The Red Sox have found a playoff-caliber rotation

Welcome to Friday, it’s party night! We’re going to start by playing Spin The Bottle. This is a bit different than the version of the game you probably know. This is Picking-Who-Starts-The-One-Game-Playoff-Game-From-The-List-Of-2016-Red-Sox-Starters Spin The Bottle.

Sounds awful? Excellent. Let’s dig in! We’ll lay out this list of every starter the Red Sox used this season and now Spin! Oh, I’m sorry, you got Roenis Elias. Hope you enjoyed your season!

The silly thing is Boston wasn’t really ever that far from something that disastrous. The Red Sox offense, yesterday notwithstanding, has been lapping the field, enough to keep the team in playoff contention despite less-than-stellar starters for most of the season. There was Ellias and his reversed strikeout-to-walk ratio, Sean O’Sullivan and the imaginary leprechaun outfit he always wore in my head, Joe Kelly and his [finger quotes] great stuff.

Every team has sixth, seventh and eighth starters who match those descriptions. But the Red Sox’s problem wasn’t Kelly, or O’Sullivan; it was the guys in front of them who were pitching like Kelly and O’Sullivan. Clay Buchholz was expected to be the number two, but was so atrocious he was kicked out of the rotation. Eduardo Rodriguez was supposed to be the future number two, but got hurt and was so bad when he returned that he was sent to the minors. Heck, David Price didn’t post a sub-4.00 ERA in any month of the season until July! The rotation, which was supposed to be, if not a strength, then not a weakness, reached a point where Boston was depending on the Kelly’s and O’Sullivans of the world just to make it through the week.

Through the first half of the season, Red Sox starters posted a 4.72 ERA collectively, and it would have been much worse if Steven Wright hadn’t stepped into the rotation and saved everyone’s bacon as much as one starter can. He’s a bacon saver, that Steven Wright!

Maybe the strangest thing about the baseball season is how things change. We never seem to see it coming either. One month the rotation is just terrible, the next it’s the strength of the team. Happens every year.

Look at last season’s Tigers. They put up the second best OPS by any team in baseball in the first half. Well, they have a good offense so wipe your hands and move on, right? No, because they’re an example, so you know there’s a catch. Here it is: They fell apart in the second half, putting up the 20th best OPS in baseball. Yes, OPS isn’t a great stat, I know, I know, but it proves the overall point, which is, things change. The Tigers offense was good. Then it wasn’t. These things happen over the course of the summer, and often we don’t see them coming.

That happened this year to your Red Sox. In fact, it happened just this past month. Red Sox starters put up the 11th worst ERA in baseball in the first half of this season. In the second half? They’re fourth best in baseball. Crazy, right? It is! Consider all these things:

  1. David Price’s pitching has started to reflect the peripheral stats we’ve been talking about here at BP Boston since the beginning of the season. The strange thing is, Price’s peripherals in the second half of the season look like they belong to the ERA he posted in the first half! Is he pitching better now? Yes? Maybe? No?

  2. Eduardo Rodriguez couldn’t get an out. He gave up nine runs to the Rays in 2.2 innings! Since coming back from the minors, he’s given up, in order, 1, 2, 3, 1, 3, 1 and zero runs.

  3. Clay Buchholz was in the same boat. He’d start pitching, and the ball would just get crushed. Now he can get major league pitchers out. What? How?

  4. They added Drew Pomerantz and other than his first start, he’s been excellent.

I don’t want to throw a bunch of exclamation points and question marks at you, drop hashtag #analysis at your feet, and then go home, but small bits of baseball can be impossible to use to analyze future events. David Price wasn’t good for two months, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be bad the two months after that. It also doesn’t mean he won’t either.

There are always reasons behind things, reasons that explain why something happened. Maybe Price mislocated that crucial fastball with men on base, or Eddie hung a slider. The question isn’t “How did that happen?”, but “What does it tell us about the future?” It’s that question that can be almost impossible to answer.

At the start of the season the Red Sox were penciling in Price to start Game 1 in the playoffs. At the end of May, had the playoffs begun then, most fans (and I suspect some portion of the Red Sox themselves) would’ve started Steven Wright. Now, after his continued brilliance and in defiance of statements made to the contrary a year ago, many Sox fans would likely opt for Rick Porcello for Game 1. But after eight shutout innings against the Rays during his last start, maybe many would switch to David Price. We are back where we started.

Except we aren’t. The Red Sox began the season with a number of question marks in the rotation, from Buchholz to Rodriguez, Kelly to Porcello. Those questions have been answered. Porcello has been fantastic. Kelly is not only out of the rotation, he’s out of the majors. Buchholz and Rodriguez have held up the back end of the rotation, for now at least, and Wright is returning from the DL to give the pitching staff a boost.

To paraphrase a famous quotation, the Red Sox are who we thought they were. We thought we knew their rotation. It consisted of an ace, a strong number two, and some up-and-comers towards the back end. That’s what they have now. The names are different, but come playoff time, whether it’s Porcello, Price, Pomeranz, Rodriguez, or even Buchholz, the Red Sox have a strong group of starters waiting. Sure, it didn’t happen the way we all thought it would, but then that almost never happens. After all, this is baseball.

Related Articles

Leave a comment

Use your Baseball Prospectus username