Splitting the Difference With The 2016 Boston Red Sox Rotation

With the signing of David Price and the trade of Wade Miley, the 2016 Boston Red Sox rotation appears to be set. The 2015 season was a bad experience for both the rotation and the fans that had to watch. Rick Rowand takes a look at how the projected rotation has fared in against left- and right-handed batter.

 

When the David Price signing was announced one of the first things brought up, after the dollars involved and the opt out, was how left-handed the rotation would be. And that should be a genuine concern, especially when Wade Miley was the only other returning starter who was relatively consistent. We’ll only be looking at the five projected starters here.

GM Dave Dombrowski helped to allay those concerns on Monday when he traded Miley and Jonathan Aro to the Mariners for righty reliever Carson Smith and starter Roenis Elias, who just so happens to also be left-handed and could see time in Boston this season.

Being the curious sort, I decided to look a little deeper to see if the L/R splits could tell us more. And voila!, they did. Let’s begin with the aforementioned David Price.

A few things to remember before we dig deeper The sample sizes for all of the pitchers vs. left-handed hitters will be much smaller than against right-handed hitters because of the distribution in the population. As a rule, pitchers fare better against hitters that hit from the same side they throw from. A ball from a lefty tends to tail away from a lefty hitter. The same holds true for a righty throwing to a right-handed batter. Batters usually make more frequent and better contact on balls coming in to them than they do on balls tailing away.

From 2009 through 2013 Price had the type of splits one would expect from a left-handed pitcher. In 2014 things began to change. Here are his splits from 2010 through 2015:

Price IP BA/OBP/SLG wOBA
Career v L 355.1 .217/.265/.312 .258
v R 1086.1 .235/.292/.374 .294
2015 v L 55.1 .257/.284/.374 .285
v R 165 .216/.267/.342 .265
2014 v L 62 .255/.292/.365 .292
v R 186.1 .232/.265/.379 .283
2013 v L 46.2 .189/.227/.262 .220
v R 140 .269/.298/.414 .311
2012 v L 49.1 .205/.247/.273 .233
v R 161.2 .230/.295/.332 .278
2011 v L 59.2 .168/.227/.281 .228
v R 164.2 .247/.309/.400 .310
2010 v L 47.2 .208/.277/.291 .259
v R 161 .222/.302/.355 .295

Besides being pretty consistent with the number of innings he throws each season, what will make him even more valuable to the Red Sox are his L/R numbers for the last two years if that trend continues. Remember that roughly ⅔ of the hitters he’ll be facing will be right-handed and his numbers against lefties are still very good, just not as good as they have been in the past. Teams won’t be able to load the lineup with righties like you normally would against a left-handed pitcher. One strategy they could employ would be to load as many left-handed hitters into the lineup as they can. Wouldn’t you? After all, what Price is giving the team is a left-handed ace who has pitched like a right-handed ace for the past two seasons. And with the number of right handed sluggers in the AL East, the difference in his splits could prove to be a huge advantage.

Looking at the splits for Clay Buchholz is like viewing the career of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I even called him Theon Greyjoy in an earlier article.

Buchholz has a well earned reputation for being inconsistent, mainly due to injuries, but also because he sometimes forgets how to throw his changeup. For his career, his splits are close to neutral with lefties holding a slight advantage over righties. In 547.1 IP lefties have a line of .250/.324/.386 with a wOBA of .315. Righties have a line of .245/.245/.370 with a wOBA of .303 in 481 IP.

In 2015, he had a reverse split with righties around .050 points better in BA/OBP and SLG. The same holds true for wOBA. In 2014, he had normal splits and lefties hit around .050 points better than righties. In 2013, he was pretty neutral with righties having just a slight advantage over lefties. 2012 was another neutral year. As was 2011. 2010 was neutral except in slugging where lefties had a .063 advantage over righties. His wOBA against lefties was .295. Against righties it was .262.

For his career, Rick Porcello has a decided L/R split. In 664.2 IP left-handed hitters have a line of .295/.348/.457 with a wOBA of .350. Right-handed hitters have a line of .263/.305/.388 with a wOBA of .305 in 580.2 IP.

He was close to neutral in BA and OBP 2015 with lefties slugging .060 points better than righties and with a wOBA .020 points higher. In 2014, he was neutral with a slight advantage going to left handers. In 2013, lefties did really well against him with a line of .299/.359/.449 and a wOBA of .353 in 85 innings. Righties hit .234/.264/.337 with a wOBA of .265 in 92 IP. 2012 was more of the same and then some. Lefties slugged .100 points higher than righties. And the same in 2011 with with lefties slugging .133 points higher than righties.

Joe Kelly has only pitched 461.2 innings even though he’s been in the majors for four seasons. He has 221 innings against left-handers and 240.2 innings against right-handers. For his career his L/R splits are neutral. BA .261/.260. OBP .336/.331. Slugging .405/.381. wOBA .326/.315.

In 2015, he had a large reverse split. In 71.2 innings vs lefties their line was .252/.309/.393 with a wOBA of .305. In 672.2 innings vs. righties they hit .295/.374/.464 with a wOBA of .365. 2014 was a different sort of year for Kelly. In 50 innings vs. LHH their line was .243/.356/.333 with a wOBA of .318. In 46.1 innings against RHH the line was .237/.304/.392 with a wOBA of .307. In 2013, he had a reverse split except in slugging. .384 vs. .354. 2012 saw him with normal L/R splits in all categories.

Lefty, and first year starter, Eduardo Rodriguez had reverse splits, but the sample size against lefties was only 29.1 innings. He threw 91.1 innings against righties. It’s also important to point out that in at least two of the games he was tipping his pitches and got shelled. Lefties had a line of .261/.311/.509 and a wOBA of .350. The line for righties was .246/.312/.350 with a wOBA of .292.

So for those keeping score at home the Red Sox have a leftie ace, Price, who has thrown more like a right-hander for the past two seasons, but also has normal L/R splits over his career. The nominal #2, right-handed Clay Buchholz, who has close to neutral splits with left-handers having a slightly better line over his career.

Another right-hander with normal splits over his career in Joe Kelly, who had reverse splits last season, and a second-year starter in leftie Rodriguez who also had reverse splits, though those come from a very small sample size against left-handers. And finally, another right-hander in Porcello who has normal L/R splits over his career.

In Porcello and Kelly, we also have two pitchers who were much better after after they came off the DL and came back from AAA, respectively.

If this rotation is the one that starts the season they should do very well against right handers and be better than average against left-handed hitters. At any rate, the rotation is projected to be much better than last year’s and this season they have a shutdown bullpen backing them up so all of the pressure won’t be on them.

*Stats courtesy of Fangraphs

Rick Rowand has written about the young stars of the Boston Red Sox, put David Ortiz’s career in perspective, an explanation of Jonny Gomes’s success, and a break down of a huge signing.

Follow Rick on Twitter @rrowand.

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