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But Can He Pitch?



Updated: 2017-09-20T10:30:02-04:00

 



Does the Red Sox bullpen need another lefty beyond David Price?

2017-09-20T10:30:02-04:00

Should Robby Scott and/or Fernando Abad make the postseason roster? The Red Sox are essentially a lock to make the postseason, but their aspirations are higher than that. At the very least, they want to be playing in the Divisional Series, and obviously the easiest way to do that is by winning the division. There is still a bit of work to do on that front — largely because the Yankees just won’t lose these days — but the Red Sox still hold the inside track. So, despite things not being locked up yet, it’s not too early to at least start thinking about the playoff roster. For the most part, it’s essentially set. We know who will be starting for the most part, both in the lineup and on the mound, and we know most of the reserves. There are just a few spots that could go in a number of different directions. One of those can be found in the bullpen. There is a mess of pitchers that could feasibly be put in the final couple spots in the ‘pen. When trying to figure out who to put on that roster, the Red Sox need to decide if they really need another lefty beyond David Price. Conventional thinking would suggest that either Robby Scott or Fernando Abad would need to accompany Price from the left side in the bullpen. The latter is, of course, a converted starter who certainly won’t be used as a strict LOOGY. That role is perfect for either Scott or Abad. That being said, neither presents much confidence against anyone besides lefties and John Farrell hasn’t really used them in that role all that much. Furthermore, them making the roster would likely push off someone like Brandon Workman, Carson Smith or Austin Maddox, all of whom have earned a spot on the roster and all of whom are better pitchers than the southpaws. If the Red Sox can find a way to go with six righties plus Price, they would be well-served to do so. Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images There are a couple reasons to believe they could survive with this strategy. For one thing, the playoff rotation is expected to be 75 percent left-handed with Chris Sale, Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez possibly starting the first three games. This could be a big deal, as opposing lineups will then be loaded with right-handed pitching. Of course, lefties will still be available to pinch hit later in the game, but a LOOGY is best used when it predictably can be. We’ve seen Farrell out-managed a few times this year when it comes to handedness-based substitutions. On top of all the lefties in the rotation, the matchups in this year’s American League don’t necessarily scream for a need for left-handed relievers. The Astros, the team Boston would presumably be playing in the ALDS if they do indeed make it that far, aren’t a team with a lot of left-handed hitters. Their lineup is instead built around strong righties like Jose Altuve, George Springer and Carlos Correa. The only lefties in their starting lineup are Josh Reddick and Brian McCann, neither of whom really call for a pitcher to be carried specifically to stop them. The Indians have a couple more lefties, with Jay Bruce being the biggest one of them, but like Houston their biggest hitters are either switch hitters or righties. Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor are the switch hitters, and the former doesn’t show any platoon splits this year while the latter has been better against left-handed pitching. At the end of the day, I’d expect either Abad or Scott (probably Scott) to make the roster. It’s just hard to expect the Red Sox to trust a converted starter just coming off a major injury as the only option from the left side out of the bullpen. That being said, I’m not sure it would be the best use of the roster. This wouldn’t be a catastrophic decision by any stretch of the imagination, but Boston’s best bullpen includes the likes of Workman, Smith and Maddox. The playoffs are such a crapshoot that they needed to maximize their roster by any means they possibly can. [...]



Finding positives in Rick Porcello’s season

2017-09-20T09:01:01-04:00

It’s been a rough year for Porcello, but it’s gotten better lately. The 2017 season has undoubtedly been a disappointing one for Rick Porcello, even with the consideration that most people were expecting some regression after he took home the Cy Young a year ago. At this point in the year, it’s far too late to reverse that fact. No matter how things go over the next few weeks the year on the whole is going to be looked at in a negative light, and it’s totally fair. The Red Sox have survived with this version of Porcello, but they were clearly looking for something more. With all of that being said, the righty has been a little better of late and there are some reasons to be positive as we head into October. First, let’s take a look at where Porcello’s overall numbers stand, and it may be surprising at how not-terrible that may be. Through his first 31 starts, he has pitched to a 4.46 ERA. That is not ideal, of course, but context is important. Offense has exploded around the league this season, particularly with respect to the long ball. All of that has made this ERA essentially a league-average mark, as he’s currently posting a 101 ERA+, which compares his ERA to the league-average while also taking ballparks into consideration. This same phenomenon takes place with Porcello’s peripherals as well. His 4.49 FIP works out to a 104 FIP- — a slightly below-average mark — and his 5.18 DRA works out to a 109 DRA-. Again, these are not good enough relative to what we expected from Porcello, but it’s worth noting that our instinctive evaluations should take into account the offensive boom around the league. Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports Perhaps more importantly, the righty is trending in the right direction, at least in some areas. Over the last couple of months, the Red Sox have gotten better production from their 2016 Cy Young winner and they probably feel at least a little better about him heading into the postseason. Now, it hasn’t all been great. Since August first, when he ostensibly turned his corner, he only has a 4.22 ERA. That’s still not all that impressive, and at the end of the day the most important job Porcello has is keeping runs off the board. Still, if we look a little bit deeper there are some reasons to be encouraged. For one thing, the ERA may not be quite as bad as it looks. The sample since August 1 is only nine starts long, so there is some noise involved. As it turns out, he’s really been hurt by a couple bad starts. He’s allowed more than four runs just two times and more than three runs just three times. In other words, he’s kept the Red Sox in the game in most of his starts. Furthermore, he’s been able to get deep into the game more often than not, tossing at least six frames in five of these nine starts. Again, this may not have been good relative to his expectations, but putting those aside he’s been solid enough. What’s even more encouraging is that Porcello hasn’t really been giving up as much hard contact for hits during this run. Granted, he’s still been allowing the long ball over the last six weeks, and that’s clearly a problem. However, he’s been killed by simply allowing a ton of hits on balls in play this year, and that’s reversed some lately. He’s not at his 2016 levels, of course, but he’s been much better. After allowing a batting average of balls in play of .332 through the month of July he’s allowed a mark of an easy .300. This isn’t an accident, either, as he’s been allowing much weaker contact over this run. Below is a graph of the hard-hit rate he has allowed in each start, and the dotted line that runs horizontally through the graph represents the league-average. As you can see, there is a spike towards the end and from that point forward Porcello is at or below the league-average. That point is his first start of August. This isn’t simply the result of small sample size noise and some earlier issues working themselves out just based on the natur[...]



American League Playoff Update: September 20, 2017

2017-09-20T08:00:09-04:00

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The Yankees win. Again.

With the minor-league season over and our typical 8:00 AM slot suddenly open, I figured it would be worthwhile to take a quick daily look at how the playoff picture has changed in the American League on a day-to-day basis. This will be nothing fancy. Just a look at how playoff contenders did on the day, how it affected the standings and what it means for the Red Sox. I’ll consider any team within five games of a playoff spot as a postseason contender.

Scores

NYY 5, MIN 2

BOS 1, BAL 0

TOR 5, KC 2

CHC 2, TB 1

HOU 3, CHW 1

CLE 6, LAA 3

TEX 3, SEA 1

Playoff Odds

Division Odds

Playoff Picture Update

Not too much is changing in the American League playoff picture. The Red Sox and Yankees both keep winning at the exact same pace, and neither side can seem to change that three-game separation between the two. As for the second wildcard, it doesn’t appear that anyone wants it. The Twins have now lost two in a row, but the Angels couldn’t take advantage of that last night. The only team that is even mildly hot in that race is Texas, and they remain 3.5 games back. Los Angeles is still the best bet to catch Minnesota at just 1.5 games back.




Daily Red Sox Links: Carson Smith, Tzu-Wei Lin, David Price

2017-09-20T07:00:05-04:00

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The pros and cons of extra inning magic.

Even though they won last night, the Red Sox didn’t score until the 11th inning, showing that the offense still has some major issues. (Chad Jennings; Boston Herald)

It was another win in extra innings for the Red Sox. What does that mean for the postseason, if anything? (Alex Speier; Boston Globe)

Carson Smith wants to be on the postseason roster and he might actually deserve it. (Tim Britton; Providence Journal)

Tzu-Wei Lin had a lot to do with the win on Monday night. (Peter Abraham; Boston Globe)

Lin’s chances with the Sox this year have given his interpreter, Mickey Jiang, time with the big league club as well. (Tim Britton; Providence Journal)

As we talked about yesterday, the Red Sox bullpen is a big part of why they’ve won so many close games. (Nick Cafardo; Boston Globe)

Even if David Price is in that pen, John Farrell isn’t interested in the Andrew Miller comparisons. (Jen McCaffrey; MassLive)




Red Sox 1, Orioles 0: Winning in nine innings is for chumps

2017-09-19T22:39:36-04:00

Another day, another extra inning victory. This season has been something else, and this month in particular has been wild. The Red Sox played yet another extra inning game on Tuesday, though this one was the complete opposite of Monday’s aside from the end result. In this game, pitchers dominated the day. In particular, Kevin Gausman came out and dominated the Red Sox through the early portions of this game. They had almost nothing going at the plate all day long, but fortunately Drew Pomeranz got over some lackluster stuff to keep Baltimore off the board altogether as well. As a fan, these games are taking years off our lives but the Red Sox just keep winning these extra inning affairs. Once again, the story in this particular win was the bullpen, who just continues to own these situations. This game was a pitcher’s duel, and at least one half of that performance was somewhat unexpected. The Red Sox couldn’t get anything going off Gausman in the early going, and just looking at the righty’s ERA it would seem to be another example of the Red Sox lineup making a subpar pitcher look much better than he actually is. I’m not entirely unsure that this is an entirely inaccurate description of Tuesday’s game, but I do know that it would be underplaying how good Gausman was. The Orioles starter is a former top prospect who has a ton of talent in his arm. His issue this year has been control and command, but when he’s locating his pitches he is extremely hard to hit, and the Red Sox found that out the hard way in this game. Gausman was locating everything and had his best stuff working all night long, and that resulted in a lot of Red Sox hitters looking foolish. In fact, the 14 men that came to the plate were set down, and there was nothing that even threatened to be a hit. Boston finally got their first baserunner of the day with two outs in the fifth when Rafael Devers smacked a ball off the right field wall for a single, but of course Gausman came back with a strikeout to end the inning. The Red Sox offense actually got a legitimate scoring chance in the next inning when Xander Bogaerts came through with a two-out single and Andrew Benintendi followed it up with a walk. It put a runner in scoring position for Mookie Betts, but he couldn’t come through and grounded out to end the inning. While all of this was going on, the score remained tied at zero because Pomeranz was also doing his part. As I said above, he didn’t have his best stuff in this game and looked like a guy who could probably benefit from a skipped turn before the postseason starts. His velocity was consistently in the high 80s with his fastball and he had some real trouble locating that curveball. Despite all that, he managed to get through six shutout innings thanks to solid location on his fastball that led to weak contact, big pitches when he needed it and a little help from his friends behind him. The Orioles had their first real chance in the third inning when they put forth a solid little two out rally. Manny Machado started things off with a double down the left field line to become the first player in the game to go beyond first base, and Jonathan Schoop followed that up with a single of his own. Machado tried to score on the ball to left field, a decision that made sense with two outs. It didn’t work out, though, as Benintendi threw a perfect strike into Christian Vazquez to gun down Machado for the third out of the inning. Patrick McDermott-USA TODAY Sports Baltimore would come back out a couple innings later in the fifth and start to really put some good swings on the ball. Chris Davis started things off with a big fly ball out to center field but Jackie Bradley did Jackie Bradley things and perfectly timed a jump to rob the slugger of a home run. These plays are so damn routine at this point it’s ridiculous. Austin Hays followed that up with a big fly ball of his own, this one bouncing[...]



Red Sox at Orioles lineup: Drink up for game 151

2017-09-19T17:00:28-04:00

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The lead is three. The magic number is 10. Let’s get it.

I gave up on the Sox last night and I’m truly sorry. It won’t happen again, unless it happens again tonight, but what are you gonna do? If Big Drew Pomeranz can settle Baltimore’s bats early and the Sox can do some damage against the damageable Kevin Gausman, perhaps they can win in nine innings for once. That I’m into. Pretty please?

LOL. Of course they won’t. But 10 maybe? One for every game of the AL East magic number? Ja ja ja, is good, especially with Hanley Ramirez and Dustin Pedroia out of the lineup. Here are the full slates:




Inside a Rafael Devers slump

2017-09-19T10:30:02-04:00

What makes the young third baseman go into downturns? This post was written before Monday’s game in Baltimore. If/when Devers goes 4-4 with 4 home runs, you can thank me. By any measure, Rafael Devers has been a success story this year and has exceeded all expectations. At least, he’s exceeded my expectations as someone who didn’t really expect the top prospect to come in and contribute anything significant in 2017. Instead, he was called up to the majors and immediately made a major impact on the lineup. Along with Eduardo Nuñez, another newcomer who joined the roster around the same time, the two provided an undeniable spark and unquestionably turned around the season for this Red Sox team. Despite being just 20 years old, Devers has held his own against the best pitchers in the world and has been able to survive various adjustments being made by opponents. It’s worth saying again: This season has been an unmitigated success for the young third baseman and the fan base has a reason to be excited about the future at the hot corner for the first time in a long time. All that being said, though, things haven’t been 100 percent perfect 100 percent of the time. It’s hard to put a word on what Devers has been doing at the plate lately. I think it’s fair to call it a slump, though it’s entirely possible that’s too harsh. The young lefty hasn’t really been bad of late, though he clearly hasn’t lived up the expectations that were set by his hot start. Of course, those expectations were probably never all that realistic to begin with. Either way, the last month or so has been a serious downturn. If you go back to August 20 (ARBITRARY ENDPOINTS ALERT) he is hitting just .224/.283/.286 for a .569 OPS. Prior to that point he had posted a 1.151 OPS. There have been some strong moments within this subpar run, and he hasn’t really gone through major periods of being completely absent from the lineup. This is a small sample — he’s accrued 106 plate appearances during this stretch — but it’s worth looking at what’s going on and more generally what happens with Devers when he starts to struggle at the plate in his early career. There were two things that jumped out at me to show what a Devers slump looks like. The first is with his plate discipline. When the young third baseman was first called up, arguably the most impressive part of his game was his ability to lay off tough pitches to hit. It’s something some of us may take for granted in watching this game day after day, but it’s wildly difficult to do against major-league pitching. That goes doubly for someone who is just 20 years old. That ability has faded a bit of late. Below, you’ll see a graph that shows every five-game stretch of his rookie season. The blue line shows his wOBA (an all-encompassing offensive stat via Fangraphs) during these stretches. The red line shows his swing rate. The correlation isn’t perfect here, but generally speaking he’s been better when he’s been swinging less. To further this point, here is a side-by-side comparison at where in the zone he is swinging, via Brooks Baseball. The snapshot above is from the first portion of his season through August 19. The one below is from after. The thing that stands out to me here is how much more often Devers is swinging at pitches up in the zone and in on his hands. I’ll get to my theories on this in a minute, but just keep this in mind. Before I do that, though, let’s look at the other part of his game that has told the tales of his struggles. I said above that arguably the most impressive part of Devers’ game at such a young age was his plate discipline. I say arguably because there is also a case to be made that his ability to go the other way is more impressive. I certainly wouldn’t argue with that assertion. As it turns out, this talent [...]



The Red Sox keep giving us reasons to believe

2017-09-19T09:01:01-04:00

Whether or not you want to take them is up to you The Red Sox have spent the majority of this year being good. Granted, there have been some lulls in their play and times when it looked like they were ready to fall out of contention altogether, but that’s just baseball. Every team goes through those periods. Go look at what Indians fans were saying about their team in late July and early August. Despite the fact that the Red Sox have had control of their division for the last couple of months and that they’ve been good almost all year, the most common thing I hear about this team is that they can’t win in the postseason. Whenever something good happens, the retort is that they are going to get swept in the first round anyway. I understand where it’s coming from. The lineup doesn’t look like the kinds of Red Sox lineups we’ve seen win the World Series and they disappear for days at a time. That’s not great! Despite all that, this team just continues to give you reasons to believe in their ability to win in October. It’s up to you whether or not you want to get your hopes up. The Starting Pitching A funny thing has happened this year. For the first time I can ever remember, people are starting to say that good lineups win in the postseason. It’s strange, of course, because when the Red Sox had great lineups over the course of the last decade, what we heard was that pitching wins in October. The real answer, of course, is that good teams win in the playoffs and there are many ways to do it. The Red Sox have their formula, and that includes big-time starting pitching. Chris Sale hasn’t pitched as well as we hope of late, but he’s still Chris Sale and I’m going to be confident every time he’s on the mound. One can worry all they want about Drew Pomeranz fading with his inning load, but I’ll wait until he shows any sign of that. Eduardo Rodriguez is hitting his stride again and finally starting to mix his pitches from the first inning on. Rick Porcello....well, Rick Porcello is at least showing some flashes and we’ve seen that he can be one of the best pitchers in baseball when he’s on. Starting pitching winning in October is an adage as old as baseball itself, and the Red Sox have some great starting pitching. Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images The Relief Pitching One of the reasons the Indians are the favorites to win the American League right now is their bullpen. Their two-headed monster of Cody Allen and Andrew Miller is unmatched in baseball and everyone who isn’t afraid of them is crazy. That being said, the Red Sox have a hell of a bullpen themselves, even if it doesn’t have that kind of one-two punch. They do have Craig Kimbrel, who has arguably been better than both Allen and Miller this year. There’s no reason to believe John Farrell won’t lean heavily on his closer in October. They also have Addison Reed, who has had a couple rough outings here and there but has more often shown that he can come through in the big spot. Just look at how he got himself out of that jam on Monday night. When you throw David Price into the mix, baby you got a stew goin’. This bullpen has done nothing but put up results all year, particularly in extra innings when the pressure is kicked up a notch, and there’s little reason to believe that will change in October. They beat good teams One of the most frustrating parts of this season is that the Red Sox haven’t been able to do major damage against their division this year. That’s always annoying, and I can’t really argue against people that are upset about this. The one retort I do have is that they play in a good division that has had four teams contending for a playoff spot for most of the season. Most divisions in the league cannot say that. Despite the lackluster performance against these teams, the Red Sox have don[...]