By Adam Brown
In what surprises absolutely nobody, we have entered and proceeded into May with the Boston Red Sox with a catalogue of pitching issues to try to sort out. Whilst Pablo Sandoval has slotted in seamlessly at the hot corner, and Hanley Ramirez hits the ball so hard and so far, people have to duck and cover in Canada. The pitching on the other hand hasn’t warranted the same praise and the same superlatives. After a first trip round the rotation where the five starters combined to allow just 8 earned runs as the Red Sox rolled off 4-1 start. This however has presented itself as a mirage and a clam before the storm as the following 23 games heralded all sorts of catastrophes which have today; seemingly cost pitching coach Juan Nieves his job.
Rather than piece together this whole rotation, it’s perhaps easier to talk about them individually and identify if they’re a recipient of bad luck, or are on the hot seat to be replaced by one of the young arms still plying their trade down in Pawtucket.
Clay Buchholz – 1-4 6.03 ERA
Trick or treat Clay has been littered with inconsistency throughout his entire career. Blessed with an array of incredible pitches, everything suggests he should be at the top, dominating any lineup. In 2010, he finished 6th in the AL CY Young vote after pitching to 2.33 ERA and a 187 ERA+.
This 2015 edition seems on the face of it to resemble last years’ Clay Buchholz, who struggled to a 5.34 ERA and a 72 ERA+. However, despite his astronomical Hits Per 9 Innings (H/9) of 11.5, 3.5 more than in any season this decade. This suggests his stuff is in the zone, which is illuminated by his career high in Strikeouts per 9, (K/9) an identical number to his H/9. His strikeout to walk ratio (K/BB) is 4 which would be almost double a career high for Buchholz.
Where many believe Buchholz number display hideous luck is that his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) sits at 2.98, a number that now is lower than Michael Wacha, Jacob DeGrom and Madison Bumgarner to name but a few. In addition his BABIP against him sits an absolutely eye-popping .417, nearly 120 points higher than his career average.
Buchholz seems to have a resurgence of sort on the horizon almost inevitably. On the bad side of luck, but also to many a bad mentality, which was highlighted by ESPN analyst Curt Schilling.
Rick Porcello – 3-2 4.38 ERA
Before we get into this one, yes, the Red Sox wildly overpaid for Porcello. There’s not a chance Porcello will be worth in excess of $20m per year. However, going by the market, and Porcello coming off a career year, at 26 about to head into free agency, it’s a completely justifiable deal given it’s light in years.
Tangent over, Porcello so far has seen his number more or less reciprocate his career numbers, aside from the noticeable spike in strikeout numbers. Porcello is at 8.1 K/9 as opposed to his career average of 5.6. This, too many offers some solace that when his expected homer-proneness gravitates back to a career norm, it should see his numbers improve across the board. Another positive to suggest Porcello is improving is that his last two starts, on April 29th against Toronto and April 5th vs Tampa Bay saw his two highest ‘Game Scores’ of the season, 73 and 67 respectively.
To me, the consensus seems to be that Porcello is the pitcher to feel most confident about the rest of the way. He’s beginning to see this aforementioned home run numbers regress to the mean, only surrendering one in his last 3 outings, opposed to 5 in his first 3.
Justin Masterson – 2-1 5.18 ERA
Signed in the off-season as a low risk-high reward acquisition, Masterson and his early struggles have made it three teams within the last 14 months he’s failed to perform on. Last season, where he split time between Cleveland and St.Louis, he pitched to a cumulative 5.88 ERA, with an even more startling 7.04 ERA when pitching in Missouri.
This season Masterson has struggled from the offset with his command. He’s surrendered 18 walks in just 33 innings, including 6 in 4.1 in Wednesday nights defeat against the Rays. Unlike Buchholz his BABIP, at .311 is right where it’s been for his career so his inflated ERA and walk rate are not a by-product of any bad luck it seems. Masterson, who is signed to just a one year contract, has struggled with walks throughout his career, with a career BB% of 9.6%.
The long term process with Masterson could be to see him drop into the rotation, or even released outright. With his contract, and the club’s affection for him, he will be given every chance in the rotation, but perhaps he can be a spark in an also equally unimpressive bullpen.
Wade Miley – 1-3 7.15 ERA
Ben Cherington and the Boston Red Sox front office amid mass speculation of them trading for Cole Hamels went out and struck a deal for another lefty. Miley, the 28-year-old hurler cost the Red Sox Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa. The early results favour the Diamondbacks. Strongly!
Miley has been shellacked on multiple occasions, twice failing to get out of the third inning when Washington, and then Baltimore shredded him for runs early, and often. Those two games aside, Miley has pitched relatively well, surrendering 5 runs in 18 innings across 3 starts. His FIP of 4.02, is very close to the 3.98 mark he has the two previous seasons.
With Miley, he’s been punished by two atrocious outings, and his place in the rotation will be decided on how he can stop the meltdowns from happening and become the solid pitcher seen in the other three starts.
Joe Kelly – 1-1 5.72 ERA
Joe Kelly seems to have become a victim of his own self-belief. His pre-season declaration that he was “going to win the CY Young”, then being championed by an array of sportswriters, none more so than Curt Schilling, who he worked with in Spring Training.
Kelly has seen his power pitching finally translate to more strikeouts, his career number of 6.4 is staggering given the velocity and the arsenal of pitches. This season he sits at 9.8, 31 in 28.1 innings. So far this season Kelly has pitched to his lowest career FIP of 3.74, nearly two runs lower than his current ERA. This suggests there’s a slight improvement on the cards for Kelly.
On the other hand, Kelly has begun to struggle greatly over his last few starts. His early season saw him pitch two solid games, before the next three offering results of 15 runs in 15.2 innings. Kelly seems to be the wildcard, as the naked eye seems to show that his pitches look better, he’s making batters miss. However, the results are alarming and if this trait of leaking runs continues, his spot in the rotation also becomes a major question mark.
Although every pitcher has had their struggles so far, they are all pitching to ERA’s higher than their FIP, which suggests the team defence has been a big issue in the pitching struggles. There’s also been a bit of bad luck, but not enough to describe the overall struggle as a mirage.
For the Red Sox to move up from the cellar and a 3rd last place finish in four years, they do need a lot more from their pitching staff. If that fails to happen, there may well be more rotation spots as job openings in the Boston Red Sox organisation.