The 2015 season was a failure for the Boston Red Sox. However, some young stars emerged and this past offseason was a success. Rick Rowand is here to bring us the 2016 Boston Red Sox rotation storylines to follow in a season that is sure to be better than the last.
Spring training competition officially kicked off on February 29 with the Boston Red Sox playing their traditional home town rivals, Boston College and Northeastern University. Granted, they were just exhibition games, but we thought now would be a good time to start a new tradition here at Sons of Sam Horn – The Leap Year Lead Off! That’s right, we are going to let you, the reader, know in advance about some of the storylines that we’ll be following throughout the season and into the postseason. We talked about the position players last week. Now we’ll look at the five starting pitchers penciled into the rotation as we enter spring training.
Last year the Sox went into, and came out of, spring training with no ace on the staff. The ace of the day had to don an “I’m the ace” t-shirt to get noticed. This year, a t-shirt won’t be needed to identify the ace of the staff.
Besides Price’s overall performance, there are two recent trends we’ll be keeping an eye on. The first, which was something we wrote about after he signed, was how his splits have changed recently. As you can see in the chart from that article, he has gone from the standard splits of a left-handed pitcher to having reverse splits the past two seasons:
We will also be keeping track of his pitch mix, for it has been a-changin’:
If you are wondering how Price should fare as he gets deeper into his contract, Shane Liss-Riordan took a look at that for us.
If one word could sum up Mr. Buchholz it would be frustration. We have probably spilled more ink on Buchholz than any other member of the Red Sox. And now, thanks to the Sox picking up his option, he’s back to torture our souls once again. And full disclosure here, I thought it was a no-brainer to pick up the option.
We will be watching a hodgepodge of items as Buchholz’s 2016 season unfolds. Will he or won’t he return to the DL just as he’s pitching at the elite level like everyone knows he can? Will he remember to bring his old change up to the park again? Will he even remember how to throw his change? Will the tweaks he’s been working on in his delivery help him be more consistent? A this point, all we ask is for Theon to not make an appearance.
Porcello’s 2015 season was really “A Tale of Two Pitchers.” And before even throwing a pitch in anger, the right-hander signed an $82.5 million contract extension that put him in a bad place when it came to fan expectations. In addition to being signed by the previous Red Sox regime, remember that Porcello was traded away in the 2014-2015 off-season by then Detroit Tigers GM and current Red Sox President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski.
Porcello started off last season with some solid outings and some really, really poor outings. There would be more bad outings to come. He was finally placed on the disabled list in early August, not to reappear on the mound for Boston until the end of the month. He finished the season well with only one more bad outing when he yielded five earned runs in six innings against Toronto on September 18.
Ian York analyzed his pitching extensively throughout the season to see if anything could be spotted through pitch usage and location and once again, those will be the keys to his game this season. Location is the most crucial – especially with his four-seam fastball.
Kelly’s 2015 season also featured a “Tale of Two Pitchers”. Joe Kelly possesses some of the filthiest “stuff” in baseball. He features a 95-mph fastball that had people drooling about his potential. But one of his major problems is that with all of the natural movement, not even he knows the pitch’s final resting place.
After spending parts of June and July in AAA he seemed to come back a new and improved version. But did he? His ERA was lower, his K rate was a little higher and his strand rate was better, but that’s about it. The only thing that really improved was his W/L record and we all know how important that is.
The most important element of locating is consistent mechanics, which is what we’ll be watching for. If he can somehow harness his arm through repeatable mechanics, he could finally be the pitcher that scouts have projected. At this point he’s working just to remain in the rotation.
Rodriguez was acquired in a 2014 trade with Baltimore and became a fan favorite with his first start in 2015 after shutting out the Rangers in 7 2/3 IP, earning the win. Like most rookie pitchers, he had some rough outings as well. Pitch tipping was to blame for at least two of them.
Rodriguez features a 94-mph fastball to go along with a changeup and a slider. His secondary pitches need work so batters can’t just sit and wait on his fastball. Price, a fellow traveler, has taken him under his arm this spring to work on both his and Henry Owens’s pitches and pitching in general.
But at this point what we’re all waiting for is for Rodriguez to take the mound again. He “tweaked” his knee in late February fielding balls in the outfield. He has thrown from flat ground, but hasn’t pitched in a game yet. With what he’s shown so far, and the potential he has to develop into at least a middle of the rotation starter, caution is warranted. You don’t take a chance on bringing a pitcher back early, especially from a knee injury. That is how other injuries occur and bad mechanics develop.
When he does make it back to the mound, what we’ll be looking for are more effective secondary pitches. If he is unable to develop those, he will have a shorter career in the majors than one would hope.
We’ll cover the rest of the staff in Part Three – The Relievers.
Rick Rowand has written about Boston’s young stars, David Ortiz’s career, Brock Holt’s aura, and a breakdown of a huge signing.
Follow Rick on Twitter @rrowand.
Stats courtesy of Fangraphs