Commentary

Measuring Red Sox's slow starts

Is it time to panic over the struggles of Beckett, Melancon, Ells, Youk and Salty?

Updated: April 13, 2012, 1:08 AM ET
By Jeremy Lundblad | ESPNBoston.com

Going into April 13, 2011, Jacoby Ellsbury was hitting .189, while Carl Crawford had a .152 batting average.

Ellsbury was coming off a disastrous 2010; Crawford had signed a massive contract coming off a career-best season.

Of course, Ellsbury nearly won the MVP, while Crawford never found his stroke.

The lesson? April 13 is far too early to judge anything.

Then again, a rational observer would've said not to worry about Crawford or John Lackey at this time last year.

[+] EnlargeJosh Beckett
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesJosh Beckett saw more balls leave the Tigers' yard Saturday than he did in all of April/May 2011.

Is this more than just a slow start for any of the struggling Boston Red Sox?

We present the Red Sox Panic Meter: 1 = nothing to worry about, 10 = full-fledged panic.

Josh Beckett -- 5 HR allowed vs Tigers

Panic Meter -- 5

It's one thing to overlook the five home runs allowed by Beckett.

Sure, he's the first player to allow that many in an outing within his team's first two games of the season.

But Beckett has been here before. In August 2009, he gave up five home runs to the New York Yankees, but later bounced back to go 3-0 in his final four starts.

Indeed, if it was just about the home runs, Beckett would barely register on the panic meter. But his stuff was even more concerning than the long balls.

Beckett's fastball had an average velocity of 90.5 mph on Saturday. Since 2009, that's the slowest fastball he has thrown in a game. He topped out at 92.5 mph, also the slowest in that span. Only one of the 16 swings at his fastball missed.

But the fastball wasn't the only pitch that was off. Beckett's curveball had its slowest horizontal velocity across the plate over the past three seasons.

Last season, it was the curve that keyed Beckett's fast start. Opponents started the season 0-for-22 on at-bats ending with a curveball. He gave up only four extra-base hits with the curve in all of 2011.

On Saturday, Austin Jackson drilled a 2-2 curve for a double.

According to a CSNNE report, Beckett made adjustments in a side session with pitching coach Bob McClure.

"I felt like I was getting very rotational and not throwing up-and-down," Beckett told Sean McAdam, "which are things that I do whenever I'm successful. It adds a little bit of different angle to the ball."

As he takes the mound for Friday's home opener, Beckett's velocity warrants close monitoring.

Until then, fears of the dreaded "Even-Year Beckett" season loom. Since joining the Red Sox, he has famously performed far better in odd years (50-20, 3.36 ERA) than in even seasons (34-28, 4.95 ERA).

Mark Melancon -- 0-2, 36.00 ERA

Panic Meter -- 4

Two ugly appearances into Melancon's Red Sox career, and it's easy to wonder if too much was expected too soon.

After all, it was just two years ago when Melancon posted a 1.67 WHIP as a 25 year old in Triple-A for the Yankees. Last season in Houston, he took over the closer role and notched 20 saves. But did those saves overvalue an average reliever?

Certainly, two games should not dramatically alter expectations. Yet, a few numbers stand out.

The key pitch to look at for Melancon will be the curveball, his go-to with two strikes. Last year, opponents hit .136 with 18 hits in two-strike counts. In 2012, opponents are 3-for-4 with two strikes, including Alex Avila's walk-off home run.

The good news? There's precedent for a rough beginning that turned around.

In November 1976, Bill Campbell became the first major free-agent signing in Red Sox history, inking a four-year deal worth $1 million.

Like Melancon, his first two appearances in Boston were forgettable: 0-2, 17.18 ERA.

But Campbell would settle down, make the All-Star Game, and finish fifth in the Cy Young voting.

Jacoby Ellsbury -- .130 BA, 0 HR, 0 SB

Panic Meter -- 1

In 2011, Ellsbury had one of the greatest all-around seasons by an outfielder in Red Sox history. But after 17 games, he was hitting just .182 and had been dropped to ninth in the batting order.

In other words, nothing to see here.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia -- .077 BA, 6 K in 13 AB

Panic Meter -- 6

It essentially has been established that Saltalamacchia can't hit lefties, against whom he's hit .206 with a .603 OPS in his career. That's why Kelly Shoppach can expect the bulk of starts against southpaws.

But can Saltalamacchia hit right-handed pitchers?

Last season, he had a solid .766 OPS against them. But his strikeout numbers continue to be a concern. Saltalamacchia fanned once every three plate appearances against righties. Only Adam Dunn, in arguably the worst offensive season ever, was worse.

With Ryan Lavarnway (two hits on Wednesday) waiting in the wings, Saltalamacchia's leash may not be that long if he can't turn his offense around.

Kevin Youkilis -- .100 BA, 0 BB, 6 K

Panic Meter -- 3

He has been one of Boston's most consistent players for seven years. So what's with all those jumping off the Youkilis bandwagon after six games?

Sure, he's hitting only .172 with a .571 OPS since the beginning of August. But Youkilis was battling multiple injuries at the end of 2011.

Youkilis' miss percentage and chase percentage are actually lower than they've been in recent years. His .143 BABIP hints at some bad luck.

A quarter of his plate appearances have gone to three balls, but Youkilis still doesn't have a walk. That's not so much alarming as it is uncharacteristic. Certainly, Youkilis has not forgotten how to take a walk.

He may be 33, but a healthy Youkilis has always been productive. There's little reason to think that's changed.

Bobby Valentine

Panic Meter -- 2

He gave Nick Punto a start in the leadoff spot. Justin Thomas was inexplicably used in a close game, and then left in. Darnell McDonald hit sixth against a righty.

Sure, there are some quibbles with Valentine's first week on the job.

But it's no time to judge him. Recall that in three of his first five games, Terry Francona had Ellis Burks batting third.

Jeremy Lundblad

ESPN Stats and Information

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