Welcome to BP Boston’s Roster Recap series! Over the next four months, we’ll be breaking down every player on Boston’s 40-man roster and many of their top prospects in order to provide a comprehensive overview of the Red Sox roster’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as what we can expect moving forward. There’s no better time than the offseason to review the best (there was some best!) and worst (there was a lot of worst!) of the past year in red and navy. You can see previous editions of Roster Recap here.
Acquired from the Rangers in January for one-time top-100 prospect Anthony Ranaudo, Robbie Ross cemented a place in the middle of Boston’s bullpen in 2015. There’s nothing exceptional about him—he owns a low-90s fastball and a 104 career cFIP—but he bounced back nicely from an ugly 2014 campaign and he gets righties and lefties out with equal effectiveness. All told, he’s durable enough to serve as a longman and good enough to take on the occasional high-leverage situation without making you change the channel. For the 2015 Red Sox, he qualified as a bright spot.
What Went Right in 2015
Ross avoided the starting rotation, a gig he probably isn’t cut out for. The Rangers tried him in the rotation at the start of 2014 and, after three solid starts, Ross posted a 7.76 ERA over his next five tries. The Rangers promptly shipped him back to the ‘pen, save for three starts later in the season, and the results immediately . . . well, they stunk too, as Ross racked up an even uglier 7.85 ERA and 1.50 K:BB ratio in 18 and 1/3 innings of relief work.
The Red Sox aren’t a team to get hung up on small-sample performance, so they gambled that Ross would turn it around given another 50 or 60 innings back in the ‘pen. They were mostly right: last season both Ross’ BABIP (.351 to .296) and his LOB percentage (58.9 percent to 74.8 percent) returned to the land of normalcy, and his ERA also took a sharp turn in the right direction, down from 6.20 to 3.86.
But Ross’ 2015 was due to more than just positive regression; he also regained a couple ticks in velocity (Brooks Baseball):
|Year||Fourseam (mph)||Slider (mph)|
In 2014, Ross’ fastball velocity was predictably down as a starter, but it remained similarly low even after he switched back to relieving. In fact, out of his 17 relief appearances in ’14, Ross posted an average fastball velocity of under 92 mph in 71 percent of them. Flash forward to 2015 and that number dipped to 3.3 percent while his average heater reached 94 mph in September. The jump in velocity also helped Ross’ offspeed stuff, as his slider induced ground balls at a 72.2 percent clip and his slider and curve combined to allow a total of six extra-base hits in 364 pitches.
What Went Wrong in 2015
Despite the return to form, Ross remains a store brand variety middle reliever—he’s fine and all, but if you’ve got a few spare bucks lying around, you’d rather splurge for the Cheerios. Last season, among pitchers with at least 30 innings, both Ross’ DRA and cFIP ranked right around 200th in the majors (out of 439 pitchers), and that includes starters.
And while his ability to handle righties with some effectiveness makes him more than your typical LOOGY, his struggles—given his handedness—against lefties makes him someone you don’t necessarily trust against Chris Davis in a late-and-close situation.
Beyond that, though, there really wasn’t much that went wrong in 2015. You’d like a few less home runs and a few more strikeouts, but 2015 Robbie Ross is probably a decent representation of who this guy is. And gosh darnit, Great Value Toasted Whole-Grain Oats ain’t bad.
Outlook for 2016
Ross apparently entered once too often in the eighth inning of a one-run game last season, so the Red Sox doubled down on relief pitchers this offseason, acquiring Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith and effectively banishing Ross to a role more suited to a reliever of his ilk.
Suddenly the bullpen’s a crowded place, with Kimbrel and Smith joining Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa as late inning options while a group of southpaws like Tommy Layne, Roenis Elias and Ross left to sort themselves out for lower-leverage work. If all goes as planned, Ross should find himself in a less prominent bullpen slot in 2016, and that’s a good thing for all parties involved.
Photo by Rick Ostentoski/USA Today Sports Images