The Red Sox Bizarre Rotation

The Boston Red Sox rotation began the season with some scrutiny as the starting five was filled with average to above average types and no pitcher resembling an ace. That scrutiny has turned to criticism as we near the end of the first month of the season and that rotation has allowed more runs than any other starting group in the American League and their 5.75 ERA is the worst in Major League Baseball. The rotation has gotten off to a terrible start, but the offense has produced and the Red Sox will still enter May with a winning record at 12-10. While a bloated ERA has generated calls for the Red Sox to make a trade for a starter, the current rotation has pitched better than its ERA would indicate. Going forward, the Red Sox rotation should get much better results than we have seen so far.

The Red Sox have given up a lot of runs, but the rotation’s FIP is a middle of the road 3.91. The Red Sox and Cleveland Indians are the only two rotations in MLB to have their ERA and FIP differ by more than one, and for the Red Sox that number is 1.84. The team’s walk rate at 8.8% is a little too high, but they make up for the high walk rate by striking out 22.9% of hitters. Their 14.9% K-BB rate is in the upper third of American League teams. Individually, there is not a single starter with a lower ERA than FIP.

IP ERA FIP xFIP
Clay Buchholz 25.0 5.76 2.65 2.79
Joe Kelly 23.2 4.94 3.60 3.19
Justin Masterson 22.2 5.16 3.57 3.88
Wade Miley 15.2 8.62 4.83 5.88
Rick Porcello 32.0 5.34 4.92 4.08

In a more visual form:

2015+RED+SOX+ROTATION+IN+APRIL

Of the 118 pitchers with at least 20 innings this season, less than half (49) have a higher ERA than FIP in the early stages of the season. Clay Buchholz’s 3.11 difference is the second-largest in baseball, behind only former teammate Jon Lester. Justin Masterson is 15th, Joe Kelly is 20th, and Wade Miley did not make the list with only 15.2 innings, but his ERA-FIP is the biggest in the rotation. Rick Porcello is only 40th on the list, but his 1.69 home runs per nine innings is nearly double his career mark of 0.95. Porcello’s start last night where he went seven innings, gave up two hits, one run, and two walks while striking out six was certainly encouraging.

Wade Miley has been the most disappointing Red Sox starter. After trading Allen Webster, Rubby de la Rosa, and Raymel Flores to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Miley, the Sox signed him to a reasonable three year extension with a club option that contained around $20 million in guaranteed money. The transition to the American League can be a difficult one, and Miley has mixed in two adequate starts with two really bad starts where he was unable to make it out of the third inning. He currently has more walks than strikeouts, but he has not lost velocity and his pitch mix is similar to the rest of his career.

Like Miley, Clay Buchholz and Rick Porcello appear to be throwing with the same velocity and the same mix of pitches. Justin Masterson has lost some velocity, but is attempting to counter that loss by throwing his slider more. As Carson Cistulli wrote, Joe Kelly has gone the other way, gaining a little velocity, but he is also throwing a slider more and has gotten great results in limited use with a 24% whiff rate, per Brooks Baseball. Kelly is striking out 29% of hitters so far this year. That number is not likely to remain that high, but his ERA should get better as the year progresses. For the entire rotation, the projections see better days ahead.

The chart below compares the pitchers’ current ERA with their projected ERA and FIP from the rest of the season from FanGraphs Depth Charts.

RED+SOX+STARTERS+ERA+AND+REST+OF+THE+SEASON+PROJECTIONS

Every Red Sox starter should get better results than what they have shown thus far. While their .308 BABIP is slightly unlikely and there is nothing too unusual about their 11% HR/FB rate, where the Red Sox have been hurt the most this season is in sequencing.

The Red Sox current left on base percentage for starters is 59.3%, worst in the league. That number is bound to move up, and with it the runs will go down. Since 2010, the single worst seasonal LOB% was put forth by the Cleveland Indians in 2012, when they ended the year with a 65.3 LOB%. Over the five previous seasons, here are the worst rotations in April by LOB% and where they ended up at the end of the year.

Year Team April LOB% Season LOB% Change
2010 Pirates 59.9 66.3 6.4
2011 Cubs 64.5 69.4 4.9
2012 Twins 62.3 67.0 4.7
2013 Athletics 64.6 73.8 9.2
2014 Diamondbacks 61.4 69.6 8.2
  AVERAGE 62.5 69.2 6.7

Every single team moved up, showing that their April results were somewhat of an aberration. The Red Sox do not have a great rotation, but that was their plan entering the season. The rest of the season positional rankings based on projections have the Red Sox with the 24th best rotation in baseball which is the same spot the Red Sox were in entering the season. The team knew when it did not bring back Jon Lester or sign another big-name free agent like Max Scherzer or James Shields that this was the team they planned on. They chose to spend their money on Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez so they can could try to pummel the opposing pitching staffs and hope that a low-ceiling, stable rotation would put them in contention.

Despite poor results from the pitching staff, their plan has worked. Only the Blue Jays have scored more than the Red Sox 113 runs this year. While the .318 wOBA and 98 wRC+ are in the middle of the pack, the team’s .272 BABIP is bound to improve. The Red Sox have a winning record and sit just one game behind the New York Yankees for first place in the AL East. Their odds to win the division are nearly double that of any other team in the East at 47%. They are currently projected to win 88 games which is three games ahead of the Yankees and six games ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays. If the Red Sox rotation fails to stabilize as the season goes on, they have the resources to make a big move, but for the moment they might be better served to see what they really have before rushing to judgment.

We hoped you liked reading The Red Sox Bizarre Rotation by Craig Edwards!

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Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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Sandy Kazmir
Member
Sandy Kazmir

Nothing to see here, move along. The best city with the best team with the best fans on the best coast are going to be FINE! They’ve just been unlucky! Once that mean Mr. Babip stops bothering the pitchers and Mookie this team might never lose a game again!!!! I’m sure having the fifth lowest DRS and poor defenders littered across the field doesn’t have anything to do with it. It’s just luck, you guys!

Clay's Hamstring
Guest
Clay's Hamstring

You mad?

Sean C
Guest

Littered with bad defenders?

Hanigan, Napoli, Pedroia, Sandoval, Betts, Victorino, and maybe just maybe one day, Castillo.

There’s a real defensive problem in left field for sure. But this team is not the terrible group of defenders you make it out to be.

Thanks for citing 22 games with of DRS though!

Yirmiyahu
Member

Hanley’s been a butcher, but I’m still hoping he can learn the position.

Consider how great he’s hitting, how bad he’s fielding LF, his reputation as a diva, and his last name. It’s great to have you back, Manny.

Sandy Kazmir
Member
Sandy Kazmir

https://twitter.com/fangraphs/status/593817369807556608/photo/1
Don’t take my word for it. I’m sure the fielders have just been unlucky like the pitchers and hitters, though.

Sean C
Guest

You should understand the statistics and sample sizes better before citing them.

arc
Guest
arc

He knows about those things, Sean. If fangraphs had posted an article after the Sox initial hot start, he would have been mouthsitting all over the thread about sample size and good luck.

Numbers he mentions will only ever be the ones that fit his bias. He doesn’t care about data or analysis. He’s here to satisfy some childlike psychological preoccupation with rooting against the Bad Guys.

redsoxu571
Guest
redsoxu571

FYI, Pedroia’s DRS number is terrible right now.
FYI, Pedroia’s DRS and UZR numbers were pretty bad early on last year too.
FYI, Dustin Pedroia has been the best fielding 2Bman (by eyes and the metrics) for a few seasons now.

Sample size. Sample size. SsssssAmPlE sizEEEEE. Say it with me!

everdiso
Member
everdiso

if we look at the defensive data since 2013, which still admittedly includes very small samples for some:

CF Betts 433.1in, +4.5uzr/150
RF Nava 1048.2in, +9.1
LF Ramirez 165.1in, -42.1
3B Sandoval 2594.1in, -0.7
SS Bogaerts 1108.1in, -0.3
2B Pedroia 2774.0in, +14.9
1B Napoli 2210.1in, +8.6
C Hanigan 1340.0in, +2drs

looks like there’s a plus right side of the infield, probably a hole in lf, and averagish everywhere else – though RF is kind of an X factor given we don’t even know whose position that is anymore.

FuriousToaster
Guest
FuriousToaster

Did you actually mean to list Sandoval, or were you just getting excited? :p

A guy
Guest
A guy
FuriousToaster
Guest
FuriousToaster

Yeah… seen that. Am i supposed to be impressed that he didn’t break his nose/face? Or that he is so slow he had to dive for what should have been an easy play? :)

K
Guest
K

You are such a hack, Sandy. Isn’t it about time for you “quit fangraphs forever” again?

matt w
Guest
matt w

I’m all for that, but he does at least have this much of a point: It’s odd to write an article about an entire rotation that has an ERA way above their FIP without looking at the team’s defense.

Sandy Kazmir
Member
Sandy Kazmir

Thank Matt, always nice to meet one of the millions.

Ted F.
Guest
Ted F.

He mentioned the BABIP, which is high but not excessively so, as he said, it is the sequencing that is killing them. Batting with RISP is through the roof.

matt w
Guest
matt w

Good point, Ted.

Sandy, I can’t say I return the pleasure.

ed
Guest
ed

Maybe dial back that snark-to-content ratio just a tad.

John Cee
Guest
John Cee

Ha! You beat me to it. Sure it’s only 22 games of DRS, but no doubt we’d hear praises from the chorus if their 22 game DRS was top 5.

I haven’t and won’t look at splits because I really don’t care, but Fenway Park may be an early ERA wrecking factor.

Fact is the Sox have a great O with the potential for plus D. Their rotation is a bunch of league avg plus inning eaters. They have the resources to splurge on a top starter. They’ll be fine.

Steve_in_MA
Guest
Steve_in_MA

Boston’s 55 degree average game start temp in April is an ERA killer. They loosen up in Ft. Myers at 85, and then come here and tighten back up until the temps start rising.