Red Sox Report Card: Starting Rotation

Well, the first semester is finally over, and it definitely was not what anyone expected. For the entire week of the All-Star break, I’ll be doing Red Sox report cards for every aspect of the team. Let’s start with the starting rotation!

The Red Sox build their team around having one of the most dominant starting rotation in baseball, and it has not paid off. In fairness, this rotation was absolutely incredible last year, and their regression has been mostly inexplicable. Aside from Nathan Eovaldi’s injury and subsequent surgery and recovery, the rest of the rotation has been in perfect health, which is what makes their regression from last year so befuddling.

Here’s how everyone’s getting graded on their first semester…

David Price (A-)

David Price has been the ace of this rotation this season, and it’s a joy to see, especially considering the conditions he has to work with, namely awful weather for every start, a lackluster offense, and the aforementioned dumpster fire that is the bullpen.

Excluding one awful start against the Texas Rangers, David Price has a 2.38 ERA. Overall, his first-half ERA is a solid 3.24, and he’s allowed 2 earned runs or less in 11 of his last 14 starts. He’s 7-2 on the season, and just yesterday, he earned his 150th career win!

One of the key difference-makers for Price has been lowering the number of home runs he’s allowed. This season, he’s at .80 HR/9, down from 1.28 HR/9 in 2018. In 2018, 53.3% of the runs he allowed were home runs; this season, just 31.3% are homers. It’s been vital that Price has been better at shutting down opposing team batters to combat the Red Sox’s offensive regression.

If I had to pick a postseason starter today, it would be David Price. Chris Sale would be a pretty close second, and I hope that the second half brings him better outings on the mound and better offense turnout. But ever since last October, David Price has become exactly who the Red Sox dreamed he would be when they signed him in 2015.

Chris Sale (B+)

Chris Sale hasn’t been as bad as his actual game results suggest, mostly because he never gets any run support from the offense. His 3.70 run support average is 4th-lowest in MLB, and the Red Sox have scored topped out at 3 runs in 8 of his 18 starts this year.

Yes, his first few starts were pretty much a nightmare, but he recovered far quicker than it appears. No one should take his 3-8 record at face value; for one thing, it’s an outdated stat in the modern pitching era, but mostly, it’s because even when he strikes out 17 batters in one game, the Sox can’t manage to back him up (read more). Between the start of 2018 and May 15 of this year, Chris Sale had made 36 regular season starts, and in 24 of them, the offense scored 3 runs or less while he was in the game. I’m honestly shocked he hasn’t punched anyone yet, but Chris Sale might be the best teammate ever, because he keeps blaming himself for everyone else’s shortcomings.

So here are just a few facts about Chris Sale’s 2019 so far:

  • His 14.14 K/9 since start of May is 1st in MLB
  • Between his April 23rd and June 26 starts, he struck out ten or more batters in 10 of 13 starts, including ten or more strikeouts in four consecutive starts between May 31 and June 15.
  • On May 14, he struck out 17 Rockies batters to set a new career high. His previous high had been 15, which he’d reached multiple times, but never surpassed.
  • He’s thrown not one, but two immaculate innings this season, becoming only the second pitcher in MLB history and the first since Lefty Grove accomplished the feat back in 1928. But Lefty Grove didn’t do it twice in the same month!
  • He pitched the first complete game shutout of his Red Sox career on June 5, striking out 12, giving up just 3 hits – none of which were for extra-bases – and walking none on 102 pitches. That was the game when he had his second immaculate inning of the season, less than a month after his first on May 8th!

Yes, he’s been giving up too many runs. And he hasn’t been absolutely perfect, which is what Sox Nation is used to, because we’re spoiled. But he also gets virtually no help from this regressed offense, and the minute he leaves the game, he’s leaving it in the incapable hands of the bullpen. There’s only so much he can do, and he’s absolutely killing himself to do it. At the end of the day, he’s still a monster any team in MLB would kill to have in their rotation. If only the offense and bullpen would help him out once in a while.

Eduardo Rodriguez (B+)

ERod is one lucky guy, because he’s the only pitcher this offense actually shows up for every week. He owns the highest run support average in all of MLB, a whopping 8.33. I’m sure Chris Sale loves that. Actually, he’s probably just happy that they show up for someone, because he’s that loyal of a teammate.

On the season, he’s 9-4 with a 4.65 ERA, holding opposing batters to a .267 batting average. His win total, though, is more indicative of the overall team performance than his actual pitching. He’s been fine to great, depending on the game, but the difference-maker has been the absurd run support he receives. When the Red Sox score six or more runs for him, he’s 8-0 with a 3.58 ERA; when they score five or less, he’s 1-4 with an 8.03 ERA. That’s a lot to ask of a lineup that has struggled at the plate, and why it’s important to look at the pitcher’s actual performance and not base judgement solely on wins and losses; his rotation-mate Sale is living proof of that.

Cora said that ERod’s biggest goals he had to meet in 2019 would be going deeper into games and giving up fewer runs. So far, it feels like he’s pretty much the same as he ever was, though he’s shown flashes of pure brilliance. Nonetheless, we’ve been talking about Eddie’s potential for years now, and at some point, he’s going to need to step the heck up. In the meantime, Sox fans can content themselves with knowing that the offense will come to play every Eddie Day.

Rick Porcello (B-)

The biggest thing Rick Porcello needs to work on is consistency. Year to year, and month to month, he’s more hot and cold than the Katy Perry song. He won the Cy Young in 2016, then led the league in losses in 2017. He’ll go 8 shutout innings one night, then give up 6 runs and get taken out in the first inning of the London opener. In that way, I’d rank him worse than Eduardo Rodriguez, who can at least muddle his way through five to six innings. With this team’s bullpen waiting in the wings during every start, sometimes inning-quantity is actually more important than quality.

In 18 starts, Ricky is 5-7 with a 5.07 ERA. Batters are hitting .270 against him, which is only slightly lower than Mookie Betts’ batting average, which only this weekend made it out of the .260s. One sign of improvement is that his walks have gone down as the season progresses; in his first six starts, he walked 17 batters in just 31 innings, but he has since only walked 13 batters over 63 innings in his last 12 starts. Keeping his walks down is key to his success; since the start of 2018, he’s 20-7 with a 3.58 ERA when he walks two or less. When he walks three or more, he’s 2-7 with an 8.19 ERA.

What Cora will need from Ricky is pretty much what he needs from all of his starters: for them to simply be better across the board. Fewer runs allowed, fewer walks, more strikeouts, going deeper into games. Especially if the bullpen doesn’t get the upgrade (read: complete overhaul) it desperately needs, this starting rotation is going to have to put the team on its back.

Everybody Else (D)

Since Nathan Eovaldi went on the IL in mid-April, the Red Sox have had to plug this enormous hole in the starting rotation, and it has been quite the menagerie of disasters.

In his stead, the Red Sox have used Brian Johnson, Hector Velazquez, Darwinzon Hernandez, and too many other disappointments to list. In 12 starts, five replacements went 2-7 with a 6.57 ERA. After being traded to the Sox last summer, Eovaldi went 3-3 with a 3.33 ERA over 12 games, 11 of which were starts. If he’s moved to the bullpen as Cora intends, the Red Sox will continue to have a gaping hole in their rotation, or at best, knuckleballer and DV-suspendee and PEDs-suspendee Steven Wright will attempt to fill the role. He’s ineligible for the postseason due to the performance-enhancing drugs suspension, and he’s also coming back from the same surgery that has sidelined Dustin Pedroia. My Magic 8-Ball says “Outlook not so good.”

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Photo: Google

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