Back in May, I argued in these very pages that Drew Pomeranz was going to be a key member of the Boston Red Sox rotation, despite an ERA that looked more than a little twisted at the time.
My faith was repaid in full. Since mid-May, Pomeranz’s ERA has come down by nearly two runs. He’s not quite at last season’s pace-setting performance, but he’s close. Pomeranz is a big reason why the Red Sox have been able to weather the storm amid David Price’s injuries and on-field struggles. He’s the kind of guy the Sox will be happy to have in October.
Has anything changed in the last three months? Pomeranz is still struggling with control. Never a guy to be around the plate, Pomeranz’s called-strike probability now sits at 42.9 percent. Only 14 starters who have logged at least 70 innings this year have displayed worse control.
He compensates with decent command. According to Baseball Prospectus’ Called Strikes Above Average metric — which accounts for catcher, hitter and umpire effects to see how many more called strikes a pitcher can generate with their command than an average pitcher — Pomeranz is getting nearly one percent more called strikes than the average pitcher. That’s a top-40 mark in baseball among starters.
You can see the effects of his command in the evolving pitch mix since mid-May. Pomeranz was throwing his curveball 45 percent of the time. Since then, he has tossed it only a third of the time. He couldn’t get the pitch over for a strike, and while it generated a lot of whiffs, it also generated a lot of balls and deep counts. By commanding the fastball and being more selective with the curveball as a true out pitch, Pomeranz has trimmed his walk rate to manageable levels.
The home run rate looks eminently more reasonable. His xwOBA allowed on contact-only plays has dropped 36 points in kind. Pomeranz is giving up weaker contact now that he is forcing hitters to go after well placed fastballs on the corners. He has also mixed a cutter back into his arsenal, which can be an effective weak contact tool.
More importantly, Pomeranz just experienced some positive regression. Pomeranz’s Deserved Run Average in mid-May stood at 3.96. It now stands at 3.86. It has barely budged. Once adjusted for park effects, defense, catcher framing, and other important contextual factors, Pomeranz has basically been the same guy the whole season. He has altered his approach a bit, but he’s getting the same results once we isolate his actual contribution on the field.
Pomeranz still can’t get very deep into games, but now that the bullpen has been strengthened, a season where he logs 170 innings and is ready for multiple roles in the playoffs will suffice quite nicely. Unless you’re the Dodgers, you can’t count too many playoff-bound squads with a No. 4 starter who possesses Pomeranz’s skills. That has helped the Red Sox get to where they are now. It could help push them deep into October.
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