Scott Atchison?s 2010 season ranked as one of the more pleasant surprises for the Red Sox. A journeyman who had found success in Japan before signing a minor league free-agent deal with Boston, Atchison had his best season as a major leaguer and did so with quiet efficiency.
It was a no-brainer to bring back Atchison, not only because of how well he performed. The team had an option to pay him the major league minimum plus $40,000, and admittedly has a bullpen that needs fixing. Retaining one of the only sure things for a pittance was an easy decision.
However, Atchison had never really been known as a “sure thing” in his 12 years in professional baseball until he dominated out of the pen for the Hanshin Tigers in 2009, drawing the interest of the Red Sox and carrying some of that success back to the states. Will he remain someone the club can trust? Will Scott Atchison be able to duplicate his 2010 effort?
In order to feel confident about an affirmative response to that question we must simply remember that sometimes some guys just figure it out. For Atchison, it may have taken those many stops in many states and multiple countries to find himself as a pitcher, but there is a point at which his career took a turn for the better in terms of numbers. A shift in roles was seemingly the catalyst.
The first year that Atchison, now 34, was made into a full-time reliever at the minor league level was 2006. Prior to that he was a full-time starter most years and had other seasons with at least one start sprinkled in, going 41-49 with a 4.08 ERA as a minor leaguer and never recording one lower than 3.42.
Once Atchison left behind a career as a starter, he blossomed, regardless of the level. He was 7-2 with a 2.17 ERA in his next two seasons as a full-time reliever, first for Seattle?s Triple-A affiliate in Tacoma and then for San Francisco?s top farm squad in Fresno. He finished the 2007 season with a stint with the Giants, his third crack at the majors, and put together a scoreless streak of 8 2/3 innings down the stretch.
After being signed by the Red Sox that offseason but then released, Atchison began his two-year Japanese excursion, during which he was 12-9 with a 2.77 ERA. He posted a 0.889 WHIP in 75 relief appearances in 2009 and was back on the major league radar just three years after he was a starter going nowhere. Then there was this past summer, when Atchison put together a 2.08 ERA in a 22-game run that spanned the dog days, his importance to the bullpen becoming a bit greater with each passing day.
That?s a whole host of numbers in rather basic categories posted at stops all over the place. But it is clear that Atchison has been a late bloomer. His best days in the minors didn?t come until he hit his 30s, when many may have seen him as just someone to fill the roster. Attention grew after he turned 33 on foreign soil and began to dominate hitters. And the best of his four major league stints came in Boston in 2010, another indication he might just be hitting his stride.
Each day of November, NESN.com will explore a different issue facing the Red Sox this offseason.
Monday, Nov. 22: Is Hideki Okajima worth being tendered a contract?
Wednesday, Nov. 24: What is the next step for Jon Lester?