Last week we looked at how the Red Sox offense stacked up against that of the New York Yankees. There have been articles written about this, and everyone seems to come up with something slightly different. I gave the Red Sox a slight advantage, but your mileage may vary. And that’s fine. The point is the two teams are likely to be pretty close, offensively speaking. That’s only part of the story when it comes to a baseball team though. Pitching is also pretty important, so that’s what we’ll look at this week.
I’m going by the rotations as listed on Roster Resource, which of course may change during spring training. As for the order, I’ve organized them by their WARP projections.
- Chris Sale (6.1)
- David Price (2.1)
- Drew Pomeranz (2.1)
- Rick Porcello (1.2)
- Eduardo Rodriguez (1.2)
(12.7 total WARP)
- Luis Severino (4.1)
- Sonny Gray (2.5)
- Masahiro Tanaka (2.4)
- Jordan Montgomery (1.0)
- CC Sabathia (0.6)
(10.6 total WARP)
Not unlike the two team’s lineups, their rotations aren’t too far apart in overall talent. Perhaps the Red Sox enjoy a bit more at the top of the rotation, whereas the Yankees have more overall depth. But the end result is roughly the same, as you can see from their respective WARP totals.
Is Luis Severino as good as Chris Sale? No, probably not, but he’s not wholly far off. Sale is the best player of either group and the one who the Red Sox hope can put them over the top, both during the regular season and in the playoffs. Severino has the potential to be that guy for the Yankees. Still, the advantage is with Sale.
The thing about PECOTA and really all projection systems is its innate pessimism. It’s not really even pessimism though because players get hurt all the time and age gets everyone at some point and then there’s the guys who just have bad seasons because of who knows what. That all said, it’s not difficult to expect more than PECOTA projects from a few guys on each team, and not coincidentally the two I’d expect more from are the same guys I’d point to when discussing the most pivotal pitchers of the rotation. That would be Price for the Red Sox and Gray for the Yankees. Both have been top pitchers before, as recently as 2016. In Gray’s four seasons he’s been above 4 WARP in three of them including last season, so his 2.5 projection seems a tad short. But there it is just the same.
Price likely has a similar issue to Gray, namely injuries. Price spent a significant number of days on the DL last season, the first time he did that in his career. The result was a one-win season after averaging six wins per over the three seasons before that. Still, the Red Sox are depending on Price this season in a way that I’m not sure fans have fully grasped. If Price gives the team 75 innings of 4.50 run ball and then exits stage left, the Red Sox are going to need a lot of quality innings from Steven Wright and/or Brian Johnson. To paraphrase the words of a former Yankee manager, that’s not what you want.
But if Price is healthy, he’s Boston’s second ace, and he changes the completion of the team completely. The same thing could be said for Gray, whose reputation took a hit during an injured and ineffective 2016 season. Peak Gray probably isn’t the equal of peak Price, though it seems that Gray reaching his previous heights is the more likely possibility of the two (though as of this writing both claim to be fully healthy).
Past the top two guys, the Yankees need Tanaka’s arm to remain attached to his shoulder, possibly a difficult ask considering his previous medical history. If he’s healthy though, a caveat that should probably be applied to all pitchers, Tanaka offers what any team would look for in a third starter: namely quality and dependability. The Red Sox are more on the first of those attributes and less on the second with their third starters (yes, two) in Pomeranz and Porcello. Porcello can’t be as bad as he was last season (can he?), but he’s probably not going to win another Cy Young either. As such, sure, two wins seems perfectly adequate, even if you maybe would hope for more given his $20 million salary. Pomeranz is hitting his stride as a starter after a late start to his career, but he’s always been on the fragile side. Together they’re probably in the five-win range, which is what the Yankees will likely get out of the combination of Gray and Tanaka.
The back end of the Yankees rotation is C.C. Sabathia and Jordan Montgomery, both of who had stronger seasons in 2017 than you’d have guessed given their respective ages and, in Sabathia’s case, everything else about him. And yet here he is again. Note that PECOTA is as unimpressed with him as you are. The Red Sox back end features the aforementioned Wright and Johnson unless, and this is the key, Eduardo Rodriguez gets healthy. Say what you will about Montgomery, but the Yankees don’t have a pitcher of Rodriguez’s quality in the back half of their rotation. If Rodriguez comes back healthy with no knee troubles, he gives the Sox rotation depth few teams can match.
If there is one place where New York has a step on Boston, it’s in previous injuries. Why are they important? A wise person once said the greatest predictor of future pitcher injuries is past pitcher injuries. With that as a background, the Red Sox are at greater risk with Price, Rodriguez, and deeper down, Wright and Johnson all having missed significant time in recent seasons. Only Gray fits that description with the Yankees (though Sabathia has pitched through injuries, he’s not particularly injury prone).
Predicting what will happen with bullpens is the greatest of impossibilities, like jumping across the country using only trampolines, or drinking an entire bottle of Gatorade without your tongue jumping from your mouth and running screaming down the street. The Red Sox have one of the two or three best relievers in baseball in Craig Kimbrel. That’s a good start. After that, they could have a very deep pen with Carson Smith and Tyler Thornburg splitting eighth inning duties and Matt Barnes and Joe Kelly covering the sixth and seventh. Or all those guys could spontaneously explode like Spinal Tap drummers.
Like the rotations, the Red Sox have that one top guy, but the Yankees have quality and more depth in their pen. And yet, Aroldis Chapman wasn’t so hot last season, and Dellin Betances wasn’t either. Both were fine overall, and very good at times, but showed real moments of shakiness. Tommy Kahnle was less than spectacular after putting up an amazing first half in Chicago, and David Robertson was good, but not amazing either. Still, those guys have track records of (mostly) excellence, so few are likely to flame out. It could easily turn into the Craig Kimbrel And That’s It Show in Boston, whereas the Yankees have too much depth and not enough Craig Kimbrel for that to occur to them.
Where things stand now, the Red Sox have a slight advantage in the rotation, but when you factor in the bullpens, that lead dwindles. Like their offenses, and like the teams of 2003 and 2004, picking which one is truly better is likely a fool’s errand (thus these articles). We never know what will happen over the course of a baseball season, but often times we kinda know, right? Here I legitimately have no idea. Except to say this: even after 162 games it’ll probably be quite close.
Also, the Houston Astros are better than both teams.
Photo by Noah K. Murray — USA TODAY Sports