Read Sox: The Playoff Rotation, Hanley’s Hot Streak and Ortiz’s Greatness

Welcome back to Read Sox. This week we consider how the Red Sox should fill out their playoff rotation, Hanley Ramirez’s return to offensive prowess and clubhouse leadership. Then we look at how Rick Porcello’s contract might be a bargain, the turnaround of the bullpen with the return of Koji Uehara, David Ortiz’s and Mookie Betts’ chances for an MVP and Robby Scott’s emergence as the team’s LOOGY.

Going Deep

The Red Sox are in good standing within the American League East; Baseball Prospectus has their probability of winning the division at 94.6%. So it is a pretty safe bet they will be playing in one of the two AL Division Series which means we can start considering how to align the starting rotation for that series. Given that the series is only five games played over seven nights, a rotation of three guys will work. David Price pitches Games 1 and 4,* while Rick Porcello throws Games 2 and 5 (or reverse those two names). So who throws Game 3? The candidates are Eduardo Rodriguez, Drew Pomeranz and Clay Buchholz. Two lefties and a righty. Here are their likely opponents wRC+ splits:

























Man, it would be nice to play that luck-filled, below average Rangers’ offense. Other than the Rangers and Blue Jays, it appears as though the best option is to use one of the two lefty options – this is especially true if the Orioles are the opponent. While Pomeranz (3.40 ERA, 3.25 DRA) has had a better season than Rodriguez (4.84 ERA, 5.96 DRA), he has struggled lately, which Ian Browne of MLB.com suggests is due to fatigue. With this considered, perhaps riding the recently effective (and not fatigued) Rodriguez (3.18 ERA, 17/5 K/BB in September) is the better course of action.

Using Rodriguez in the rotation for the ALDS moves Pomeranz and Buchholz to the bullpen to relieve and wait for a chance to start in the ALCS should the team get that far. Buchholz has been shuffled all over the place this season and was all but written off around the trade deadline. Since then he has relieved and started effectively, and looks ahead to an opportunity to be relied upon to close out a division championship and take the ball in a potentially pivotal ALCS game. He recently spoke with David Laurila of FanGraphs about this issue as part of larger discussion on the need to be constantly adjusting over his career.

The pitching will garner a lot of our attention (for example, I just broke down the splits of potential opponents to determine the rotation two weeks ahead of that being necessary) and will likely be blamed for any team flameout. But really if the Red Sox are going to make a deep run in the playoffs this year their offense will need to carry them.

An important part of that Red Sox offense is Hanley Ramirez, who, in 2016, has emerged as the force that we expected when he signed with the team prior to last season. In the last 30 days, Hanley has been a man on fire, posting a .340/.405/.728 slashline with 12 home runs. On the season his line is up to .293/.363/.515 (.281 TAv, 129 wRC+). To put that in a perspective relevant to Red Sox fans: in 2015 his on-base percentage was .291, two points worse than his current batting average. Simply put, Hanley has been a force in the middle of the order. Alex Speier of The Boston Globe has more details on Hanley’s one-year transformation from a relatively easy out with little power, to a difficult out with frightening power.

Stories of positive clubhouse chemistry and player character tend to go hand-in-hand with a team’s results. When a team is winning, they have a strong chemistry. When a player is performing well, they are engaged and a leader in the clubhouse. Which thing comes first – winning or chemistry/character/leadership – remains to be demonstrated cleanly, so reading too much into these common narratives should be done with caution. Hanley Ramirez is often a strong example of this sort of story. When things are good, Hanley is a leader who has put his malcontent ways behind him (example, another example). So perhaps Michael Silverman’s article in the Boston Herald suggesting that Hanley has taken a leadership role on the 2016 Red Sox should not be surprising given Hanley’s (and the team’s) performance this year. Regardless of if Hanley’s clubhouse approach changed before the season or once things started rolling well for him, his presence as a veteran is an interesting, albeit peripheral, aspect to consider, especially given the article’s focus on his relationship with Yoan Moncada. Ideally Hanley just keeps hitting rockets all over the field and is, in turn, a positive influence on the younger players for the remainder of his Red Sox tenure.

Quick Hits

Much like Hanley Ramirez, Rick Porcello was a much maligned aspect of the 2015 Red Sox. His contract extension was questioned and likely contributed to Ben Cherington’s ouster. But this year Porcello is demonstrating his worth. His ERA is down almost two runs (4.92 to 3.08), with corresponding drops in FIP (4.13 to 3.44) and DRA (4.14 to 3.44). In light of Porcello’s 2016 performance, Alex Speier wonders what Porcello would be worth if he hit the free agent market now. All things considered, it now seems reasonable to view the extension Porcello signed with the Red Sox as a bargain. What a difference a year can make.

There was a time in the not too distant past that the Red Sox’s bullpen looked as though it would be the team’s undoing. However, lately that outlook has changed entirely and now the ‘pen appears to be a strength. Jen McCaffrey of MassLive notes that the relief group is rested and deep and ready for a postseason run. Tim Britton of The Providence Journal outlines a similar sentiment and suggests that the key to the bullpen’s about-face might be the return of Koji Uehara, who has resumed his eighth inning role with great success. What a difference a few weeks can make.

The Red Sox have players in the mix in a few of the end-of-year award categories, the foremost being American League MVP. While Mike Trout leads the universe in all forms of wins-above-replacement, voters will not necessarily perform a sort-by-WAR before filling out their MVP ballots. This means Mookie Betts, who has the second most WAR in the AL according to all three major forms of the measurement, has a chance to win. He is on a winning team, has 200+ hits, has 30+ HR and 100+ RBI, etc.. Yet, Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe suggests that Mookie may not even be the clear choice for the award on the Red Sox, as David Ortiz’s incredible final season deserves recognition.

Let’s take another moment to appreciate David Ortiz. Through Tuesday’s games here are Big Papi’s 2016 numbers and where they rank all-time among seasons by a 40+ year old (courtesy of Baseball-Reference):

2016 Total























He is putting on an awesome show. Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald recaps Ortiz’s recent meeting with the media in which he reflected on his career, his teammates, the 2016 Red Sox’s playoff chances, and the the possibility of being enshrined in Cooperstown.

A significant part of Mookie Betts’ MVP resume is his stellar defense in right field. A month ago in this Read Sox series I detailed how important the improved Red Sox defense has been to their success this season, specifically highlighting stories on Mookie’s arm. This time around we can appreciate his range. Deesha Thosar at MLB.com examines, with the help of Statcast, two awesome catches that Mookie made against the Yankees.

The Red Sox’s lone trade deadline acquisition was LOOGY Fernando Abad but he has been… well you’ve probably seen Ben Carsley’s article on the foreshadowing that exists in reliever last names. Abad’s performance has left open the role of LOOGY and 27-year old Robby Scott has made the most of his opportunities to assume it. Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald outlines Scott’s long road to the major leagues and appreciation of all that came along the way. Scott has an excellent chance to add to his story with some high leverage moments in the postseason.

Three Good Game Stories

On Tuesday night, Eduardo Rodriguez was good-Eduardo and the offense managed to get things going off Kevin Gausman in a way they were unable to a week ago. The win made it six straight for the Sox and pushed their division lead over the O’s to five games with 11 to play. In his game story, Rob Bradford of WEEI.com writes that Rodriguez made a strong case to be the No. 3 starter for the team going forward. Hopefully he carries Tuesday’s result into his next start.

On Sunday, the Red Sox effectively ended the Yankees’ chances at a playoff spot this season, as they finished off the four-game series sweep. It was the first time the Red Sox swept a four-game series against the Yankees since 1990. Chris Mason of the Boston Herald has more on the hero of the night, Hanley Ramirez, who hit two home runs and earned a curtain call from the Fenway faithful.

Last Thursday the Red Sox got arguably their best win of the season when they rallied for five runs in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Yankees. Hanley Ramirez was the hero again, sending a 99mph Dellin Betances fastball to the moon for a walk-off homer. Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe details how exciting the win was for the young players on the team who are experiencing a playoff run for the first time in their careers.

Photo by Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports Images

Related Articles

Leave a comment

Use your Baseball Prospectus username