The Red Sox went with a rotation full of mid-tier talent, forgoing a typical ace this season. It may be their downfall.
The Boston Red Sox have found themselves in an unsteady situation pitching-wise with the season right around the corner. General manager Ben Cherington spent the offseason establishing a glut of starters in the hope that a few of them would emerge as leaders. So far, that hasn’t happened. Cherington went out and traded Yoenis Cespedes for Tigers’ right-hander Rick Porcello, signed the oft-injured Justin Masterson to a one-year deal, and traded a pair of pitching prospects for solid D-Backs southpaw Wade Miley. Those three have joined Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly this spring to form a rotation that has both Red Sox fans and experts worried.
Cherington attempted to round up a bunch of second-level starters instead of having one top-line pitcher and a few below-average ones. The problem with this strategy is that there is nobody to pitch in a big game — nobody the team can rally around. While I’m sure this approach is largely based on sabermetrics, the Red Sox front office needs to realize that the intangible aspects that a true ace brings to a team are immeasurable, but mostly beneficial. Buster Olney, for one, just doesn’t see enough on the mound to lead the Sox to success, saying, “Other teams are seeing real problems with the rotation.. I have real concerns about the Red Sox, I just don’t think they’re going to have enough pitching to win this division.”
Red Sox GM Ben Cherington may regret his no-ace approach
All have been inconsistent, and none have shown the capability to take the helm of the pitching staff. Joe Kelly has taken time off due to biceps soreness, and all except Porcello have been roughed up. Just yesterday, the day before Buchholz was named the Opening Day starter, he gave up 12 hits in five innings to the awful offense of the Atlanta Braves. In an 11-4 loss to the Phillies, (who the Sox will face to kick off the regular season) Masterson allowed six runs and seven hits in 3.1 innings. Miley followed him and surrendered four runs on six hits with three walks in four innings.
Porcello, whom manager John Farrell mystifyingly has in the #2 spot behind Buchholz, has been the lone quality performer this spring. He has a 2.70 ERA in three outings (10 innings) in which he has allowed four runs and struck out eight. Farrell liked the makeup of the veteran after his last start, saying “I thought overall he had very good stuff. He had strong definition of each of his pitches. His thought process is still a little ahead of his delivery, and that accounts for the high pitch count.’’ Still, Porcello just doesn’t have an ace makeup. He is a throw-to-contact pitcher who has a 52.1 percent career ground ball rate. Porcello is not a blow-you-away pitcher, and doesn’t completely shut down teams (he has only three shutouts over his entire four-year Major League career).
Porcello’s probably been the best Sox pitcher this spring, but is hardly an ace
Kelly, acquired from St. Louis last July with Allen Craig for John Lackey, has battled injuries all spring. He was scratched from his start today and sent to pitch in the Minor League game, giving knuckleballer Steven Wright, who is most likely first in line should a starter go down, a chance to strut his stuff (nothing spectacular). Even though Kelly claims the biceps soreness he complained of two weeks ago is gone, the Red Sox seem to be cautious with the delicate righty, even keeping open the opportunity for him to start the season on the DL. Farrell said earlier today, “We’ll continue to make sure that he’s answering the physical questions… With the number of pitches thrown and a progression that’s outlined for him…We’re keeping their options open.” Regardless of his recent discomfort, Kelly has given up an astronomical 17 hits in seven innings over three outings this spring. Opponents are hitting .436 off of him — certainly not a warm thought as the season fast approaches.
Miley has had his ups and downs this spring. He has appeared in four games, throwing a total of 17 innings with a 3.71 ERA and 11 strikeouts. When on his game, Miley breezes through outings at a breakneck pace; he threw five shutout innings last Sunday against Pittsburgh in only 19 minutes. He works so fast the hitter doesn’t even have a chance to think about what’s coming. His success only comes, however, when he can get the ball over the plate. Miley has eight walks so far, and Olney had some bruising comments regarding Miley’s start before the Sunday game, saying “The reviews of Wade Miley’s outing last week were awful, and people were talking about how flat his stuff seemed.” Because of Miley’s inconsistency, he couldn’t be the ace, or even at the top, of Boston’s rotation.
Miley’s stuff has been flat this spring, according to scouts
Masterson has perhaps been the worst so far. He gave up four runs in the first inning of a Minor League game, hitting a batter and surrendering four hits. The giant (6’6″, 250 lbs) Masterson said he’s been feeling good while pitching, but the results tell the opposite. He holds a 5.11 ERA with five walks in 12 big-league innings. After a terrific 2013 and an injury-plagued 2014, Masterson still needs time to regain his form and he is most likely not a leader the Sox could count on in a big game.
Farrell thinks Buchholz can be the good version of Buchholz, and named him his Opening Day starter today. It seems Farrell gave the number one spot to the righty simply because he has experience pitching for Boston, not because he believes Buchholz can lead the staff. Farrell said earlier today, “He’s fully aware of everything that is Boston and that goes along with being a starting pitcher for the Red Sox. He doesn’t back away from it. He may go about it in his own way, he’s not the most vocal guy in the world, but he’s been here for a number of years. To me, he’s in a position to embrace that and assume that.” Buchholz didn’t really earn it more than anyone else, and he has not been anywhere near his 2013 form in Spring Training. He gave up 21 hits in 15 innings over four starts, although he struck out 18.
Buchholz gets the Opening Day nod almost by default
There you have it. There is not one pitcher on this staff who the team can rely on in a big game. Whether Red Sox management realizes this and picks up, say, a Cole Hamels at the trade deadline remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: The current rotation made up entirely of second-tier hurlers will not be enough to get the Red Sox anywhere in the postseason.