So the Red Sox are 4-4, which feels right. They've won some close games and lost some close games, and it's all evened out in the wash. It also feels right because — and somewhere the baseball gods are having a good laugh — the Sox' offense has been among the best in the league (3rd in runs/gm, 1st in slugging, 2nd in OPS, 4th in OPS+) but the Sox' pitching has been pretty bad.
Most strange is the lack of strikeouts from a rotation featuring Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey and Clay Buchholz, and a bullpen anchored by Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard.
Look at these career and 2009 K/9 lines:
- Beckett: 8.5, 8.4
- Lester: 7.9, 8.1
- Lackey: 7.2, 7.1
- Buchholz: 7.5, 6.7
Rich Lederer, among others, would rather use K/100 pitches, which gives a better idea of how many strikeouts a pitcher is actually getting per appearance, as well as accounting for a pitcher who may strike out the side while giving up eight hits in the same inning. Here those numbers (career, 2009):
- Beckett: 6.0, 5.9
- Lester: 5.2, 6.6
- Lackey: 5.1, 5.1
- Buchholz: 5.0, 4.5
Every single one of these guys strikes out seven batters for every nine innings, and were all over 6.5 K/9 last season. Had Buchholz qualified for the ERA title, all four would have been in the AL's Top 20 strikeout pitchers in 2009. As it is, the other three all were in the top 15. In K/100, the top three essentially struck out five or six batters, on average, every time they took the hill. Buchholz obviously had more of an up-and-down year in that regard.
More than just K/9, the top three are famous for their insane ability to strikeout a bunch of guys while walking very few. Here are their career and '09 K/BB lines:
- Lester: 2.36, 3.52
- Beckett: 3.10, 3.62
- Lackey: 2.70, 2.96
So where did the strikeouts go?
The Red Sox last year were second in the league in strikeouts, 30 behind the Yankees, and likewise second in K/9, with 7.7. They led the league in K/BB ratio, the only team above 2.3 (2.32 to the Twins' 2.26).
In 2010, well… the Sox are last. in everything. Last in strikeouts, with 38, 10 behind the Tigers. Last in K/9, with 4.8, the only team below 5.0. They and the Tigers are the only teams below 5.5 strikeouts per game. In K/BB ratio, the Mariners are third from the bottom, at 1.54, and the Red Sox are next… at 1.15 (the Indians are close behind at 1.09). Meanwhile, the Sox are also third-worst in WHIP and fourth-worst in ERA, though a much better (haha) ninth in ERA+ and runs allowed per game.
Individually, only Lester has lived up to his strikeouts promise in his first two starts, with nine strikeouts in 10 innings, but he's also walked six and thrown 200 pitches. Beckett has struck out just five in two starts and walked four. Lackey has struck out five in his 12.2 innings and walked six. Buchholz has had just one start, in which he struck out one and walked two.
The bullpen has been no better. Papelbon in four appearances has walked four and struck out just one. Bard has struck out four in six appearances, but he's also walked three and given up four hits. Okajima hasn't struck out a batter in three appearances, but he's walked three and given up four hits.
Of all the Sox pitchers, only Tim Wakefield and Scot Schoeneweis have any respectable numbers in this arena for 2010: Wakefield has six strikeouts in seven innings, against only one walk, and Schoeneweis has struck out four in 2.2 innings and has yet to walk anyone.
It's very early, and most of these guys have only made one, two or three appearances. There's plenty of time to right the ship, and pitchers tend to be behind the hitters early in the season. But the Sox right now boast one of the worst pitching staffs in baseball. Not exactly how that was supposed to work out a week into the season.