Commentary

Sox demise not what you think

Josh Beckett and Jon Lester aren't all to blame -- just check the numbers

Updated: August 14, 2012, 4:29 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Here's the biggest fallacy of the 2012 Red Sox season: It's all, or even mostly, the fault of Jon Lester and Josh Beckett.

It's the easiest way to explain the team's place in the standings, to cite the team's record in games started by the pair (16-27) and note that if the Red Sox had won even 60 percent of those starts -- a valid expectation given their top-of-the-rotation status -- the Sox would be challenging the Yankees for the lead in the American League East.

I admit that I have been tempted to lay it all on the aces, but an email from an informed Red Sox fan (he goes by "Larry Larry" but is definitely not Lucchino) pulled me up short.

"It's very easy just to look at Lester and Beckett's win-loss and say they are the entire problem," he wrote. "It's now common wisdom -- and common wisdom is usually wrong."

That was sufficient incentive to take a closer look. The conclusion? Dustin Pedroia was not being charitable to Lester and Beckett when he said, "We win and lose as a team." Pedroia was displaying an awareness of all the games that Beckett and Lester pitched well enough to give the Sox a reasonable chance of winning.

This may provoke howls from those of you who cannot be shaken of the conviction that the Texas Tough Guy and his left-handed sidekick have sabotaged a season. And no one is arguing that Lester and Beckett have been at the top of their form on anything approaching a consistent basis. Lester has only in recent starts finally been throwing his cutter and curveball with devastating effectiveness, as he demonstrated with his 12-punchout performance Sunday in Cleveland, and when Beckett takes the mound Tuesday night in Baltimore, it will be a full month since he pitched well enough to deserve a win.

[+] EnlargeJon Lester
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesLester made 10 starts that the Red Sox lost but he pitched well enough to win.

But taken on a start-by-start basis, the results may surprise you. Lester has made 10 starts that the Sox lost but he pitched well enough to win, beginning with Opening Day in Detroit, when he allowed a run in seven innings but came away with a no-decision in a 3-2 loss to the Tigers.

Here are the others:

April 11: He gave up three hits and three earned runs in eight innings and lost 3-1 to the Blue Jays.

May 4: He left after six innings with a 4-3 lead over the Orioles in a game the Sox lost 6-4.

May 9: He allowed one earned run in five innings and lost 4-3 to the Royals.

June 5: He allowed two earned runs in six innings and had a no-decision in an 8-6 loss to the Orioles.

June 10: He gave up three runs and struck out nine in seven innings but had a no-decision in a 4-3 loss to the Nationals.

June 22: He gave up three runs in seven innings in a 4-1 loss to the Braves.

July 3: He gave up one run and struck out nine in 6 2/3 innings but had a no-decision in a 3-2 loss to the Athletics.

Aug. 2: He gave up three runs in eight innings, did not walk a batter and struck out seven in a 5-0 loss to the Twins.

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Aug. 7: He took a scoreless tie into the sixth inning against the Rangers before giving up two runs in the sixth and two in the seventh in a 6-3 loss to the Rangers.

Imagine, if the outcome had been different in even half of those games, how the conversation about Lester would be altered. By any reasonable criteria, how could all these defeats be pinned on him?

Now to Beckett. He made four starts that the Sox could have easily have won.

April 18: He gave up three runs in seven innings, left trailing 3-2 and was charged with the decision in a 6-3 loss to the Rangers.

April 29: He gave up three first-inning runs to the White Sox and left trailing 3-1 after 6 2/3 innings in a 4-1 loss.

June 6: He gave up two runs in eight innings in a 2-1 loss to the Orioles.

June 30: He gave up two runs in six innings and had a no-decision in a 3-2 loss to the Mariners.

[+] EnlargeJosh Beckett
Tim Heitman/US PresswireJosh Beckett made at least four starts that the Red Sox could -- should? -- have won, and he kept them in the game on three other occasions.

There were three other Beckett starts that were hardly masterpieces but kept his team in the game.

May 31: He gave up four runs in seven innings and took the loss in a 7-3 defeat to the Tigers.

June 11: He gave up four runs in seven innings in a 4-1 loss to the Marlins.

July 25: He gave up four runs in seven innings and took the decision in a 5-3 loss to the Rangers.

Yes, aces are relied on to win the close games and outpitch the guy on the other side, but many elements are out of a pitcher's control, which is why the advanced metrics, especially in Lester's case, argue that he has been better than his win-loss record.

Lester has a career-worst 5.20 ERA, but his batting average on balls in play is a career high .323, which is to some degree attributable to bad luck. That high BABIP helps account for the career-low 63.6 percent of runners he has left on base.

His Wins Above Replacement is 2.7 (according to FanGraphs.com), which ranks 11th among AL starters. (Only 7 pitchers are above 3.0, led by Justin Verlander's 5.2.) Such stats may be too exotic for your taste, but you can be certain that the Red Sox take it seriously. It is a big reason why they believe Lester could reel off a half-dozen wins down the stretch. Beckett's WAR, incidentally, is 2.1, second best among Sox starters.

What does it all mean? I'll let "Larry Larry" have the last word: Sometimes common wisdom is not wisdom at all.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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