to be the weak spot.

          • BoSoxSam 4 years ago

            So we should just concede to having a terrible rotation every year? Beckett and Lester ARE good, and Buchholz is good when healthy. Add another quality arm and that’s exciting. I know it smells of deja vu, and I’ll feel stupid if this happened it we crashed again, of course. But I might as well try and get excited about a possible rotation solution, rather than just assume it’ll be terrible again.

          • chico65 4 years ago

            I’m with you man.  Gotta believe that 3/5ths of the rotation won’t be injured or worse than ineffective for over half the season again next year.  They’ve got to hold up a little bit better, right?  Beckett needs to stay healthy though.  If Wilson goes for 5 at 85 or so maybe, but if it gets up over 100 i’d stay away.

            I wish they would have given Doubrant or Tazawa a shot at the end there, get a peek at what you might have in them.  They can’t have possibly done any worse than anyone else, especially Lackey.

          • NomarGarciaparra 4 years ago

            I hear ya man…but it’s been 2 seasons in a row. All I’m saying is don’t be so confident about the rotation going in, and don’t be surprised when that awesome rotation collapses.

          • yankeeparrothead 4 years ago

            Beckett was good but 2007 was really his only dominant healthy season in Boston.  He is old, injury prone and on the down side of his career.  Despite all the hype Buchholz has never gotten 30 starts and has only topped 20 once.  Neither can be counted on for 30+ good starts.  That really only leaves Lester.

          • yankeeparrothead 4 years ago

            Beckett was good but 2007 was really his only dominant healthy season in Boston.  He is old, injury prone and on the down side of his career.  Despite all the hype Buchholz has never gotten 30 starts and has only topped 20 once.  Neither can be counted on for 30+ good starts.  That really only leaves Lester.

          • BoSoxSam 4 years ago

            And also, who could have honestly expected the starters would turn out the way they did this year? We started with Lester/Beckett/Buchholz/Lackey/Dice-K. Everyone felt confident that Lester and Buchholz would be good, and it was obviously correct to be optimistic about Beckett as he was our best starter this year. The stats pointed more towards Lackey improving this year, and even people who expected him to continue to regress didn’t expect this kind of implosion. And nobody could have possibly known that Buchholz would have his back issues and miss so much time at the end, or that Dice-K would go down with Tommy John (although that injury may have been for the best honestly). Sure, maybe we’ve been overly optimistic, but the fact is there are always problems, and nobody can accurately predict the game. People were worried about our lineup being too left-heavy; well that ended up not being an issue as many of our lefties actually had pretty even splits, and some, like Ortiz, actually had -better- numbers against lefty pitchers. The point is, it’s not like the time when people tried to tell themselves that Brad Penny would discover ace stuff and John Smoltz would find a time machine. We had valid reasons to be excited about the rotation this year, and it fell apart in ways we couldn’t have easily predicted. And so I think that if we got Wilson, we would have valid reasons to be excited about it again. It may still fall apart, but it won’t be because Lester and Beckett are actually just AAA players and nobody knew it. It’ll be because it’s baseball, and it’s one heck of an unpredictable game.

          • MrTriandos 4 years ago

            Injuries happen every year, mostly to pitchers. It should not be a surprise when pitchers develop sore arms, elbows, knees, backs, necks… Teams in the American League used 21-30 pitchers each this year. A good GM needs to stock a lot of pitchers in order to deal with the inevitable. On this score Epstein failed in 2011.

    • I have a real feeling that CJ Wilson is the 2012 version of John Lackey or AJ Burnett.  The team that signs him will regret it by 2014.  Nothing against CJ, but he is not one of the very best pitchers in this league.  He is VERY good, but not great. 

      • RonWashingtonISinsane 4 years ago

        So CJ isn’t great for putting up top numbers in a t-ball park but other guys like Felix, Weaver, etc are aces while they get to pitch in much more pitcher friendly parks? It’s ridiculous listening to people say CJ isn’t an ace.

  3. start_wearing_purple 4 years ago

    Hold on… I’m getting a vision. People who hate the Sox and Theo are already saying Theo is overrated.

    Damn. I should be working in Vegas as a psychic.

  4. leberquesgue 4 years ago

    It is unfair to describe the outlays on Penny and Smoltz as “significant dollars”. Each cost of the order of $5M for 1 year (plus incentives that weren’t met, perhaps?) and at the time the deals were lauded as low-risk, high-upside moves that contrasted well with the Yankees’ $230M outlay on Sabathia and Burnett that off-season. Sure, Sabathia worked out well for the Yankees, but Epstein’s failure was not in spending $10M on Penny/Smoltz, it was Lackey the following year.

    The failure to draft pitching is disappointing, though Masterson (V-Mart) and Kelly (Gonzalez) are other Epstein draftees who have been traded for valuable pieces.

    • You have a good point, and I was definitely among those lauding Penny and Smoltz.  Probably Lackey and Dice-K too, so I’m not saying I could do better.  But even at the time I thought of $10.5MM on Penny/Smoltz as filling one rotation spot, and if it was a one-year, $10.5MM to one free agent who was horrible then you probably would call that significant dollars for one year.  Epstein ended up spending $10.5MM for two free agents who combined for 171 1/6 innings of 6.24 ball.  They dropped payroll that year and 18% of their rotation innings were taken by two awful free agents.  So it wasn’t that they got burned financially by spending the money on either, but choosing that direction was a big failure.

      • Was the assessment of the signing of Colon and Garcia by Cashman the same as Epstein signing Penny and Smoltz? It seems like Cashman drew more flak. Is it luck that Cashman succeeded (or Epstein failed) or different evaluation methods prior to the respective signings?

        • jordan 4 years ago

          i doubt there was one person here who though colon and garcia would preform as well as they did this year… the sox had him a few years ago and he was terrible

          • East Coast Bias 4 years ago

            I remember Colon swinging in an interleague game and getting injured from that season. I don’t mean to sound like a bad person, but it truly was hilarious!

          • jordan 4 years ago

            i remember he ended the season on the restricted list…. shows how good he was :-l

  5. rockfordone 4 years ago

    I would say leave Theo alone. He has done an outstanding job. There are 25 other teams that would love to have his record.

    • pv845 4 years ago

      And there are at least 25 other teams that would love to have his payroll…

    • Boz 4 years ago

      and the color blue is now red because I say so

  6. Cyyoung 4 years ago

    Wakefield great guy, but his time has come. Cannot believe this Organization, hasn’t developed someone to replace him. What do you think another 5 years?

    • johnsilver 4 years ago

      Like Anibel Sanchez, traded away in becket deal, or masterson in the Martinez deal? Hagedone, now in Cleveland may have been the piece had he remained in Boston and in a rotation where he belonged, rather than in a BP where he is now.

      Epstein never, ever said he would not shy away from trading away his pieces, just that he preferred to have them in Boston.

      Do not forget the rash of TJ injuries that befell Boston top pitching prospects from 2008-2010 either, Hagedone (traded), Tazawa, Price, Britton with some still not fully recovered.

      • mikecarlucci 4 years ago

        It just goes to show how hard good pitching is to develop. 

        At the time he was traded Casey Kelly still looked pretty good too. That’s the flip side to prospects; sometimes they fail. If Kelly never breaks out and the Red Sox held on to him the front office would receive just as much flack had some other team traded for Gonzalez instead. 

  7. The signings seem especially hurtful, though at the time of their signing a lot of them didn’t look as bad as they turned out to be.

  8. East Coast Bias 4 years ago

    This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Fair to say everyone praises Theo for his ability to lock up top talent early, not free agent signings.

    …at least I do.

  9. Wilson

    Remember Lackey is going through hell right now with outside issues with his wife and cancer. I see the sox going after Wilson and getting him as long as they give him the dollars, next year will be different guys I see it with the sox winning the AL East as long as there isn’t injuries like there has been for 2 years in arrow

    • Skrewd 4 years ago

      Lackey is divorcing his wife now, actually. So he has no complaints, and is basically a scumbag at this point.

      • wolf9309 4 years ago

        yes, because surely, you, like all opinionated people on the internet, know all of the details about that.

        • HobokenMetsFan 4 years ago

          haha i love when people make these blanket assumptions. its like, yes clearly the reason lackey is divorcing his wife is cause she has cancer. No one ever stops and thinks that maybe SHE is divorcing HIM. Or this whole divorce thing has been in the works since before she (sadly) developed cancer. Nope…lackey had a bad season so automatically he is a scum bag…….he’s no Tom Brady.

          • chico65 4 years ago

            No kidding.  Tom Brady is a winner, and who in their right mind would divorce Gisele?

          • ArchAngel_7 4 years ago

            No, Lackey is just a scumbag. It has nothing to do with his wife

  10. Does anyone on here think it was more of the use of John Farrell working with the pitchers and getting them to feel comfortable on the mound instead of injuries that we lacked this year?

  11. He is not a scumbad if he can’t handle the pressure of Boston Media. It is the same thing as Pavano in NY, Kevin Brown in NY, even AJ. Tough markets require people with a different mindset. To me Lackey was never the guy in game 7 with the cojones to say give me the ball. CC or Beckett is that guy. It take alot to pitch in these markets. It is why guys like Verlander, Gallardo, Greinke, King Felix, get bombed when they come into town and guys like CC, Linc, Doc Halladay are consistently good. Just give the guy the ball and know you will have a chance.

    For all of you who will comment on CC, yes they still had a chance last night and he was pitching after throwing probably 60 pitches on Friday Night.

  12. johnsmith4 4 years ago

    Jays shopped Roy Halladay to Red Sox…believe asking price was Buchholz Bard & Ellsbury. Red Sox fans, should Epstein have done the deal?

    • chico65 4 years ago

      Absolutely no way.  Halladay is the best there is, but that’s just too steep. Maybe if it were just Buchholz and Bard, but Ellsbury too is just too much of an overpay IMO- without even considering the financial aspects.

      • johnsmith4 4 years ago

        I think that was the back and forth during the trade talks.

      • Even though nobody predicted Ellsbury’s 2011 season and this would have been with his production through 2009?  I would have done it, because Halladay’s been extraordinarily consistent, and he did it in the AL East already, so it wouldn’t have been like they acquired somebody from the National League who would have been hammered in the AL East.  But that’s the past, and both sides can say they have no regrets now (especially with Bard and Ellsbury’s successes).  The BoSox will be fine, regardless of who the GM is.

        • johnsmith4 4 years ago

          IMO Red Sox are great at drafting (probably “blue print” for “Blue Jays” new approach to drafting) and good at trading.  Horrible at free agent signing.  But, not many are good at getting free agents.

  13. chico65 4 years ago

    Ah, Casey Fossum.  Casey Fossum, Brandon Lyon, Michael Goss, and Jorge de la Rosa are perfect examples of why sometimes you trade the young’uns for that piece that you’re certain will help.  

    • johnsmith4 4 years ago

      Exactly!!  That is why you want to load up on draft picks by letting age 30+ players who are Type A & B go to free agency. 

  14. baybombers 4 years ago

    His pitching staffs have been pretty bad

  15. chico65 4 years ago

    Absolutely, even considering Ellsbury’s production through 09.  Ellsbury showed what he could do in the ’07 postseason, and it’s not like he had bad seasons up until that point.  Maybe not MVP caliber, but certainly not bad.  And when you consider that this season the 3 sox made roughly 3.6M combined vs Halladay’s 20M, there’s no way I’d make that trade.

    [Meant to be in reply to Justin J Bartz]

  16. chico65 4 years ago

    [Deleted double-post]

  17. Theo is clearly a farm system mind. His success has come with bringing guys up through the system, hanging on to ones he inherited, and giving the major league squad some talent to work with from the farm.  The thing none of us take into a consideration is the amount of failures at the farm level a GM can have without anyone noticing.  For every Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jon Lester, there is a Lars Anderson and Michael Bowden.  Unfortunately Theo doesn’t have that liberty when signing free agents.  There aren’t enough to choose from, there isn’t any room for error especially error that will go unnoticed, and they cost a lot more.  This is why Theo should never be president of a team.  Teaming him up with a major league talent scout would be the best case scenario. A couple names I like on the free agent market that shouldn’t be huge money guys are Mark Buerhle (3,4, or 5 starter), Heath Bell (if Paps flies, backup plan and he’s 34 so he won’t demand a long risky contract), and Vladdy Guerrero (old and breaking down? yes. proven to be able to hit AL East pitching? yes. Contingency plan if Papi wants to break the bank and the team wants to save some flow for Ellsbury next year? YUP!)

  18. wrongway2011 4 years ago

    A couple of comments:

    Michael Bowden is 24 years old and had an excellent season as a reliever at AAA (3-3, 2.73 ERA, 16 saves).  He is not a failure at this point.  He could become a valuable middle innings guy.

    Alfredo Aceves is arguably the best pitcher on the staff.  It is safe to assume that he will be in the starting rotation in 2012.  That leaves only the fifth starter position open.  That can be filled by a combination of Andrew Miller, Felix Doubront and Lackey.

    • notsureifsrs 4 years ago

      “Alfredo Aceves is arguably the best pitcher on the staff.”

      delete your account and destroy your computer

      • wrongway2011 4 years ago

        Hey a-hole – Aceves was 10-2, 2.61.  Nobody put up better numbers than that.  It’s amazing that on these boards there always has to be a know-it-all jerk that thinks his opinion trumps everybody else’s.  Maybe it YOU who should delete your account and destroy your computer.  

      • chico65 4 years ago

        Yeah, what’s wrong with you man- 10 and 2.  10 and 2!  Learn a little something about baseball will you?


  19. BoSoXaddict 4 years ago

    Sox have SOME good young pitching in Ranaudo, Wilson, Britton, Workman and now Barnes. I wonder if any of them have an ETA earlier than 2013 though…

  20. notsureifsrs 4 years ago

    love this site, but this was pretty sloppy stuff and kinda out of nowhere. a couple omissions, a suspect framework for analysis, and a starting premise that wasn’t even accurate. starting pitching depth was the fatal flaw in 2011, not starting pitching quality – which is what this post is about

    looking forward to the rest of the series on the other GMs. should help give some perspective

    • BoSoXaddict 4 years ago

      Depth was obviously a major flaw but so was the “pitching quality” of John Lackey, Andrew Miller & Kyle Weiland.

      • notsureifsrs 4 years ago

        two of those were the 7th and 8th starters. that’s a depth problem

        • BoSoXaddict 4 years ago

          I guess we’re arguing semantics at this point but don’t you think that our depth guys should have been higher quality given our resources? That’s what I’m saying..

          • notsureifsrs 4 years ago

            i don’t think anyone should be upset if they don’t have a quality 8th starter, no

  21. godzillacub 4 years ago

    ERA is a terrible indicator, use WAR at least, Tim. If you did, you’d find out that from 2003 – 2011 Boston leads baseball in starter WAR (163.8). Also it puts Boston in the top 5 in baseball 6 of his 9 years. So I’d say, outside of being devastated by injuries this season, he does a pretty fantastic job.

  22. Thats debatable, the Red Sox got one of the coolest named players in the history of baseball for Arroyo.

    Willy Mo Pena

  23. MaineSox 4 years ago

    That’s tough to say really because there is anywhere up to 6 who have that potential who were drafted in the last three or so years, but they just haven’t made it that far yet.  But if you narrow it to pitchers who currently have jobs starting on MLB teams, there are two who were drafted by the Sox since ’03 (Buchholz and Masterson).

    If you add starting pitchers with MLB experience who haven’t won starting jobs, and if you include international free agents (other than Dice-K because he went straight to the majors) there are potentially 4 more (Tazawa, Doubront, Weiland, and Hagadone [traded to the Indians]).  None of whom look like stars, but any of them would be serviceable or decent back-mid rotation starters.

    But none of that includes guys like Ranaudo, Workman, and Price who were all drafted in ’10 and all have MLB starter potential; or a guy like Drake Britton who was drafted out of high school in ’07 and has front of the rotation potential, but hasn’t made the majors yet.  It also (obviously) doesn’t include any of the pitchers they drafted this year, several of whom have tons of potential.

  24. johnsmith4 4 years ago

    Throw in Casey Kelly….but…when I meant great a drafting…I included Pedroia Ellsbury Reddick Lowrie Fuentes & Rizzo in the assessment.

  25. MaineSox 4 years ago

    Yeah, they do pretty well at drafting position players, I was just responding to what1233456’s comment about the pitching they have drafted.

  26. MaineSox 4 years ago

    Yeah, they do pretty well at drafting position players, I was just responding to what1233456’s comment about the pitching they have drafted.

  27. yankeeparrothead 4 years ago

    Colon was surprising but Garcia was only mildly so.  He pitched well for the White Sox last year (not as well as he pitched this year).  In fact Nova and GArcia had better numbers in 2010 than Lackey and DIce-K

  28. yankeeparrothead 4 years ago

    Colon was surprising but Garcia was only mildly so.  He pitched well for the White Sox last year (not as well as he pitched this year).  In fact Nova and GArcia had better numbers in 2010 than Lackey and DIce-K

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