Welcome back to Read Sox. This week we consider the impending logjam in the starting rotation, the return of Carson Smith to the bullpen, a review of the Red Sox after one month, Travis Shaw’s defense at third base, Xander Bogaerts’ team-leading performance to date, and Chili Davis’ magic in honing the team’s offensive approach.
The Red Sox have two starting pitchers, Eduardo Rodriguez and Joe Kelly, set to return from stints on the disabled list. Jason Mastrodonato of The Boston Herald notes that Rodriguez will make at least one more rehab start in the minor leagues, and could be given more time in the minors if he still has rust to shake off. When he and Kelly are set to return, they will necessitate a shuffling of the deck in the rotation.
David Price is keeping his spot. Price’s 6.14 ERA is ugly, but it is largely driven by uncharacteristically high BABIP (.362) and low left-on-base rate (57.3). His 2.88 FIP indicates he has been much better. Also, he is David Price. Clay Buchholz is maddeningly frustrating, but despite silly comparisons of him to John Danks, he has the ability to rip off a stretch of solid outings and should get the chance to do so. Rick Porcello seems to have sorted out his 2015 problems and while his 2.76 ERA is likely to rise, his 3.59 FIP is better than league average and a mark we will take.
That leaves two spots for Steven Wright, Henry Owens, Rodriguez and Kelly. While Wright throws an unpredictable pitch, making him difficult to project, he has pitched too well (1.67 ERA, 3.22 FIP) and too consistently (at least 6 innings per start with fewer than three runs each time) to demote. That, and he is out of options, so any demotion to the minor leagues comes with the risk of losing him to another club. Owens remains a work in progress, whose performance (seven walks in 9.1 innings) this season has not really convinced anyone he is ready for a spot in the big league rotation. Barring an injury in the interim, I think a rotation of Price, Buchholz, Porcello, Rodriguez and Wright will be best going forward. Ultimately, this sends Owens back to Pawtucket with Joe Kelly in tow. That is if the team remains determined to use Kelly as a starter. If not, they can (finally) convert him to a reliever, thereby adding another hard throwing option to the ‘pen.
Carson Smith, one of the Red Sox’s major offseason acquisitions, was activated from the disabled list on Tuesday night. Smith provides another weapon to use in high leverage spots and should help John Farrell distribute the workload more effectively. Smith throws from a sidearm/three-quarter arm slot that, as Tim Britton of The Providence Journal notes, is unique for a pitcher of Smith’s height. Smith’s low release point is something that can lead to a large platoon split, but his career split is fairly typical and, regardless, he gets both righties (.199 TAv) and lefties (.219 TAv) out at an excellent rate.
Having a weapon of Smith’s caliber looming might lead to a pattern of overuse, but Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald reports that John Farrell is aware of the need to ease Smith into things and that the team will likely carry an extra pitcher for a week or two to ensure they are covered. Once he is back to full strength, having Smith mixed in with Craig Kimbrel, Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa as the high-leverage group, Tommy Layne in a LOOGY role, and Robbie Ross Jr. and Matt Barnes (or Heath Hembree) as low-leverage guys, will make this bullpen formidable. Moreover, if the team wants to run an 8-man relief unit, then, as noted above, I can certainly find a spot out there for Joe Kelly.
The Red Sox closed out the month of April with a 14-10 record (+21 run differential), half a game behind the Orioles for top spot in the AL East. Ian Browne of MLB.com has an interesting look at the up-and-down month the team had last month. Digging in on a more granular level, Chad Finn of Boston.com evaluates each player on the roster, determining who has exceeded expectations, who has performed to expectations, and who has underwhelmed us thus far.
One player who Finn has in the exceeding expectations category is Travis Shaw. Amidst all of the Pablo Sandoval controversy, Shaw has hit in the middle of the lineup (.303 TAv) and has handled his defensive duties at third base admirably. Tim Britton of The Providence Journal notes that Shaw has worked hard on his defense at third base, specifically developing the ability to go to his backhand.
Through 26 games the Red Sox best player by wins above replacement player has been Xander Bogaerts. He is a rock at shortstop and has handled hitting at the top of the lineup well, maintaining a .300-plus batting average (.304), while increasing both his on-base (.372) and slugging (.431) percentages from his 2015 marks (.355/.421). Alex Speier of The Boston Globe provides more insight into the awesomeness that is Xander.
Prior to his strong outing on Wednesday night, Clay Buchholz has been miserable this season. In a rare moment of specificity, John Farrell commented on Buchholz’s need for improvement. Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald writes that Buchholz received his manager’s message and is working hard to be better, but wants to avoid putting too much pressure on himself, as that can lead to unintended negative outcomes.
The Red Sox offense has been a force thus far. They have generated the most runs in the American League (135) and as a group have posted the league’s second best TAv (.268) behind only the Tigers (.273). Tim Britton writes that hitting coach Chili Davis is owed a lot of the credit for the team’s excellent offensive performance through the first month of the schedule.
Three Good Game Stories
The Sox capped their series sweep over the Yankees with a thrilling comeback victory on Sunday night that featured Christian Vazquez homering off of Dellin Betances. Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe has more on the game and Vazquez’s big hit.
Steven Wright had another solid start on Tuesday night, but the bullpen faltered and the offense could not solve Jose Quintana, as the Red Sox fell to the White Sox in Chicago. Peter Abraham outlines how a tip from David Price after the first inning helped Wright regain his release point.
Jason Mastrodonato notes that a shuffled lineup worked well for the Red Sox in their 5-2 win over the White Sox on Wednesday night. David Ortiz hit the 509th home run of his career, Xander Bogaerts got on base four times, and Clay Buchholz quieted, at least temporarily, the calls for his demotion.
Photo by Mike Dinovo/USA Today Sports Images