Red Sox Rotation: Wait and Wade

This post continues our Depth Chart Discussions. In an effort to suss out every team, we’ve divided them into four parts (infield, outfield, rotation, and bullpen) and will continue to break them down for you over the next few weeks. You can find the Depth Chart Discussion posts gathered here.

Like their infield and outfield, the Red Sox’s 2015 rotation projects to look nothing like it did at the beginning of 2014. That’s probably not bad news: Red Sox starting pitchers were not very good in 2014. They placed 27th in FIP, 23rd in RA9-WAR, and 15th in fWAR. All told, the Sox gave starts to eleven different pitchers. Here’s a quick look at who started for them in 2014:

Clay Buchholz 28 170.1 6.97 2.85 0.315 62.1% 46.6% 9.2% 5.34 4.01 4.04
Jon Lester 21 143.0 9.38 2.01 0.308 74.0% 43.2% 6.5% 2.52 2.62 3.00
John Lackey 21 137.1 7.60 2.10 0.298 73.7% 46.9% 11.5% 3.60 3.56 3.32
Jake Peavy 20 124.0 7.26 3.34 0.301 74.3% 39.0% 12.6% 4.72 4.80 4.29
Rubby de la Rosa 18 100.0 6.30 3.15 0.324 74.5% 45.8% 11.7% 4.50 4.40 4.12
Brandon Workman 15 80.2 7.03 3.90 0.299 61.0% 40.8% 10.8% 5.36 4.52 4.33
Allen Webster 11 59.0 5.49 4.27 0.297 65.3% 46.0% 4.9% 5.03 4.35 4.97
Joe Kelly 10 61.1 6.02 4.70 0.237 71.1% 55.3% 11.1% 4.11 4.62 4.46
Felix Doubront 10 50.1 6.26 4.11 0.280 66.4% 36.3% 11.3% 5.19 5.30 4.98
Anthony Ranaudo 7 39.1 3.43 3.66 0.225 82.9% 34.1% 14.3% 4.81 6.89 5.79
Steven Wright 1 5.0 7.20 3.60 0.250 66.7% 60.0% 0.0% 0.00 2.73 3.47

From that list, only Buchholz, Kelly, Workman, and Wright remain in the organization. At a glance, Buchholz seemed to be the victim of some bad luck. That might be true, too, of the starting version of Workman, though we might not see much of that version in 2015.

Joining Buchholz and Kelly in the likely “opening day rotation” are Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, and Justin Masterson. While the additions to the rotation are nowhere near as flashy as their signings of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, the Sox figure to feature an improved rotation in 2015. Between projected improvement (or more average luck?) from Buchholz and by replacing bad innings from Peavy, de la Rosa, Workman, and Webster with [at least] more average innings from Porcello and Miley, they’d be hard-pressed not to be better.

Unlike the outfield situation in Boston, however, there doesn’t seem to be much mystery in how the rotation will look to start the season (though anything can happen between now and then), so let’s look at those top five guys…

Rick Porcello IP GS W K ERA WHIP K% BB% FIP
2014 204.2 31 19 129 3.43 1.23 15.4% 4.9% 3.67
Steamer 192.0 30 13 132 3.96 1.29 16.3% 5.7% 3.70
ZiPS 183.2 29 131 3.72 1.24 16.8% 5.4% 3.59

Rick “Porcie” Porcello is the nominal ace here but—I’ll say it right off the bat—he shouldn’t be the ace of your fantasy team. I’m sure you’re shocked to read that. He wouldn’t be the ace on most MLB teams. He posted the best ERA of his career in 2014, and topped 200 IP for the first time, but those things are as much a cause to mitigate excitement as they to become excited: his ERA was good, not great, and he can’t be considered a lock for 200 IP. Furthermore, his xFIP and SIERA actually both took a step back from his 2013 campaign, largely thanks to a decline both in strikeouts and, in the case of SIERA, ground-ball rate.

Porcello throws a lot of first-pitch strikes, which is good, but in his case that leads to limiting walks and not necessarily notching strikeouts. And that’s the main knock on Porcello from a fantasy perspective: you really can’t count on him for any contribution in K’s. There’s no history of it with him, there’s no glaring cause for expected improvement based on swinging strike rate (he simply doesn’t miss many bats). Sure, he could add or make changes to a pitch that allows him to strike out more hitters, but banking on that seems foolish.

Given his low walk rates and his ability to keep the ball on the ground and in the park, Porcello has a pretty high floor—it’s difficult to imagine his ERA, WHIP, or defense-independent numbers getting out of hand. He plays for team that should score a lot of runs in 2015, and he’s at least hinting that he can last deeper into games and to log significant innings. Considering that, I’ll take the Fans projection of 15 Wins over Steamer’s 13. Porcello’s going in mock drafts as about the 60th starting pitcher off the board, which makes him a back-end guy in 12-team mixed leagues. That seems fine to me. Grab him later if you can, and grab him thinking that you need a decent WHIP and some Wins.

2014 201.1 33 8 183 4.34 1.40 21.1% 8.7% 3.98
Steamer 173.0 30 12 133 4.20 1.35 18.0% 7.9% 3.98
ZiPS 187.2 30 155 3.91 1.32 19.2% 7.8% 3.59

Meanwhile, back in Mockville, Wade Miley is ADPing as the 93rd starting pitcher selected, which would suggest that most like him significantly less than Porcello, and that he’s probably not being drafted in a decent number of 12-team mixed leagues. Why? Why Porcello over Miley? I’m guessing that a lot of it has to do with visibility: Porcello had a decent year with an AL team that has been a perennial contender and division winner; Miley came from the worst team in the league in 2014, putting up decent numbers in the weaker offensive league.

Well; I am here to tell you, if find yourself wondering whether to spend your 20th round pick on Porcello or to add depth at another position (maybe here’s where you draft Brett Cecil and receive “nice pick” compliments from everyone), go with the other position, and take Miley with your last pick instead. It’s not that I prefer Miley in a vacuum. I think that he and Porcello will return similar value in 2015, albeit in different ways. But if there’s really a significant gap between their respective draft positions or auction values, I’ll go with the cheaper one.

Miley increased his K% in 2014 on the strength of throwing more first-pitch strikes and missing more bats. The reason for those improvements, in turn, might have been due to increased velocity and vertical movement on his slider, and greater usage of said pitch. While his whiff rate on the slider was about the same as it was in previous years, Miley threw his new faster, moving-er slider more in 2014, boosting his overall SwStr%.

Miley also keeps the ball on the ground at an above average rate. When he does allow fly balls, he has allowed a high number of those to leave the yard. But since he doesn’t allow many fly balls to begin with, his HR/9 is very reasonable.

Miley has a greater track record of logging innings, he has a similar ground ball rate to Porcello, he plays for the same potential offensive juggernaut, and he can contribute in K’s. If you are really afraid of the lumps that Miley will take in moving from the NL West to the AL East, well, okay, that’s warranted if you are. But if you look at Miley and see a pitcher who’s improving and just as good as Porcello, there’s no reason not to forgo drafting the latter in favor of the former—and in a much later round or for several fewer dollars to boot.

Clay Buchholz IP GS W K ERA WHIP K% BB% FIP
2014 170.1 28 8 132 5.34 1.39 17.9% 7.3% 4.01
Steamer 173.0 28 11 132 4.19 1.33 17.8% 7.5% 4.06
ZiPS 153.1 25 118 4.17 1.32 17.8% 7.6% 4.13

Buchholz is also going before Miley in mock drafts; he’s roughly the 89th starter off the board. The question here is whether you believe the upside. Yes, Buchholz was probably unlucky in 2014, so you might be inclined to look back at his 108.1 innings in 2013 and dream on the return of a 23.1% strikeout rate and a 1.74 ERA. But it appears as though, in that limited sample, Buchholz was just as lucky as he was unlucky in 2014.

So, what to think? Well, one thing that seems very likely if not certain is that Buchholz won’t reach 200 innings pitched. He never has before; in fact, he’s never come within 10 IP of 200. His batted ball profile is normal, and no changes stand out in his pitch usage in 2014. If there is a reason to hope, it’s that his second half was much better than his first half in 2014. He got his gopheritis under control in the second half and increase his K% while lopping over a full run off of his FIP (4.59 down to 3.50). But, beware the second-half fallacy.

Steamer sees a repeat of 2014, but with his ERA coming down to match his FIP. That’s not an exciting projection. At this point, I think his upside is increasingly unlikely to be reached. He’s a final-rounds flyer or streaming candidate to start the season.

Justin Masterson IP GS W K ERA WHIP K% BB% FIP
2014 128.2 25 7 116 5.88 1.63 19.6% 11.7% 4.50
Steamer 173.0 29 11 133 4.26 1.43 17.6% 10.0% 4.08
ZiPS* 157.2 26 134 4.28 1.40 19.3% 10.2% 4.18


2014 96.1 17 6 66 4.20 1.35 15.9% 10.1% 4.37
Steamer 144.0 25 9 96 4.20 1.45 15.2% 8.9% 4.39
ZiPS 124.0 20 83 4.21 1.40 15.2% 9.0% 4.33

You’ll do well to ignore Kelly and Masterson in your drafts and auctions. Kelly especially doesn’t project to contribute in any standard fantasy categories or in points leagues.

Masterson is more interesting, to say the least. Average luck on balls in play and HR/FB rate, combined with getting back to his 2013 levels in K% and BB% would boost him up into mixed-league relevance again. And that’s not that difficult to imagine—he, too, seemed to be the victim of hard luck in 2014. But his atrocious 2014 and the move to MLB’s toughest division should make you hold off until he shows some signs of his 2013 self.

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Porcello’s Steamer projections is calling for 22 wins in 65 innings, spread out across 30 starts? >._.>