A year ago, the Boston Red Sox were supposed to have an ace in David Price, and high hopes for a bounce-back in Rick Porcello. After those two, the back end of the starting rotation involved a lot of optimism and use of the word “potential.”
Going into 2017, the biggest pitching worry is where to put all the talented arms. While speculation and early signals from the Boston front office indicated that Wright, Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez would battle for the last two spots behind the Big Three, that doesn’t seem to be the case now.
Team president Dave Dombrowksi told ESPN’s Busty Olney that barring a surprise, there is no competition.
“We have three guys basically battling for those spots, but if everybody is healthy come the start of the season it’s a great situation to be in because Steven Wright and Drew Pomeranz both made the All-Star team last year and they’re penciled in fourth and fifth, along with Eduardo Rodriguez, who we think is one of the best young pitchers in the game,” said Dombrowski.”
It didn’t help that Rodriguez hurt his knee in winter ball, but a close look at Boston’s setup makes Dombrowski’s comments anything but a surprise.
Fans expected more out of Porcello after an ugly first year in 2015, but no one was expecting a 22-4/3.15 ERA/189 K and 223 innings pitched, Cy Young winning campaign. Porcello got the run support to go 5-0 in April, but then settled down with a much better ERA the rest of the way. The righty’s control was the biggest factor in his turnaround, particularly with his slider.
It seems strange to hear so much criticism about a lefty who went 17-9/3.99 ERA/228K in 2016. A lot of teams would be happy with a “down year” such as that. But with a huge contract, comes huge expectations, and Price again had a rough postseason. However, he chunked 230 innings last year and at the rate he’s going, by the end of his contract could have his 200th win and be close to his 3,000th strikeout in a Red Sox uniform. He has a Cy Young of his own, and it should not be overlooked that his 8-2 finish to the season was a huge part of the division title run.
Boston fans got an early Christmas present in Sale, who at 27 is just heading into his prime. The team might have paid a high price, but he went 17-10/3.34 ERA/233 K on a White Sox team that was not very good. He’s been in the top six in the Cy Young race the last years and started last year 9-0 and by July 2 was 14-2. If you add in the lefty’s 227 innings pitched (and six complete games), that gives the Red Sox almost 700 IP out of their Big Three.
Not winning teams get to pencil in a 13-6/3.33 ERA All-Stars as their number four starter. Only a bizarre pinch-running assignment that lead to a shoulder injury kept his stats down as low as they were as he was on pace to easily eclipse 180 innings pitched. Wright’s advancement with the knuckleball in changing speeds was masterful, and certainly having Tim Wakefield as a tutor didn’t hurt. With all the hard throwing arms around him, he should be even more effective this season, if his bursitis issues have cleared up. At the time he was hurt, he was leading the AL in ERA. Another factor is Wright’s favor is that it was unlikely the Red Sox would have only Porcello as a righty in the lineup.
It was clear something wasn’t right with Pomeranz shortly after he came over in a trade with the Padres. The Padres GM drew sanctions for hiding information about the lefty’s health — after an All-Star first half, he was 3-5 with the Red Sox down the stretch. Pomeranz could have been suffering from fatigue, as his 170 innings pitched was a personal best, and he fanned 186 batters over that stretch. Even though he struggled at times, he still posted a 3.32 ERA and was a beast in relief late in the campaign. It’s not out of the question he could have the Porcello Bounce and be the best fifth-spot guy in baseball.
That leaves Eduardo Rodriguez as the odd man out. Rodriguez struggled with an injury last year and was not sound early, although in his last 14 starts he posted a 3.24 ERA and 9.2 strikeout ratio per nine innings. He has minor league options left, while Wright and Pomeranz do not, and it is likely he’ll start in the minors to keep him in a rotation. If Wright or Pomeranz struggle early, they may not get much rope if E-Rod gets out of the gate quickly. It is hard to see him in a relief role with the potential he’s shown and he will be just 24 at the start of the season. Don’t overlook the fact that a good showing by Pomeranz might also raise his trade value with a good start. That matters, because if Pablo Sandoval isn’t up to the task at third base, Boston may feel confident in a trade knowing Rodriguez can step in.null