Twice Around The Red Sox Rotation

The new season has brought Boston Red Sox fans a relatively new and unknown pitching rotation. Rick Rowand looks at the first two starts of Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Justin Masterson and Joe Kelly to see what the positives and negatives were as we go twice around the Red Sox rotation.

While the Red Sox offense is projected to be formidable, the rotation is filled with uncertainty. Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly have been joined by two newcomers and a pitcher that the organization once traded away. There is widespread concern among fans that the Red Sox lack the “ace” that is needed to contend for a championship.

In a series of articles during the first week of the season, Ian York analyzed the repertoires of Buchholz, Kelly, Rick Porcello, Justin Masterson, and Wade Miley. Here, we analyze how they did in their first two starts.

Clay Buchholz – April 6th, 2015 at the Philadelphia Phillies.

Injury and inconsistency were the hallmarks of his 2014 season. In the opening game of the 2015 season, Buchholz went seven innings, striking out seven, walking only one and giving up no runs. His first start featured a very consistent release point, which is one thing to look for when studying PITCHf/x data. A consistent release point shows that a pitcher has solid mechanics and, because he’s throwing all pitches from the same point, the chance of deception is increased. He featured his fastball, sinker, cutter, change, splitter, and curve:

buchholz_apr6

His favorite pitch was his sinker, which he threw 37 times, 26 of which for strikes. His next most popular pitch was his curve which yielded 15 strikes in 21 offerings.

Verdict: Even though this was the Phillies, it was a very encouraging outing for Buchholz.

Week 2 – April 12th, 2015 at the New York Yankees.

There are many cliches to talk about the differences between this start and the last one, but let’s just say that this was the Buchholz we hoped we’d never see again.

The first two things you’ll notice looking at the charts at Brooks Baseball is that his release point wasn’t as tight as it was in his first outing. Against the Phillies, a tight little cluster ranged from about one and a half feet to the left of the center of the plate to one foot to the left of the center of the plate. They were all one to two inches on either side of the six foot line.

His release point against the Yankees spread out, from the same outside edge to about six inches from the center of the plate. It almost looks like a flat line with virtually all pitches released above the six foot line.

This brings us to the second thing – he pitched more up in the zone than he did in his last start. Up in the zone Buchholz is bad Buchholz. While his release point was very consistent, it was consistent in the wrong way. This can account for the number of balls left up in the zone and for his pitches not having their normal movement. Good Buchholz is on top. Bad Buchholz is on the bottom:

buchholz release apr6

buchholz release april12

In 3 1/3 innings Buchholz gave up nine hits, ten runs – nine of them earned – two walks, two home runs, and recorded two strikeouts. Most of the damage was done in the first inning. He gave up seven runs and didn’t seem to have a clue as to what he was doing. Strangely enough, one of his best pitches was the one that A-Rod destroyed for the three-run double. It was a 90-mph cutter down and away, which is not the kind of pitch you’d expect a RH hitter to crush, but A-Rod is a really good hitter:

ARod Home Run

Out of 79 pitches, he threw 47 sinkers. His next favorite pitch was his curve, which he threw 13 times. Maybe for his next start he’ll have his red aura back and his release point where it’s supposed to be so his pitches will do what they’re supposed to do and go where they are supposed to go.

Rick Porcello – April 8th, 2015 at the Philadelphia Phillies.

The $82M man threw six innings of three-run ball while giving up six hits, walking three batters, and striking out four in his debut for Boston. He threw his entire repertoire of pitches: FB, sinker, change, curve and cutter:

porcello_apr8

As you’d expect with a groundball pitcher, out of the 101 pitches he threw, 62 were sinkers. There are three things that concern us with this outing by Porcello. The first is that his velocity went down as his pitch count increased. The others are that the number of pitches per inning kept rising, and the percentage of strikes kept falling, from 80% in the first inning to 58% in the sixth. These are worrisome trends if they continue.

Week 2 – April 13th, 2015 versus the Washington Nationals.

Once again Rick Porcello had a pretty good outing for the Red Sox against another NL team – the Nationals, this time at Fenway. He gave up four runs – three earned, two on solo home runs over eight innings. He also had six strikeouts and one walk.

He threw all of his pitches again, but didn’t emphasize the sinker as he did against the Phillies. Out of 112 pitches, he threw 29 fastballs and 26 sinkers while mixing in 18 curves. He had good velocity on his fastball and sinker. They averaged 92- and 91-mph respectively and both reached a high of 94-mph.

His velocity fell as his pitch count climbed, much like his first start. His strikeout percentage was pretty consistent, staying in the range from 71% to 89% for all innings except the 5th (47%) and 7th (59%). Overall, a good outing for Porcello and one that bodes well for the future.

Justin Masterson – April 9th, 2015 at the Philadelphia Phillies.

Justin Masterson’s return to the Red Sox resulted in a two run, three hit performance with two walks and seven strikeouts:

masterson_apr9

Masterson threw 95 pitches in his outing: 21 fastballs, 40 sinkers and 34 sliders. His velocity was pretty consistent from his first inning to his last with a steady percentage of strikes in all innings.

One can hope that Masterson is fully recovered from the knee injury that affected his mechanics in 2014 and slowed his fastball to 90-mph. It would be nice to see his fastball return to its 94-mph velocity of past, but he only averaged 89-mph in his season opener.

Week 2 –April 14th, 2015 versus the Washington Nationals.

The Jedi returned to Fenway for the first time in a Red Sox uniform and The Force was with him until the 5th inning when he gave up six runs.

Overall, he yielded seven runs, all earned, on eight hits. He had four strikeouts and walked three.

His velocity was still down, only reaching 92-mph twice. His fastball averaged 89-mph again, the sinker 87-mph and the slider 78-mph. His last outing he only reached 91-mph, but overall velocity was higher. As expected, his primary pitch was his sinker, throwing it 45 times out of 93 overall pitches.

He had high pitch counts in his first two innings, throwing 27 and 20 respectively. That will fatigue a pitcher and he needs to keep those totals down to remain effective as the innings pile up.

Wade Miley – April 10th, 2015 at the New York Yankees.

Wade Miley started the marathon game in New York going 5 1/3 innings while striking out six batters, walking two, allowing four hits and two earned runs. He had given up one earned run and with runners on second and third when he left the game with one out in the sixth and was charged with the second run when Brett Gardner scored from third on a Brian McCann sac fly:

miley_apr10

He threw a total of 90 pitches: 25 fastballs, 20 sinkers, 16 changes, 25 sliders, and 4 curves. His velocity and release point were consistent throughout the game. Miley was very efficient early, averaging 12 pitches per inning for the first three frames, but needed 18 per inning for the next three. He and the Sox will both benefit if he can maintain that early efficiency deeper into games. Having pitched an average of almost 200 innings the last three years in Arizona, Miley will find out if his groundball tendencies can work in the AL.

Week 2 – April 15th, 2015 versus the Washington Nationals.

In his Fenway debut against the Nats, Miley lasted just 2.1 innings, giving up seven runs, all earned, on seven hits – one a solo home run.

He threw all five pitches and had good velocity, but when you throw 33 pitches in the first inning and face six batters, walking the first, you usually aren’t going to have a good day on the mound. He didn’t really fool anyone, with numerous hitters taking him deep during the game. The biggest positive is that Dan Uggla didn’t get a hit off of him.

Joe Kelly – April 11th, 2015 at the New York Yankees.

This is the Joe Kelly that the Red Sox acquired as part of the Lackey trade last year. Kelly was on the DL to start the 2015 season with biceps tendinitis, but exhibited no ill effects after missing his last few starts in Spring Training.

He showed off his full repertoire of pitches, centered on a fastball which averaged 96-mph and reached a high of 99-mph. Over seven innings, Kelly allowed just one hit and one run, striking out eight, and walking only two:

kelly_apr11

Kelly has, perhaps, the best pure stuff in the rotation with very good velocity and excellent movement on his pitches. One thing he hasn’t had is good command; his lack of control (3.9 BB/9 last year, vs. 2.9 for all NL pitchers) has prevented Kelly from making the leap from a back of the rotation starter to a premier pitcher. On this day he had a very consistent release point which helped him to control his location. If Kelly can remain this consistent, the Sox could very well have the ace they hoped for when they traded for him.

Week 2 – April 17th, 2015 versus the Baltimore Orioles.

In his second start, Kelly once again pitched well despite having the occasional lapse of control. He went 5.2 innings giving up two runs, both earned. The one home run he gave up was a Fenway special that Shane Victorino almost snagged at the right field wall just past Pesky’s Pole. He had three strikeouts and two walks and when he left the game in the sixth he had thrown 116 pitches.

He threw his full array of pitches and even added a splitter to the mix. His velocity on his fastball and sinker was consistent, averaging just over 97-mph on the fastball and just under 97-mph on the sinker.

Kelly has the highest velocity of any of the starters and even reached 100-mph once. At this point, his main problem is running his pitch count up too early in the games because of the number of full counts he gets into. Seventeen Orioles batters were able to work the count to at least five pitches. Kelly has to cut down on the number of high-pitch at bats so he’ll last longer into games and give the pen the rest they need when covering for a rotation that isn’t carrying its weight.

All pitching data is courtesy of brooksbaseball.net

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