Coming into 2015, we knew the Red Sox would have some issues with their pitching, but few people expected things to go this poorly on the mound.
Coming into this season, the biggest question the Boston Red Sox had concerning their team was the starting rotation. Boston had made a number of moves to overhaul the entire team and was putting out three brand new starters in Rick Porcello, Wade Miley and Justin Masterson, who had been with the team in the past. The three joined Joe Kelly, who was acquired at the trade deadline last year, and Clay Buchholz to form the rotation. While these were all short term deals, with the exception of Porcello, whom we’ll get to later, the Red Sox spent the majority of their money on offensive replacements. While the offense is performing to the level they expected, the pitching has been one of the worst in the majors this year.
Going into Tuesday night’s 11-8 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, the Red Sox starting pitchers had the worst ERA in the majors at 5.84. Believe it or not, the staff that is full of contact and ground ball pitchers actually is fourth in the major league in strikeouts. One area where the team has struggled the most in is with runners in scoring position and their stats are below:
The two starters that have looked the “best,” or at least most consistent, appear to be Joe Kelly and Rick Porcello. Kelly leads the team with a 4.94 ERA and is averaging seven strikeouts a start. Kelly is the only starter to not surrender six or more runs in a start, and that’s just sad when that is a sign of a team’s best pitcher. While this won’t give Kelly the Cy Young he promised at the start of the season, he is giving the Red Sox the best chance to win in his start. Kelly is the only player on the team who has dealt with an injury and spent the beginning of the season on the DL, so maybe he is still not at 100 percent.
Looking at the Red Sox starters, there is no easy solution to figure out why they are underperforming. Some of the pitchers appear to be mentally weak while other ones have physical questions about their ability. The “ace” of the Red Sox was supposed to be Clay Buchholz, who has shown some great talent over the past couple of seasons but struggled to stay healthy. After an impressive Opening Day start against the Philadelphia Phillies, Buchholz has lost three of his last four starts and in two of them, including last night’s, hasn’t made it past the third inning. The problem with Buchholz though is that he tends to crumble when things don’t go his way. He is quick to give up and while he can have ace talent, he doesn’t have the ace mindset.
In Porcello’s start where he surrendered eight runs, the fault of that can be put on manager John Farrell. The game was 5-3 Baltimore and after five decent innings, in which he threw 96 pitches, Farrell put him out for the top of the sixth and the game got away from him quickly. Other than that, Porcello has been decent as he has pitched the most innings on the team, so he is going the deepest and that is what the Red Sox need as their bullpen needs a good break to rest up.
The less that can be said about Wade Miley, the better. Miley has been the worst starter on the team with his 8.91 ERA, and hasn’t made it out of the third inning in two of his four starts this season. In those other two starts, he hasn’t made it through six innings and he has walked more batters than he has strikeouts. At times, Miley has looked completely lost and it makes one wonder what Boston saw in him to not only trade two young starters for him, but to guarantee him for three more seasons. Yes, he has one of the best pick-off moves in the Majors, but unless he’s picking off two to three runners a game, that won’t help him much.
The only starter who appears to not melt down when he gets into trouble thus far is Masterson, who just so happens to have the least dynamic stuff on the team. He just needs to work on being a little more consistent around the strike zone and not walk as many batters. Masterson appears to be the only pitcher with the ace mentality, just not the talent to back it up.
What makes the starting pitching so frustrating is that often times they are given a decent sized lead which should in theory make their job easier. Not only have the pitchers struggled at keeping leads, but they usually give up runs right after the Red Sox offense gives them a lead. It is a shame because while no lead is safe from the Red Sox bats, no lead is safe for the Red Sox pitchers, either. The thing that should scare Boston more than the pitching lines right now is the fact that they are going to have these pitchers for another couple of seasons.
By my count, that's the 13th time in 33 chances that Red Sox starting pitchers have allowed runs immediately after Boston scored.
— John Tomase (@jtomase) April 28, 2015
General manager Ben Cherrington will be facing some tough criticism seeing as he has already extended two of his pitchers. Wade Miley signed a three year extension worth $19.25 million. This was a little surprising seeing as some pitchers struggle when going from the National league to the American League. Especially when he went from a weak hitting division in the NL West to a great hitting one in the AL East. The biggest surprise came when they signed Rick Porcello to a four-year, $82.5 million extension before he threw a pitch in a Red Sox uniform. They are paying him ace money and he is not performing like it with his 6.48 ERA. Kelly is under contract for three more years in which he will be in arbitration, and Buchholz has two option years.
Many people now feel that the only way the Red Sox can be a viable team right now is if they go out and trade for a big name starter like Cole Hamels, Jordan Zimmermann or Johnny Cueto. While they certainly could use some help, this would not fix the problem. All this would mean is that the Red Sox would have a good shot at winning one every five games, but the other four would be question marks. The Red Sox would need at least two proven starters, which would most likely strip the farm system which they worked so hard to build up and is rated as one of the best in the majors. Also, they wouldn’t want to give up center fielder Mookie Betts or catching prospect Blake Swihart because that would fix one problem, but create another.
It is important to remember that the season is still early and when the weather starts to warm up, their pitches will move more. Of course this means that if the balls are hit they will carry more so they have to be sure that they are spot on. This could help these Boston pitchers miss more bats and get out of more jams. For now, it looks like Boston will stick with the rotation they have unless the asking price for some of the top pitchers on the trade market start to come down a little. It is possible that the Red Sox could call someone up like Brian Johnson (3-1 with a 0.86 ERA and 24 strikeouts for Triple-A Pawtucket) to make a spot start and give the rotation and the bullpen a break. Until then though, Red Sox fans should get ready for a turbulent ride full of uncertainty and frustration.