Henry Owens

Rebuilidng the Red Sox: Southpaws Up North

Even before acquiring David Price, the Red Sox’s starting pitching depth chart was a little different than usual. On one side, the team had Wade Miley, Eduardo Rodriguez, Henry Owens, and Brian Johnson. On the other, it was Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, and Joe Kelly. As you can probably tell, each side refers to the arm with which the player pitches: there were four left-handed candidates for the rotation compared to just three righties.

Of course, as we all know by now, Price was added to the mix as the team’s undisputed ace, and Miley was shipped off to Seattle (with Jonathan Aro) for Carson Smith and Roenis Elias. While the offseason isn’t nearly over (all I want for Christmas is you), the team now has this as what I’d consider their most-likely rotation lineup:

  1. David Price (L)
  2. Clay Buchholz (R)
  3. Eduardo Rodriguez (L)
  4. Rick Porcello (R)
  5. Henry Owens (L) or Joe Kelly (R)
  6. Joe Kelly (R) or Henry Owens (L)
  7. Roenis Elias (L)
  8. Brian Johnson (L)

That’s a whole lot of “(L)”s. The first four rotation slots seem to be stone-cold locks, but the fifth spot is still up for grabs. Will it be 2016 Cy Young favorite (at least in his own mind) Joe Kelly, or will his great stuff play up in the bullpen? Will it be the highest-upside arm of the bunch in Henry Owens? Maybe Elias or Johnson breaks through at the last minute with a strong showing in Spring Training? There’s no wrong answer here.*

In truth, I wouldn’t be surprised if both Kelly AND Owens spend the bulk of the season in Boston’s rotation, as Clay Buchholz is fashioned from paper-thin glass and dreams; he is as likely to break as the priceless, wobbling vase on the mantel during a house party.

At any rate, there’s a significant chance that the Sox feature a starting rotation where three or more left-handed starting pitchers post over 100 innings. And that’s kind of a rarity.

First, if this were the case — that the Sox were going to punch out a rotation that featured Price, Rodriguez, and Owens for 100 innings or so each — it would be the first time the team leaned on such a lefty-heavy rotation since 1973. Back then, Bill Lee was the team’s workhorse and ace. John Curtis and Roger Moret filled the No. 3 and No. 5 roles in the team’s rotation, with Moret splitting time between the rotation and the ‘pen.

There really haven’t been too many teams that have rolled with the lefty-heavy rotation in recent years either. I was able to count 11 seasons in the past five years where a team ran three southpaw starters out for more than 100 innings. Most of them are in the table below.

Year Team Lefty 1 Lefty 2 Lefty 3
2011 Blue Jays Ricky Romero Brett Cecil Jo-Jo Reyes
2011 Royals Bruce Chen Jeff Francis Danny Duffy
2011 Rangers C.J. Wilson Derek Holland Matt Harrison
2013 Dodgers Clayton Kershaw Hyun-Jin Ryu Chris Capuano
2013 Diamondbacks Wade Miley Joe Saunders Patrick Corbin
2014 Rockies Jorge De La Rosa Franklin Morales Tyler Matzek
2014 Angels C.J. Wilson Hector Santiago Tyler Skaggs
2015 Angels C.J. Wilson Hector Santiago Andrew Heaney

Then there is the other pair of Sox, the White Sox — they actually ran four lefties out most times through the rotation last year, making them kind of a supreme outlier. Moreover, their southpaws seem to be by design: stars like Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, supplemented by the veteran John Danks and the young Carlos Rodon. The South Siders had three or four south-side starters in ‘13 and ‘14 as well (Sale, Quintana, Danks, and Hector Santiago). While you need to count on two hands how many things went wrong for the Pale Hose last season, their particular brand of left-handed rotation depth looks like an asset going forward.

But here’s my real question: is it better to have a left-handed rotation, if all other things were the same?

In 2015, non-pitcher hitters posted a line of .258/.321/.412 across the league. Against lefties, hitters posted a .258/.323/.405 line … just a hair more OBP and a whiff less slugging percentage. So, from a cursory glance, it looks as if running more lefties in the rotation will get you about the same place as running a balanced or a righty-heavy rotation — it’s just not that big of a difference.

From a cursory glance, it looks as if running more lefties in the rotation will get you about the same place as running a balanced or a righty-heavy rotation — it’s just not that big of a difference.

No, what matters is having the *right* pitchers in the rotation, not which hand they throw with. Sure, there will be matchup situations where having a left-handed pitcher (or three) in the rotation might be advantageous — the Blue Jays of last year feasted on left-handed starters, while the Orioles were well worse against them — but overall having a host of lefties is a quirk, not a downer or a major win.

The Sox will likely feature a starting rotation that hasn’t been mimicked in Boston in over 40 years, fronted by the AL’s best southpaw, and featuring one, two, or three young lefties who could learn from the master. Good, bad, or indifferent, the 2016 rotation could very well look dissimilar from anything Sox fans have seen in a while.

(* – I lied. The wrong answer is Joe Kelly. Please move him to the bullpen where he can be the fifth head of the Red Sox’s relief hydra of doom.)

Photo by Evan Habeeb/USA Today Sports Images

Related Articles

3 comments on “Rebuilidng the Red Sox: Southpaws Up North”

1982-1983 Bruce Hurst; Bobby Ojeda; John Tudor

Bryan Grosnick

Well, that’s frustrating. Don’t know how I missed ’83 (in ’82 Ojeda didn’t pitch enough innings). Thanks for the correction.

Walt in Maryland

I think there’s a chance the Red Sox bring in another veteran starting pitcher, once the free agent dust clears somewhat.

Leave a comment

Use your Baseball Prospectus username