We are 54 games into the 2019 season and the Red Sox problems still seem to cling to the team like mosquitoes on sweat. The reigning champs own a 29-25 record. They are 6.5 games behind the Yankees and Tampa Bay sits in between them and New York in the division.
The team’s starting rotation is strong. Chris Sale and David Price combine for one of the best one-two punches in the American League (AL). Rick Porcello is as consistent and reliable as starters get, as he has strung together 10 seasons of at least 27 starts. The Red Sox are still awaiting the return of Nathan Eovaldi from the Injured List. The 29-year-old averaged 8.2 strikeouts per 9 innings (SO/9) last season between Tampa Bay and Boston, which was a personal career-best. Eduardo Rodriguez rounds out the rotation. The Venezuelan southpaw has been a two-faced hurler in 2019. Of his 11 starts, he has 5 quality starts and four starts of allowing at least 5 earned runs.
Only Sale, Porcello, and Rodriguez have pitched all of their scheduled starts this year. Price has missed three and Eovaldi pitched just four starts before undergoing surgery on his right elbow (loose bodies; expected to embark on a rehab assignment within the next week or two). Hector Velazquez has filled in by starting seven games. His longest outing in 2019 is five innings. Two other starts have been made by Red Sox pitchers. Ryan Weber turned in a quality start last week and Josh Smith allowed four earned runs in 3.1 innings of work on May 6.
We have arrived at the core of the Red Sox problems: bullpen depth. Boston has five valuable relief pitchers: Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, Marcus Walden, Heath Hembree, and Brandon Workman. The five of them have compiled averages of a 2.34 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and 11.4 SO/9.
The Houston Astros’ bullpen ranks second in the AL in fewest runs allowed per game with 3.55. Their five best arms include Roberto Osuna, Josh James, Ryan Pressly, Will Harris, and Hector Rondon. Compared to the Red Sox, these relievers averages are 2.13 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, and 9.8 SO/9.
These numbers may look similar and they are. The discrepancies may seem minimal, they are. However, two key AL bullpen statistics, that jump off the page, is where the Red Sox bullpen diverts from appearing well-built to becoming a sour situation.
The first stat is runs allowed per game. The top-five AL teams, in this department, are Tampa Bay (3.18), Houston (3.55), Minnesota (3.94), Cleveland (4.08), and New York (4.09). Oakland ranks sixth at 4.25 and Boston seventh, allowing 4.61 runs.
Tampa Bay’s elite bullpen, along with their trio of Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, and Tyler Glasnow, has carried them to a .627 win percentage this year. In terms of hitting, the Rays are scoring 4.59 runs per game, which ranks ninth in the AL. In comparison, their 4.59 runs smudges them in between the Angels and Royals. Both of these teams own a win percentage below .454. The Red Sox have scored 5.35 runs/game, which ranks fourth in the AL.
The second key bullpen statistic is inherited score percentage (IS%). This calculation shows the percentage of runners (on base) who subsequently scored when a pitcher entered a game. The league average is quantified at 32%. Four of the five teams that rank above the 32 percent threshold have losing records. The one outlier is the Red Sox, who stand four games above .500 and have allowed 35% of their inherited runners to score.
Red Sox Problems: The Big Question
Despite the numbers, some may still ask, if the club has five valuable bullpen arms, then why is the bullpen a problem? Shouldn’t five be enough? Well, five is a good number. But in this market, it is imperative for a sports team to have all of their flaws covered. This boils down to a scary question: would you trust this bunch in the playoffs with games on the line?
The risk this poses has been proven regrettable in the past. The odds of bullpens being taxed in October is high, due the physical/mental strain of starting pitchers in big games. This means that pitchers, who I have failed to mention until now, will make appearances, and these pitchers have question marks. Do guys by the likes of Brian Johnson, Travis Lakins, Darwinzon Hernandez, Colten Brewer, Tyler Thornburg, Erasmo Ramirez, and Bobby Poyner frighten you? These are the names that round out the remaining compiled innings this year for the Red Sox.
It is likely that President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski acquires an extra arm at the July 31 trade deadline. However, how sure are we of Dombrowski bringing in a valuable arm as opposed to another reliever that gets added to the list of guys that are hard to trust? Dombrowski has had the window to bring back former closer Craig Kimbrel for seven months now. Kimbrel, to me, slots in as a valuable arm.
Through 54 games last season, the Red Sox were 37-17, good for first in the AL East. Now, a year later, they find themselves in a much different place. The continued production of their bats will count. The health of the starting pitching will be key. But, the performances of the rest of the club’s pitching will be the end game to whether the Red Sox can make a push for a second-straight title.