Commentary

Examining Sox staff's horrific April

The numbers don't lie: Boston's struggles have reached historic proportions

Updated: April 23, 2012, 12:15 PM ET
By Jeremy Lundblad | ESPNBoston.com

The Boston Red Sox could hold opponents scoreless over the next eight games and still finish April with a higher ERA than in 2011.

Over the past 90 years, Boston's highest April ERA was 6.31 in 1928. That team finished last in the American League at 57-96.

With a 6.68 ERA after 14 games, the 2012 Red Sox are on track for far worse.

If the Red Sox don't allow a run for the rest of the month, they would finish April with a 4.25 ERA. That would be higher than Boston's 4.24 in April 2011, which at 11-15 wasn't exactly a banner month.

It's an issue that dates back to September. Since the start of that month, Boston is 11-30 with a 6.12 ERA. No small sample size here. That's more than a quarter of a season worth of data.

The pitching staff as a whole has allowed 26 home runs, most in the majors. By contrast, the Nationals have allowed three.

The bullpen is responsible for 11 of those. Consider that in 1972, the Orioles' bullpen allowed a total of 10 home runs all season.

Saturday's relief implosion against the New York Yankees will go down as one of the worst bullpen performances in franchise lore. It marked the second time in Red Sox history the bullpen allowed 14 or more runs in three innings or less. The other came in 1977, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"You have to sometimes hit bottom," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said in Saturday's postgame news conference. "If this isn't the bottom, then we'll find some new ends to the Earth, I guess."

Including two on Saturday, three different relievers have allowed at least five earned runs in a game while recording one out or fewer. In those three outings, Mark Melancon, Vicente Padilla and Alfredo Aceves combined for 16 runs and one out. That's a combined 432.00 ERA.

Until 2012, the Red Sox had never had three such relief appearances in a season.

In April alone, the Red Sox have had a decade's worth of these outings. There were four in the 1990s, three in the 1980s and one in the 1970s. And three in the first three weeks this season.

The last team with more than three such relief appearances in a season? The 2002 Tigers, who finished 55-106.

Melancon and Aceves, counted upon as the eighth- and ninth-inning specialists, deserve a large amount of the blame for the bullpen's awful start.

The Red Sox demoted Melancon after he went 0-2 with a 49.50 ERA in four appearances. As if those numbers aren't ugly enough, consider some of the historical context:

• First pitcher to lose two of the Red Sox's first three games in his first year with the team since Bill Campbell in 1977.

• First Red Sox reliever since Terry Adams in 2004 to allow a home run in three straight appearances.

• Eighth pitcher in the past 90 years to allow three home runs in a game without recording an out.

• In two innings, Melancon has already allowed as many home runs as he did in 74 1/3 IP last season.

Meanwhile, Aceves became the first Red Sox pitcher to make two appearances within the first three games without retiring a batter since Guido Grilli in 1966.

After three straight scoreless outings, he had seemingly returned to form. Then Saturday happened.

Since saves became an official stat in 1969, it was just the second time a pitcher has recorded a blown save while allowing at least five earned runs, walking at least four and failing to retire a batter. Interestingly, the other was Carlos Marmol last season.

Quite simply, the injury to Andrew Bailey has devastated the bullpen.

Valentine certainly deserves a significant amount of blame for Boston's stumbling. And that includes the bullpen. He has stuck with pitchers for too long on numerous occasions.

Yet Valentine, perhaps foreseeing a weakness, is also the one who reportedly wanted Daniel Bard in the bullpen. Valentine simply doesn't have anyone he can count on in relief at the moment.

As a result, Justin Thomas has inexplicably pitched six games.

He's a 28-year-old reliever with 664 minor league innings but just 17 in the big leagues. Consider that he spent all of 2011 in Triple-A for the Pirates and never got a call-up. Pittsburgh finished 72-90 and used 25 pitchers last year, but never saw fit to call upon Thomas.

Despite a 6.75 ERA in spring training, he broke camp with Boston. Aceves and Melancon have fallen far short of expectations. With his 7.71 ERA, one might say Thomas is the only Red Sox reliever pitching just as anticipated.

Are Thomas, Albers and Padilla really among the 12 best, healthy pitchers in the organization?

The Pawtucket pitching staff boasts a 2.99 ERA. Yet, there's no Jonathan Papelbon or Daniel Bard waiting in the wings.

Casey Kelly and Nick Hagadone would have been those pitchers right now, but were key components in the deals for Adrian Gonzalez and Victor Martinez, respectively.

Ironically, the two pitchers hurting that Pawtucket ERA the most are among the best bets to show up in Boston soon. Rich Hill (9.00 ERA) and Andrew Miller (8.31 ERA) are both on rehab assignments. Melancon has pitched well in two appearances, and figures to return to Boston as well.

Junichi Tazawa, who has a 0.00 ERA in 10 innings between Boston and Pawtucket, was the first to be called upon. Alex Wilson could potentially help down the line. Baseball America said in January that he has the best fastball and slider in the system.

Otherwise, Pawtucket is filled with retreads. Brandon Duckworth, Ross Ohlendorf, Justin Germano, Doug Mathis, Garrett Mock and Tony Pena are all at least 29 years old. None is a game-changer.

The closest thing to a game-changer would certainly be Bard.

With his turn in the rotation skipped, he will be available in relief early this week. Might that be a permanent move? If he pitches well, Valentine may have no choice.

Yet, as bad as the bullpen has been, relievers account for only three of Boston's 10 losses. That's fewer than five teams. In other words, the bullpen certainly isn't helping Boston win, but it's not to blame for all the losses.

Compared to the bullpen, the rotation's 5.75 ERA seems almost reasonable. But it's still the third-worst in the majors. Only Felix Doubront has pitched better than expected, but he remains winless.

Clay Buchholz and Josh Beckett have each allowed five home runs in a start. It's just the third time in MLB history that a team has had two such games in a season. No team has had three. Once again, it's still April.

Jeremy Lundblad

ESPN Stats and Information

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