The numbers are striking.
With the caveat that the Red Sox' pitching performance is being analyzed just 11 games into the season, the takeaway thus far can't be ignored. When trudging through the days in Fort Myers, prognosticators tried to formulate a best-case scenario for this group. The work is done. This is best-case scenario.
Here is what we're dealing with:
As a group, Red Sox pitchers have allowed the fewest hits in the major leagues (79), while totaling the second-most strikeouts (109), third-best batting average against (.218) and third-best ERA (.276). They also have allowed the fewest baserunners of any American League staff (118).
Then there are the starters …
The Red Sox rotation carries the top ERA in the American League (2.07), almost a run better than the second-best starting staff (Detroit, 3.01). It has given up the fewest runs (17) in the majors and the second-fewest hits (54), while collecting more strikeouts per batter faced than any group.
So what is the secret to the success?
Much of the focus in regard to the coaching of the pitchers has zeroed in on manager John Farrell. He was, after all, the pitching coach when the likes of Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz were something much more than what was delivered in 2011.
And while Farrell has undeniably had an impact on the group -- both due to his familiarity and expertise -- the presence of pitching coach Juan Nieves can't be underestimated.
There have been tangible examples of Nieves' instruction paying off. Early in spring training, there were small adjustments suggested to prospect Allen Webster that got people talking about a potential No. 1 starter kind of future. Then there was the emphasis on tempo, getting a guy like Clay Buchholz to go from 29 seconds in between pitches to 16. (And we saw how that worked out for him Sunday.)
"You always are planning on doing this well because you practice it," Nieves said after Buchholz' two-hitter against the Rays. "If you don’t enforce it and you don’t tell the expectations, what is there to go by? The more you see it in the bullpen, on the focus, seeing the strike zone, making pitches in spring training.
"It’s funny, the first meeting we talked about making pitches now, right now, before anybody gets on the mound so it carries through April all the way to November. That’s what we expected. I remember the guys telling me, ‘Wow, we’ve never heard that before.’ But it’s true. We were practicing pitches in spring training to make throughout the season. You can’t just turn it on in the season. It starts from the first pitch he throw in the bullpen and all the work in between. I always have been a firm believer if you practice enough in your craft you will eventually become a pretty good pitcher."
And it was Nieves who made sure to strike the tone that has carried seamlessly through the season thus far.
"That’s what we talked about in spring training," he said. "We talked about pitching in, missing in, pitching down. There is so many things we talked about. And it started from the first day they threw."
Jarrod Saltalamacchia has never totaled a catcher's ERA of under 4.33 since he has arrived in Boston. Obviously, a big part of that has been because of the quality of the pitches he has received.
But, as Sunday suggested, Saltalamacchia might want to start being singled out for his work with the Sox' pitchers. He has caught seven of the team's 11 games, totaling a catcher's ERA of 2.71, fourth best in the major leagues. (The best single season for any Red Sox backstop was Tony Pena's catcher's ERA of 3.43 in 1992.)
There was no better example of how well it's working in regard to the catcher's relationship with his pitchers than during Buchholz' near no-hitter.
"They really just seem to be on the same page today," Ross observed of Saltalamacchia and Buchholz. "The main thing is seeing how aggressive guys are going to be, and they did a great job of throwing offspeed early to slow guys down. [Saltalamacchia] did a great job. Sometimes you think they should throw this or that, and then they throw something else and you're like, 'That was an even better idea.' They were just locked in."
Then there is David Ross.
Ross' 2.83 catcher's ERA is as eyebrow-raising considering this is a backstop who was signed in part because of his ability to extract the best out of pitchers. In his four seasons with Atlanta, he never totaled a catcher's ERA of more than 3.56.
An example of Ross' work could be found in a moment that served as one of the staff's low points, when closer Joel Hanrahan found himself struggling through an outing Saturday in which he walked both batters he faced.
The catcher knew what the pitcher knew: A tight hamstring was making things difficult to repeat the proper mechanics. Ross, however, seemingly knew the proper approach to take, and it didn't involve harping on the physical ailment.
"If you're out there, you just know your teammate is giving it all he's got, so you're just trying to battle with him," Ross said. "There are no excuses when you step out there. You try to get it done, and if you can't, you take some time off.
"I told him, 'I like that you're trying to work down in the zone, just try to get a little more finish through me. It's kind of dying at the end.' I try to focus on the task at hand. You can't let your mind go to another place."
You can go up and down the Red Sox' staff and surface optimism. There are four guys in the bullpen -- Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey, Andrew Miller and Junichi Tazawa -- who have lived at 96 mph with their fastball this season.
But what might truly help identify the quality the Red Sox are running out is the kind of stuff Buchholz presented Sunday.
The starter went from pinpointing a 93 mph fastball to dropping in a 76 mph curveball. And he's not alone in his ability to work both sides of the velocity spectrum effectively. Bailey, Tazawa, Felix Doubront and Jon Lester all have the ability to go from the 90s to the 70s without blinking an eye.
It was just that Buchholz offered the most pointed reminder.
"This guy is so talented," Nieves said. "He reminds me of a guy like [Jake] Peavy. Guys who have incredible feel that are talented enough they can actually throw a fastball at 95 and throw a curveball at 72. When you have guys who can manipulate the baseball that way, it’s special.
"He’s among that 2 percent where you go, ‘Wow! This guy is really special.’ There’s other guys like Doubront, Dempster, Bailey in the bullpen, Tazawa. They can throw a fastball at 97 and a curveball at 82. That’s remarkable."
Nieves calls it the ability to "manipulate" pitches. It simpler terms, it's the opportunity to put a pitch where the pitcher wants to pitch, when the pitcher needs to put it there. Thus far, the Red Sox have done a pretty good job in regard to their pitch manipulation, particularly with their fastballs. The Sox are third best in the majors when it comes to siphoning strikes when throwing heaters.
"I always think the game is determined with fastball command, especially when you’re behind in the count and can really locate a fastball in a hitter’s count," Nieves said. "When it’s well-located, that’s what we strive for.
"These guys are prepared. First of all, I will always say this in good games or bad games -- I know these guys are talented. They are among the first 600 players in the world. The thing is to challenge them to be as good as they can be as long as they can be. It can be your best game or your worst game, I want them to stay focused on the task at hand."