Every now and again on this website, we reference a hypothetical bus that ferries players between Boston and Pawtucket. It might be real, who knows! But the point of it is to explain the revolving doors that are the last couple roster spots on the 25-man — they’re usually switched out tens of times over the course of the regular season, usually for bench help or low-leverage relievers from Triple-A. Sometimes, guys are better used as filler for injuries or when you need a 26th man for those pesky doubleheaders.
Ben Taylor, however, looked like he’d avoid having a permanent seat on that bus. At the beginning of the year, Taylor made the Opening Day roster after a solid run in the Grapefruit League. He avoided having to stay in Portland and went straight to the majors. That’s pretty good!
That stint on the roster lasted until April 13th, when Robbie Ross recovered from having the flu. Then he was recalled on April 17th — and subsequently sent back down that same day. Taylor was again recalled on the 28th, and lasted a whole m0nth until being sent back to Pawtucket on May 28th. On July 19th, Taylor saw the majors yet again, but went down with an oblique strain and be placed on the 10-day disabled list on the 26th. The Red Sox activated him from that list on August 30th and immediately sent him to Pawtucket, only to be added when the rosters expanded the next day. That’s less a roller coaster and more a sine graph.
Now back to that hypothetical bus. There’s a seat on it, probably in the first few rows, right next to a window. It’s a little worn down, and the seat cushion is probably a little compressed. The seat next to it is relatively cleaner, as it mostly had a sport bag on it. Both have that generic grey-with-random-shapes pattern on it that you see in nearly every bus. At this point, you may be wondering, “why is this hack author describing a damn seat on a imaginary bus?”
Because that was Ben Taylor’s seat. And it very well still could be in 2018.
What Went Right
Taylor and his 95 mph heater joined the reliever corps on Opening Day, which nearly made the whole unit alike in that everyone in that group seemingly had a fastball that touched 95+ consistently. If anything, a fastball with that velocity is going to do some work for you, even if the rest of your repertoire is a work in progress. He did end up striking out 22.5 percent of the batters he faced in the majors, and even notched his first career save when a game in St. Louis lasted until the 13th inning.
Taylor got a save and struck out a fair few batters along the way. Can’t ask for much more from a guy who just made the majors.
What Went Wrong
His control wasn’t all there. Granted, it’s not something we should’ve expected considering his stats in the minors, but a 11.2 percent walk rate is pretty awful. Taylor’s slider and changeup still need work, but only one really needs to pan out for him to be an effective reliever. That’s not too high of an expectation, and it’s certainly possible he can be helpful — the issue is his control might not be good enough to make that matter. His 7.9 percent whiff rate is also concerning for a guy with a strikeout rate like the one he has, since it’s below average and means that he’s getting help from called strikes instead of getting more of the swinging variety. He did only throw 17.1 innings in the majors, so sound the small sample size klaxon, but it’s a bit of a red flag.
But the more obvious mark on his 2017 is that Taylor got lit up. Three homers in that 17.1-inning span sure makes your rates look terrible, and a 5.19 ERA with a 4.89 FIP qualify as such. He induced very little soft contact — only on 7.5 percent of all contact made — and nearly half his batted balls were fly balls. Combine that with the highest contact rate of all Red Sox relievers with 10 or more innings pitched (83.2 percent), and we’ve got batting practice. Fenway Park isn’t the place to be if that’s your thing.
What To Expect
Keep that bus seat warm. Taylor will need it.
Photo by Kirby Lee — USA TODAY Sports