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Wednesday, July 13, 2011
In first half, Beckett the clear-cut ace

By Jeremy Lundblad

Here's a player-by-player look at Red Sox pitchers in the first half of the season.


Josh Beckett -- The clear-cut ace after opening the season as the fourth starter, Beckett's 2.27 ERA is the lowest for a Red Sox pitcher at the break since Pedro Martinez's 2.26 in 2001. Opponents hit just .187, the third lowest off a Red Sox starter in the first half since World War II. Beckett's numbers come despite 10 of 17 starts on the road. He's 3-0 with an American League-best 1.66 ERA at home. Just about every statistic helps tell the story of his drastic improvement from 2010. Perhaps most noteworthy is what he's done against lefties. Last season, they hit .210 with a .940 OPS against him. This season? A .179 batting average and .528 OPS. The off-speed stuff has really done the trick. Lefties are hitting a combined .123 on at-bats ending on his curve or change.

Clay Buchholz -- Replicating his 2.33 ERA from 2010 was always going to be a tall task, particularly given a notably low home run rate last season. Indeed, Buchholz hasn't been quite as fortunate this season. His 10 home runs allowed in 82 2/3 innings have already exceeded the nine he allowed in 173 2/3 last year. However, Buchholz has helped himself by getting out of tight situations. Opponents are hitting just .152 with runners in scoring position, which ranks first in the AL. If he maintains that, it would be the lowest opponent BA with RISP by an AL starter since David Cone (.150) in 1994. That same year, Roger Clemens held opponents to a .157 average with RISP, the lowest by a Red Sox pitcher in the past 35 years.

John Lackey -- Since World War II, only one Red Sox pitcher has thrown 50 innings before the break and had an ERA higher than Lackey's 6.84. That was Jerry Casale's 6.87 in 1960. Casale already had lost his spot in the rotation by the break and is perhaps best known for opening a restaurant in Manhattan. Lackey did manage to finish the first half on a high note, pitching 6 2/3 scoreless innings in his final start.

Jon Lester
Jon Lester needs only five wins for his fourth straight season of 15 wins.

Jon Lester -- After a surprisingly fast start (2.52 ERA in April), it was May that slowed down Lester in 2011 (5.50 ERA). But with a 1.64 ERA in his past 33 innings, Lester was just rounding into form before being placed on the disabled list. The result? Double-digit wins at the break for the second straight year. Lester needs only five wins for his fourth straight season of 15 wins. The only Red Sox lefties with four straight 15-win seasons are Mel Parnell (1948-51) and Dutch Leonard (1914-17).

Daisuke Matsuzaka -- Dice-K's abbreviated season was all about trying to get over the hump. If he could get beyond the first pitch of an at-bat, things generally went well. Opponents hit .455 on the first pitch and just .184 on at-bats lasting more than one pitch. Compare that with the league average of .324 on the first pitch and .239 after. Similarly, in the first two innings, Matsuzaka had a 10.28 ERA. From the third inning on, his ERA was 2.31.

Andrew Miller -- The sixth overall pick in the draft in 2006. The Red Sox took a chance that Miller could recapture the stuff that made him a top prospect. He's 3-0 after four starts, but that's in part due to 38 runs of support. It took Josh Beckett 12 starts before his offense conjured up 38 runs. Regardless, there have been positive signs with Miller. His strike percentage is significantly higher in 2011 (63.4) than in 2010 (57.1). His curveball, thrown for only 45.1 percent strikes in 2010, is up to 56.9 percent this season.

Tim Wakefield -- Once again Wakefield starts a season with an undefined role and ends up near the top of the staff in innings. His most notable milestone of the first half was passing Deacon McGuire to be the oldest player in Red Sox history. In the second half, he'll attack a more memorable number: 200 wins. With 198, he has 18 more than the next active pitcher.


Matt Albers -- With a 5.11 career ERA entering the season, Albers finished the first half with a 2.55 ERA. He's averaging 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings, up from 5.8 last season. That's in part due to increased velocity. His fastball is averaging 93.5 mph, compared with 92.5 mph last year. Few have been better with two strikes, where opponents are hitting .135.

Alfredo Aceves -- Aceves was far more effective in the bullpen (2.43 ERA) than as a spot starter (5.14 ERA). Although right-handed, he's held lefties to a .167 batting average while pitching out of the 'pen. Fun fact: At 18-2, Aceves has the highest career win percentage in MLB history among those with at least 20 decisions. Next on the list is former White Sox reliever Luis Aloma (18-3).

Daniel Bard -- Since allowing four earned runs in the season opener, Bard has a 1.25 ERA in 41 appearances. So were it not for that initial outing, he'd have the second-lowest ERA among AL relievers behind Joe Smith. Once again, Bard has been dominant at home with a 0.75 ERA. In 82 career innings at Fenway Park, he now has a 0.99 ERA.

Bobby Jenks -- Opponents are hitting .421 on at-bats ending in Jenks' fastball, which has lost 1 mph from last season. In the AL, only Kevin Jepsen (.459) and Kyle Davies (.447) have had their fastballs hit harder (min. 50 PA).

Jonathan Papelbon -- Papelbon has converted 20 of 21 save chances. He's striking out batters (12.5 strikeouts per nine innings) like it's 2007 again. Even the walk problems that plagued him in 2009 and 2010 seem to be a thing of the past. So what can be made of that 3.93 ERA?

Papelbon has a .363 opponent batting average on balls in play (BABIP). That's the third highest among AL pitchers (min. 150 batters faced). Compare that with a .273 BABIP entering this season. Some of that can be attributed to bad luck, but it's also a factor of line drives. Papelbon's 23.4 line-drive percentage is sixth highest in the AL and more than twice his rate from 2010 (11.6). These numbers are even more extreme in run-producing situations. Opponents have a .500 BABIP with runners in scoring position against Papelbon, a number that almost has to revert to the mean in the second half.

Dan Wheeler -- In a disastrous start to his Red Sox career, Wheeler had a 11.32 ERA through 11 appearances. In 17 appearances since coming off the DL, he has a 1.50 ERA and opponents are hitting just .169 (righties just .136). However, eight of those appearances have come with the Red Sox ahead or behind by five or more runs.

Quick Hits

Scott Atchison -- Sent down on five different occasions in the first half, Atchison has been the victim of a roster crunch (not to mention a .317 opponent BA).

Rich Hill -- Sidelined for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Hill's brief season is still historic. His final line: 8 IP, 0.00 ERA. Only three pitchers in franchise history have finished a season with more innings pitched and a 0.00 ERA: Don Newhauser (12 IP in 1973), King Brady (9 IP in 1908) and Rube Kroh (9 IP in 1906).

Hideki Okajima -- Lefties hit .364 in Okajima's short stint in the majors.

Dennys Reyes -- If this is it for Reyes in a Boston uniform, he will go down as the only pitcher in Red Sox history with more hit batsmen (2) than innings pitched (1 2/3).

Jeremy Lundblad is a researcher with ESPN Stats & Information. He provides statistical analysis for