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Elliott Morss | November 20th, 2017

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The Red Sox: What To Do in the Offseason? Part Two – Pitchers and Overall Conclusions

The Red Sox: What To Do in the Offseason? Part Two – Pitchers and Overall Conclusions
© Elliott R. Morss, Ph.D.

Introduction

In the first part of this series, I concluded that Bogaerts and Bradley are expendable and a long ball hitter is needed. In this piece, I look at Red Sox pitchers and draw some overall conclusions about what the Red Sox should do in the off-season. As was the case in Part One, the data come from Baseball Reference.

Starting Pitchers

Ideally, a team would have five reliable starting pitchers who can go six innings or more.  This goal is rarely achieved by any team. Good teams will normally have three pretty reliable starting pitchers. The Red Sox have three: Price, Sale and Pomeranz. Each is examined below.

a. David Price

Over his career, Price has been one of the best pitchers in baseball. And following his injury this year, he demonstrated this again in the playoffs. But Price has thrown 1,744 innings, more than any other Boston pitcher. His doctors said they would have operated on him if he had been younger, so going forward one does have to worry. The best possible scenario is that Price and his doctors have developed a regimen that allows him to keep pitching.

Price has had problems “adjusting to” Boston. He needs to find a way to deal the intense scrutiny Boston’s media focuses on him. Red Sox fans did not take well to Price’s criticisms of Dennis Eckersley during the season. In 2016, Price’s ERA jumped to 3.99 which is high for him. But he did win 17 games. Price signed a huge contract, paying him $30 million or more through 2022. Price can get out of his contract after the next season if he wants to. But no team is likely to pick up his contract and he knows it. One only hopes Price, the media, and the fans can “work things out.”

b. Chris Sale

Sale has been a breath of fresh air in Boston. He does not let the media bother him and takes complete responsibility for what happens on the days he pitches. He consistently pitches 200+ innings per year. And relative to Price, he was incredibly cheap at only $12 million last year. He is under the Red Sox control for the next two years for relatively small pay increases.

The following table suggests that he tires later in the season. Sadly, the Red Sox did not make allowance for this last year. They should have taken him out of games earlier as the season went on. It is hoped the team will not make this mistake in future years.

c. Pomeranz

Pomeranz pitched very little until 2016. And in both 2016 and 2017, he has pitched well with an ERA of 3.32 in both years. He has not ever pitched 200 innings in a year, but if he can repeat in 2018 what he did in the last two, it will be a good year.

Other Starting Pitchers

The Red Sox ended 2017 with several other starting pitchers: Porcello, Fister, Rodriguez and Wright. Each is considered below.

a. Rick Porcello

The Red Sox are committed to paying Porcello a hefty sum though 2019. And he delivered in 2016 with a Cy Young award-winning year. But as the table below indicates, that was an outlier for him. In 2017, he reverted to his more normal performance with an ERA in the high 4’s. That is probably all that can be expected of him going forward.

b. Doug Fister

Fister appears to be a favorite of Dombrowski, but as the following table indicates, his performance is progressively worsening. He will be a free agent in 2018 and there appears to be a number of teams interested in him.

c. Eduardo Rodriguez

Rodriguez has shown flashes of talent. But he also appears to be physically fragile. He just had another knee operation with recovery projected to take six months. And at least as measured by his ERA, he does not appear to be progressing much as a pitcher. On the other hand, he is relatively inexpensive to keep around.

d. Steven Wright

Wright was injured early on in the 2017 season and was forced to sit out the rest of the year. He is still under the teams control and one wonders if he might return and make a meaningful contribution.

Relief Pitchers

Boston’s relief pitchers performed pretty well in 2017 and there is reason to be guardedly optimistic about what they will do in 2018. They are considered in detail below.

a. Craig Kimbrel

 In 2017, Kimbrel was one of the best relief pitchers in the Major Leagues. That said, the data below indicate his performance has varied throughout his career. Also, he is getting older. It is consequently likely 2018 will not be as good a year for him as 2017 was. The team will undoubtedly exercise its option for his 2018 services.

b. Abad, Barnes Hembree, Kelly, and Workman

All of these players were okay relievers in 2017.

Abad is a free agent and expensive.

Barnes pitches well at Fenway but not elsewhere.

Hembree is inexpensive.

Kelly throws the ball as hard as anyone in baseball. He had a good year in 2017 with an ERA of 2.79. The Red Sox control him in 2018 and should bring him back.

Workman was coming back from an injury in 2017 and despite that had a pretty good year.

c. The Promising Unknowns – Maddox, Reed, Smith and Thornburg

Maddox only pitched 17 innings in 2017, but he looked good with an ERA of only 0.52.

Reed pitched well in 2017. He is a free agent in 2018 and expensive. However, he is worth hiring him in hopes he can regain the form of earlier years.

Smith is also coming back from injuries. And again, if he can regain the form he demonstrated in 2015, the Red Sox relief core in 2018 should be very strong.

In 2016, Tyler Thornburg pitched pretty well as a reliever in Milwaukee. The Red Sox signed him for $2 million in 2017 and they control him through 2019. However, he contracted thoracic outlet syndrome. This is serious. I quote from The Mayo Clinic: “Success rates for surgery vary dramatically in the literature. One review of 47 patients with thoracic outlet syndrome revealed 75% lower plexus and 50% upper plexus compressions remained asymptomatic at 4.6 years. Morbidity in this study involved 17% of patients and was most frequently the result of incisional pain.”

Overall Conclusions

The Red Sox have lots of decisions to make in the off-season. In addition to settling on a new manager, here is the status of their other players:

a. Hitting

The Red Sox did not bring anyone to replace Ortiz. In 2016, Ortiz batted .315 with 38 home runs and 127 RBIs. Betts led the team in 2017 with only 24 home runs. Benintendi, Moreland and Ramirez all got more than 20 home runs. Devers could develop into a power batter. In less than half a season, he hit 20 home runs.

But quite clearly, more power is needed and it will not be cheap to obtain. A good hitter will probably cost Bogaerts, Bradley and cash.

And Pedroia: inasmuch as he has a big contract lasting though 2021, it behooves Red Sox fans to get behind him.

b. Pitching

The pitching should be OK in 2018. The team has 3 pretty reliable starters with an average lot behind them. The relief core is good, particularly if Maddox, Reed and Smith (if they bring him back) have reasonably good seasons.

How Good?

If the Red Sox acquire a leading hitter, will they be good enough to compete with the likes of the Yankees and Houston? Certainly, they will be good enough to make for an interesting season. Now, if Major League Baseball would only take meaningful steps to reduce the length of games….

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