John Lackey Should Still Be With Boston

Chicago Cubs starting pitcher John Lackey was a strong contributor to the 2013 World Series team and trading him was a big mistake. Lackey had a roller coaster ride in a Sox uniform as he struggled in his first two seasons before becoming a reliable arm every fifth day for the organization. When the 2014 team was scuffling and the trade deadline came around, former Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington decided to part ways with John Lackey, trading him for Joe Kelly and Allen Craig.

Craig was struggling and his career looked to be dwindling and Kelly had his struggles inJohn Lackey the National League which typically doesn’t lead to success in the more hitter friendly American League. Meanwhile, Lackey seemed to be gaining form and becoming who the Sox thought they were getting him when they signed him to a five year $82.5 million deal. That improvement has continued and John Lackey is pitching like an ace, often going unnoticed behind Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester in the best starting pitching rotation in baseball.

Last season in St. Louis, Lackey had a 2.77 ERA and this season he has a 2.63 ERA for the Cubs. At this point in his career he will not wow you with his stuff but he hits his spots and gets guys out, something many Sox pitchers struggle to do. Lackey seems to be blossoming late in his career as last season was his best season to date and he’s on track to improve on those numbers this year. With John Lackey pitching so great, the Sox return of Joe Kelly and Allen Craig in the trade has been a catastrophe.

John Lackey Belongs with Red Sox Nation

Kelly has not established himself in the Sox rotation and is not looking likely to do so. Kelly has good stuff to work with but he has yet to put it together and it seems like yesterday the 28 year old was still a promising prospect. Kelly is now in the minor leagues, joining the other piece in the trade, Craig. Craig has been a disaster as he has been a minor leaguer for most of his tenure with the Sox organization. A once promising offensive player for the St. Louis Cardinals, Craig has seen his career vanish quickly and likely has played his last inning in the major leagues.

The Sox let go of a pitcher that was big time in the postseason in 2013 in order to gamble on a pitcher with upside who hadn’t put it together and a bat that was on the downfall. As a result, this trade is one of the worst in recent memory and the Sox 4.22 ERA as a pitching staff would be much better if Ben Cherington had stayed with John Lackey.

Joe Kelly Eyes Boston Return

I spotted Joe Kelly in the locker room when I walked in a few hours before the Pawtucket Red Sox were set to play the Toledo Mud Hens. Figuring that this would be a one and only chance to talk to the right-handed pitcher, I pulled out my recorder and approached him with a few questions, the first being, “How does it feel being back here?” Joe shifted in his chair and looked up. “I’ve been undefeated since I got here,” Kelly said as he put his cell phone down on his lap and grinned. It took me a minute to realize that he hasn’t pitched for the Red Sox AAA affiliate yet; I never took Kelly as a joker. Shifting to a more serious time, Kelly added, “I want to get consistent with my mechanics again and get back up [to Boston} as soon as I can.” Focusing on mechanics and getting his consistency back are just a few things on his mind as Joe Kelly eyes Boston return.

Kelly was taken by surprise when he learned he was being sent down to PawtucketJoe Kelly Eyes Boston Return after getting shelled by the Baltimore Orioles on June 2nd. Kelly went 2.1 innings giving up seven runs and seven hits before Red Sox manager John Farrell pulled him from the game that ended in a 13-9 loss for the Red Sox. While Kelly is 2-0 with 27 strike outs in 22.1 innings this season, he was becoming a concern for Farrell as his ERA climbed over 8.00 going into June. “He’s blessed with a golden arm and tremendous stuff, but the execution of it has not been as consistent,” Red Sox manager John Farrell told ESPN’s Scott Lauber. “So, we have made a move. We’ve optioned him back to Pawtucket in the pursuit to get him back on track.”

As Joe Kelly eyes Boston return, the rest of the Red Sox rotation continues to smooth out their own wrinkles. Pitching ace David Price gave up two runs, including a home run, on June 3rd against the Toronto Blue Jays that boosted his ERA to 4.88, not exactly what Dave Dombrowski had in mind when he offered Price a $217 million contract. Meanwhile, Eduardo Rodriguez is still trying to find his groove, Rick Porcello gave up five runs in his last start, and Clay Buchholz….do I even have to say anything?

Kelly’s Demotion was Long Overdue

Joe Kelly got lit up again Wednesday night, allowing seven runs on seven hits in 2 1/3 innings against the Orioles at Camden Yards. Afterwards, the Red Sox announced that Kelly was being sent down to Triple-A Pawtucket, where he will work on his game and hope to return a better pitcher than the one who posted an 8.46 ERA and 2.24 WHIP over his first six starts. Numbers like that wouldn’t fly on the Braves, let alone a first-place team, and in that sense Kelly’s demotion was long overdue.

While Kelly has dominated for brief stretches as a starter, he’s also had periods where he’s been absolutely terribleKelly's Demotion was Long Overdue. In 79 starts he has a 4.13 ERA, 1.44 WHIP and 1.75 K/BB ratio while allowing opponents to bat .266/.340/.401 against him—essentially what Hanley Ramirez is hitting this year. And don’t forget that nearly half of those starts came against weaker competition in the National League, making his numbers look better than they really are.

When Ben Cherington traded for Kelly two summers ago, he thought he was getting a young, hard-throwing hurler on the rise. Instead, it’s been one step forward and two steps back. Kelly’s walk rate nearly doubled immediately after the trade, while his strikeout rate remained shockingly low for someone averaging 95 miles per hour on his heater. The following year he picked himself to win the American League Cy Young award, only to wind up with a 4.82 ERA and 1.44 WHIP after making a midsummer pit stop in Pawtucket.

Rather than build off last year’s strong second half, Kelly reverted to his previous level of awfulness. He was walking nearly a batter per inning and allowing hits at a dizzying rate, looking generally lost on the mound. Last year the Red Sox could afford to let him work through his struggles, as they were out of the race by August. This year they can’t, which is why Kelly’s demotion was long overdue.

Kelly says his problems are mechanical, pointing to an issue with his arm slot. Hopefully he sorts things out and returns to the Sox a much-improved pitcher, as he did last year. But when or if he does, John Farrell shouldn’t be so quick to give him his job back. The Red Sox have seen this movie before, and they know how it ends.

Kelly the Key to Red Sox Rotation

The Red Sox rotation is an interesting collection of starters. There’s David Price, the obvious ace and former Cy Young winner (not to mention the richest pitcher in history). Behind him are potential number twos Rick Porcello and Clay Buchholz, who have frustrated Boston fans and media with their uneven performance. There’s Steven Wright, the enigmatic knuckle-baller who’s been the team’s best pitcher thus far in 2016. Then there’s Joe Kelly the key to Red Sox rotation.

Is Joe Kelly the Key to Red Sox Rotation?

It might seem crazy to call a number five starter the key to any rotation, let alone one of a first-place team, but that’s what Kelly isKelly the Key to Red Sox Rotation. When he;s right, the Red Sox go five deep in the rotation, with each member capable of churning out a quality start on any given night. But when he’s not (or hurt), the back of their rotation suddenly looks much thinner. That much was clear during Kelly’s month-long absence earlier this year due to a shoulder impingement, during which time Sean O’Sullivan started twice. No offense to O’Sullivan, but he should not be starting for a postseason contender or any team that wants to win..

At least you know what you”re getting out of O’Sullivan, even if it isn’t much. The same can not be said of Kelly, who like his rotationmate Clay Buchholz is still an unknown quantity despite spending several years in Major League rotations and possessing dazzling stuff. While both have shown flashes of greatness, neither has evolved into the consistently great starter everyone hoped they’d become based on their obvious talent. Most recently, Kelly showed how dominant he can be in his return from the disabled list last Saturday, when he limited a red-hot Indians lineup to one hit over 6 2/3 innings.

The problem with Kelly is that he’s just as likely to endure a stinker. In his first three starts of 2016  he had more earned runs than innings pitched and nearly as many walks as strikeouts. If anything, his month-long DL stint was a welcome reprieve, allowing him to work on becoming the pitcher who finished last year 7-0 with a 2.35 ERA over his final eight starts rather than the trainwreck with a 6.11 ERA in 17 starts leading up to that run.

Which version of Kelly is going to show up this year remains to be seen. The Red Sox would like to open their series against the Blue Jays with a win tomorrow, but for that to happen they’ll likely need a good start from Kelly. In fact, they’re going to need quite a few of those from him in order to get where they want to go this year. That might be asking too much of the erratic 27-year-old, and if it is then they should stick him in the bullpen where belongs and trade for a more established starter. They might even explore trading Joe Kelly the key to Red Sox rotation.

Sox Need a Fifth Starting Option

With Joe Kelly having a very tough outing against the Toronto Blue Jays, giving up 5 earned runs in 4.2 innings pitched, the Sox need a fifth starting option. With the recent demotion of starter Clay Buchholz to the bullpen, Kelly was expected to step up and replace him. Kelly may be a little better than Buchholz, which isn’t saying much. The Sox are in desperate need of a fifth option behind David Price, Rick Porcello, Steven Wright and Eduardo Rodriguez. While the trade deadline is the most likely scenario for adding a fifth and likely a sixth starter, what should the Sox do for now?

The problem with the Sox minor league system right now regarding starting pitching is thatJoe Kelly they don’t have any pitcher major league ready that’ll pitch better than either Buchholz or Kelly. The one option they could turn to is lefty Brian Johnson. Johnson is really not much of an upgrade and the lack of major league ready arms down on the farm is an issue for this team.

Johnson has a 4.64 ERA at Pawtucket and has walked 22 batters in just 33 innings, reminiscent of fellow lefty prospect Henry Owens. While he has strikeout potential, 28 strikeouts in those innings, the lack of command just won’t cut it. Johnson may very well get the call if Kelly’s struggles persist but it will likely just be another disaster. Another option could be moving Matt Barnes back into the rotation, not a good baseball move though.

Barnes has been stellar in the bullpen this year and the fact that he was formerly a starting pitcher may have some lobbying for him to get another chance. This would also end up being a disaster as Barnes lacks an arsenal of pitches and relies on his fastball around 70% of the time. Without secondary pitches, there is little chance of succeeding at the big league level as a starter. So where do the sox go from here?

With an offense that is putting up gaudy numbers, the Sox have the luxury of waiting until the deadline to get improved starting pitching. Every fifth day the Sox are capable of scoring in double digits, eliminating the importance of pitching. With this, the Sox will lack a decent fifth option but their elite offense is more than capable of bailing out whoever the number five starter is every fifth day.

The Red Sox Injuries Keep Adding Up

As of April 24th, 6 different Red Sox have been placed on the disabled list and while that may not seem like a large amount, the Red Sox injuries keep adding up:Red Sox Injuries

  • Christian Vazquez: placed 15 day-disabled list retroactive to March 25; recovering from Tommy John surgery
  • Carson Smith: placed on 15 day-disabled list retroactive to March 25; forearm strain
  • Eduardo Rodriguez: placed on 15 day-disabled list with right knee injury
  • Brandon Workman: placed on 15 day-disabled list while recovering from Tommy John surgery; transferred to 60 day-disabled list on 4/13
  • Pablo Sandoval: placed on 15 day-disabled list retroactive to April 11; shoulder strain
  • Joseph Kelly: placed on 15 day-disabled with right shoulder impingement

Losing E-Rod and Kelly has proven to be a significant blow to an already struggling rotation. With the loss of Carson Smith the bullpen has been severely overworked, but it has opened up opportunities for guys to step up. One of those guys has been Steven Wright. Wright, who has been the most consistent and dependable starter by far, has notched a 1-1 record with a 1.40 ERA with 17 strikeouts in 19.1 innings. While it remains to be seen if he stays in the rotation once Rodriguez returns, his 3 quality starts have surely earned him that right.

The return of Christian Vazquez from Tommy John surgery seem to have really paid off in small samples for the pitchers—most notably Rick Porcello. Porcello’s last 2 starts against the Jays and the Rays have been quite encouraging going 2-0, with 13 K’s in 13.1 IP. But this time is far from fixed and really could use a boost from guys who are on the mend. With that said though there is no guarantee the returns of E-Rod and Smith will pay dividends instantly,but what it should do is help stabilize the pitching staff as a whole.

The Sox currently sit in second place at 9-9 trailing the Orioles by 2.5 games. While I’m still hopefully that they can grab some wins during the 2 game set in Atlanta against the Braves and then back to Boston for 2 more, it’s pretty clear that they cannot afford another injury. God forbid another starter goes down with something, it begs the question: what the hell will this team do?