The Boston Red Sox’ “Arms Race”
With both eyes affixed on the murderer’s row of power hitters in the lineup of the New York Yankees, instead of getting into an arms race with their arch-nemesis, the Boston Red Sox decided they’d double-down on a different type of arms race: namely, getting their pitching arms back in tip-top shape, in order to strike out those Yankee sluggers.
President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski for the Red Sox stated his public belief that Boston could compete with anyone in all of baseball, because they had a group of pitchers that can “shut people down when they come out in big games.”
By and large, he’s not wrong. For the majority of last season, Chris Sale was one of the best pitchers in the league, with a 2.37 ERA and only 11 home runs surrendered in his first 148 1/3 innings. Reliever Craig Kimbrel was one of the most dominant closers in the game, at least until Game 4 of the American League Division Series against the Houston Astros. Rick Porcello was only one year removed from winning the American League Cy Young award. Drew Pomeranz and Steven Wright were both All-Stars in 2016. David Price led the American League in ERA as recently as 2015.
But for all those accolades and accomplishments, the Red Sox pitching rotation, from the starters to the relievers, have their fair share of questions as well.
While he was one of the leaders for last year’s Cy Young award for the first part of the season, over his final 11 regular-season starts, Sale had a 4.09 ERA, while giving up 13 home runs in 66 innings. Most people will remember Game 1 of the ALDS against the Astros, when he allowed seven runs on three homers in five innings.
Sale’s ERA before the All-Star break
Over the course of his career, Sale’s ERA before the All-Star break (2.74) is naerly half a run lower than it is after the break (3.28), while his home-run rate jumps from 0.78 per nine innings to 1.11. Over the last four weeks of the season, those numbers jump from 3.78 and 1.51.
Price missed the first two months and another eight weeks last season with an elbow injury, and spent much of last year feuding with the local media, including Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley. With a chance to opt out of his seven-year, $217 million contract after this season, and with the pressure of the sports-obsessed Boston media appearing to get to him, how will he approach this season?
While Porcello is one year removed from a Cy Young award, he’s also two years removed from ranking 75th among 78 pitchers (who pitched a minimum of 162 innings) with a 4.92 ERA. Last year, his ERA climbed back to 4.65, and he allowed more hits (236) and homers (38) than any other AL pitcher.
Wright missed most of last season after knee surgery in the spring, and was arrested in December of 2017 on charges of domestic assault; Major League Baseball is still conducting an investigation with no timetable for potential discipline, which means any such decision is going to hang over his — and his team’s — head.
In the bullpen
In the bullpen, there are still unanswered questions as to whether Carson Smith and Tyler Thornburg can return from the nagging ailments of last year, and become reliable setup men in front of Kimbrel.
That’s why as pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers, Florida, it’ll be worth monitoring what we see from the Red Sox this spring.