Which Pitchers Will Make The Playoff Roster?

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The question of which players will make up the Red Sox 25-man roster for the first round of the playoffs has been an ongoing discussion on various Red Sox message boards. Yesterday, we looked at how the injury situation has jumbled the roster situation for the everyday players. Today, we look at the pitching situation where players coming back from injury will make decisions more difficult.

[All stats accurate as of end of play on Wednesday].

The Starters

The Red Sox will utilize four starters in the playoffs… and three of the four starters are easy choices.

While Chris Sale has slowed down a bit from his torrid start – with a 4.30 ERA and eleven homers allowed in his last eight starts – he is quite obviously still the ace of the staff. Sale leads the league in both strikeouts (308) and innings pitched (214 ⅓), as well as FIP (2.45), while leading the Red Sox starters in ERA (2.90), WHIP (0.970), and wins (17). While Corey Kluber will likely pick up the Cy Young award at the end of the season, Sale will almost certainly be in the top six for the sixth consecutive season.

Fellow southpaw Drew Pomeranz has made Sox fans forget about uber-prospect Anderson Espinoza with his steady season this year. In his first full season with Boston, Pomeranz has been a steady contributor on the bump, going 16-6 with a 3.38 ERA and a 1.372 WHIP. While Drew has had a couple of bumps in September – giving up five runs in two innings on Monday while allowing four runs in 5 ⅓ innings against the Yankees in the Bronx on September 2, his middle three starts during the month saw him giving up only three runs over 18 ⅓ innings.

Eduardo Rodriguez will be the third lefty in the playoff rotation. Rodriguez has had an up and down season, going 6-6 with a 3.91 ERA and a 1.238 WHIP in his 24 appearances on the bump, prior to his Thursday start. Rodriguez missed a month and a half (all of June and half of July) due to injury, and struggled in his immediate return – putting up a 6.75 ERA over 14 ⅔ innings in three starts at the end of July. His August returns were only slightly better with a 4.93 ERA over six starts, but he was able to go at least five innings each start. However, in September, Rodriguez has been the best Boston starter, with a 1.78 ERA over 25 ⅓ innings over four starts entering Thursday.

The fourth spot will go to a non-lefty, but will it by 2016 Cy Young Award Winner Rick Porcello or 2017 scrapheap pick-up Doug Fister. Based upon this year’s work only, the decision is a tight one. Porcello has a 10-17 record with a 4.55 ERA, a 1.391 WHIP, and 36 homers yielded over 32 starts. Fister has a 4.87 ERA, a 1.400 WHIP, but only eight dingers given up in 17 games with the Sox. Fister walks batters nearly twice as often as Porcello, but Porcello has given up nearly two more hits per nine innings than Fister.

Fister had an excellent run of success between August 22 and September 6, putting up a 1.50 ERA over 30 innings and four starts. In his last three starts, he has put up a 11.12 ERA in only 11 ⅓ innings. While Fister is likely not as bad as his last three starts, he is just as likely not as good as the four starts at the end of August/beginning of September. Complicating the equation even more, in all seven of these starts, Fister allowed a first inning run.

Porcello has been steady, if completely unspectacular, for the entire season, with his season ERA hovering between a low of 3.95 on May 6 and a high of 5.06 on June 28. He will invariably give the Red Sox six innings of work (26 of 32 starts). He will also give up some runs.

At their respective best for the season, Fister has been better. However, he has a much higher variance. Fister has gone fewer than five innings in five of his 14 starts, Porcello has only twice, in his 32 starts, gone less than five. I think the Red Sox are going to pick the consistent Porcello, and if they do, Fister will be off the roster due to his opening inning troubles – in his last nine starts he has allowed at least a run in either the first or second inning.

The Bullpen

If the starting rotation was relatively easy, figuring out which of the bullpen arms to leave off the roster is going to be very difficult.

Closer extraordinaire Craig Kimbrel – with his 1.34 ERA, 0.657 WHIP, and 16.4 K/9 is an obvious choice to be included. So too is Deadline-day acquisition Addison Reed, who has allowed no runs in 21 of his 26 appearances with Boston (and only one run in three other appearances). His 0.880 WHIP while with the Red Sox is second on the team, a much better indicator of his skills than his 3.60 ERA (bloated by two poor performances).

Two pitchers who have recently come back from injury are also likely to be in the pen. David Price, on the disabled list for nearly two months, has pitched 4 ⅔ scoreless innings in two relief appearances while whiffing six. Despite losing time to injury this season, the former Cy Young Award winner has a 3.50 ERA and a 1.222 WHIP. More impressive is Carson Smith, who has seen seven appearances out of the pen in September after being out of commision for nearly a year and a half. Smith has given up four singles and two walks in his 6 ⅔ innings of work while whiffing seven. Smith has also worked in back-to-back games and has gone multiple innings.

That’s half of the bullpen. However, it still leaves nine men for four slots.

Hector Velazquez has been fine for the Red Sox when called upon, with two scoreless innings with a three week layoff in between in September. It is safe to say he is not a serious candidate for the post-season roster. Blaine Boyer has been excellent in September, with no runs given up in 9 ⅓ innings over six appearances. However, with the exception of the two long extra-inning games, his usage has been in lower leverage situations. Like Velazquez, he will not be on the roster.

Will the Red Sox carry a portside reliever beyond David Price? If so, will the Sox take Fernando Abad or Robby Scott? Abad has been a consistent reliever for John Farrell this season, giving up runs in only 13 of his 46 appearances and not allowing more than two runs in any game. On the other hand, 36 of his appearances have come with the Sox in the lead by over four runs or with the Sox behind. He has held lefties to a .197/.265/.328 average this season. Scott is similar to Abad, allowing runs in 12 of his 56 appearances while also allowing no more than two in any appearances. However, his appearances have been much shorter, pitching only 34 ⅓ innings over his 56 games. Scott has been used much more than Abad in closer games, with 23 of his appearances with the Sox tied or up by one or two runs. Scott has been better than Abad versus left-handers, with a .129/.236/.323 batting line… but right-handers have hit him well to the tune of an .814 OPS. Based on usage this season, the Sox will likely pick Scott if they decide they need a LOOGY. However, given the lack of left-handed hitters in the Houston Astros’ lineup, the Sox may well keep both off the roster.

With four relievers off the table, five remain for four spots: Austin Maddox, Joe Kelly, Brandon Workman, Heath Hembree, and Matt Barnes. Maddox is the wildcard of the bunch. In nine games in September, he has pitched 11 ⅓ scoreless innings, yielding six singles, a double, and two walks while whiffing ten. In fact, he has yet to allow a single run in his major league career. However, Maddox has only appeared in games where the Red Sox have been down or have been up by over four runs – with the exception of two scoreless innings in the 19-inning win. I think he gets the nod, but wouldn’t be shocked if he does not.

Joe Kelly will almost certainly get a position on the roster – his 2.84 ERA and 1.193 ERA over 53 games dictate it. Kelly, however, has not been fantastic since coming off the DL in early August. Over his last 19 games, he has a 5.23 ERA while allowing runs in eight appearances. However, Kelly almost never gets hit hard – with only seven doubles and three homers allowed all season. He is also a double play inducer, with over 50% of the balls in play being hit on the ground.

Brandon Workman was called up from the Pawtucket Red Sox for good in the middle of July, and in his first 17 games after his callup, Brandon put up a brilliant 0.89 ERA over 20 ⅓ innings with 16 Ks, 13 hits, and only four walks. However, in his last 13 appearances, Workman has put up an ERA of 5.40 over 13 ⅓ frames, with opposing batters teeing off to the tune of .264/.328/.679. He has also allowed runs to score in all but five of those games. His overall ERA of 2.77 and WHIP of 1.154 says he should be on the roster. His latest work says he should not.

Then, there is the conundrum of Heath Hembree and Matt Barnes. Barnes has the most appearances out of the pen for the Sox (68) and is tied with Kimbrel for innings out of the pen (67). Hembree is not far behind, with 61 appearances and 61 innings. Both have given up 29 runs. Both have struck out over 10 batters per nine innings. Barnes walks more batters but gives up fewer hits and fewer homers.

Barnes will make the bullpen, however. His ERA of 3.76 isn’t great, but that is due to his tremendous ability to have horrible performances – he has allowed two or more runs seven times this season or just about once every month. In eleven other games, he has yielded just one run which means in 50 games, he has put up a goose egg. In his last seven appearances out of the pen, Barnes has surrendered one run on a home run and four singles while striking out eight and walking none.

Hembree has been very similar to Barnes in so far as his 3.69 ERA is a product of some big blowups, allowing two or more runs in five different appearances. However, Hembree has not had a blowup performance since June 11, putting up a 3.48 over his last 32 games; surrendering one run in 12 of the outings. That being stated, Hembree has been playing with fire the entire season. With a WHIP of 1.475 and a H/9 of 10.6 (both highest on the team) and having allowed 10 home runs, he has to be considered the worst of the bullpen options, despite his ERA. His complete resume keeps him off the roster. And with Hembree off, Workman – despite recent struggles – stays on.

So, the pitching roster for the Red Sox is:

Starters: Sale, Pomeranz, Rodriguez, Porcello

Pen: Kimbrel, Reed, Price, Smith, Barnes, Workman, Kelly, Maddox

Featured image courtesy of bostonherald.com

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