Chris Sale is Creeping Back Into the Cy Young Conversation

Believe it or not, but Chris Sale has never won a Cy Young award. Since entering the league, Boston’s ace has been nothing short of dominant year in and year out. His highest earned run average came in 2015 with the Chicago White Sox, when he posted a 3.41 with 13 wins and 11 losses. And he still messed around and placed fourth on the Cy Young ballot and earned an All-Star selection.

In his eight seasons as a starting pitcher, Chris Sale has appeared on the Cy Young ballot Chris Salesix times and finished as the runner-up last year in his first season with the Red Sox. He’s been named to the All-Star team in each of those seasons as well, and it’s only a matter of time before he takes home the most coveted pitching award in the MLB. On Sunday, Sale was announced as an All-Star for the seventh straight year. While he came out of the gates a bit shaky this year, Chris Sale’s recent performances has him right back where he belongs: firmly in the conversation for the best pitcher in the American League.

Last season, Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians took home the honor, and he deserved it. He went 18-4 with a 2.25 ERA and led his club to a first place finish in the AL Central. Kluber had the lowest WHIP (0.869) of any starter on the ballot, and the second most strikeouts (265). Who had the most strikeouts you ask? That would be Chris Sale, whose 308 punchouts comfortably led the entire MLB. The next closest was NL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer with 268.

Chris Sale’s Competition

Sale’s competition this year will feature some familiar, and talented, names. Yankee ace Luis Severino, who placed third in voting last year, is building a strong case with his 14-2 record, 143 Ks, and 2.12 ERA, the second-best in the American League. Justin Verlander is emerging as an early favorite to take home his second career Cy Young with his 2.15 ERA and 154 strikeouts. Kluber, at 12-4 with a 2.49 ERA, will likely return to the ballot as well.

In comparison, the Red Sox ace leads the American League in strikeouts with 176, 18 ahead of Gerrit Cole’s tally of 158. His 2.36 ERA ranks fourth in the American League, and his WHIP of 0.89 is good for third, with Kluber (0.88) and Verlander (0.84) just edging him out. Lastly, Sale leads the AL in strikeouts per nine innings at 13.0, and if it holds this would be the fourth season he has done so.

Where Chris Sale will falter to his competition will be his record, as he is just 9-4 on the year. However, his wins and losses serve as a poor reflection of his performance this year. The Red Sox seemingly hate giving their ace any sort of run support. On the year, the Red Sox average 4.65 runs in games started by Sale, and it’s reflected in his four losses and an additional six no-decisions. Granted, I’m not saying Chris Sale has been perfect, but I am saying some more runs would go a long way.

Back in Form

Sale truly returned to form in June, striking out 60 and going 3-2 with a 1.76 ERA. The Red Sox scored a combined three runs in those two losses. His lone start in July follows the same positive trend, as he punched out 12 and secured a win behind 10 runs from his offense. He has won his last three starts, and, in those games, the Red Sox have scored 26 total runs.

Chris Sale still has some work to do if he wants to take home the honor this year. His slider is still one of the deadliest pitches in the league. He must sustain his recent dominance to keep pace with his competition. This offense has shown they are more than capable of providing run support, and if they simply do so when Sale is on the bump, his case for the American League Cy Young will continue to strengthen.

Steven Wright Needs A Permanent Rotation Spot

The Boston Red Sox are in a tight battle with the New York Yankees for superiority in the AL East, and that won’t change anytime soon. It’s time to stop letting Drew Pomeranz take the mound and give Steven Wright, one of the league’s only knuckleballers, a permanent spot in the starting rotation.

Steven Wright joined the Red Sox at the trade deadline in 2013. After acquiring the Steven Wrightknuckleballer from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for Lars Anderson, the Sox only used Wright in ten contests over his first two seasons with the club. Wright found a niche in 2015 as a reliever, going 5-4 with a 4.09 ERA in 16 appearances. After a last-place finish in the AL East that year, the Red Sox entered 2016 with a revamped starting rotation. Wright was a part of this makeover, and he capitalized on his first season as a full-time starter. In 24 starts, he went 13-6 with a 3.33 ERA, 127 strikeouts, and four complete games. Wright’s breakout 2016 season also landed him a spot on the American League All-Star Team.

After consecutive last-place finishes, the Red Sox went 93-69 in 2016 and looked to have mended their rotation with the signing of David Price, the CY Young season of Rick Porcello, and the rise of Boston’s newest knuckleballer. Wright’s reign was short-lived, however. The following May, he underwent surgery to restore cartilage in his left knee and missed the remainder of 2017.

His problems followed him into the 2018 season. In March, the league suspended Wright for 15 games for violating the MLB’s personal conduct policy. Having completed his suspension on May 14,  Wright returned to his ballclub, but without a starting job. The culprit? Drew Pomeranz, who became a starter in Wright’s absence in 2017.

I will give credit where credit is due. In 2017, Drew Pomeranz looked every bit deserving of a spot in the Red Sox rotation. He went 17-6 with a 3.32 ERA and 174 punchouts and was a key cog in helping the Sox replicate their 2016 record of 93-69. And to begin this season, there was no justifiable reason to demote Pomeranz. He pitched as well as Wright did in his All-Star season, if not better.

Steven Wright Got His Groove Back

But now, over 60 games into the year, Steven Wright needs his spot back. Drew Pomeranz has allowed at least two earned runs in every single one of his starts this season. In eight starts, he is 1-3 with a staggering 6.81 ERA. And most recently, the team placed Pomeranz on the 10-day disabled list with tendinitis in his left bicep. Steven Wright made his first start of 2018 on June 5th against the Detroit Tigers. Throwing seven shutout innings with six strikeouts and just two hits, he reminded everyone what they’d been missing out on. On June 11th, Wright followed it up with another scoreless start against the Baltimore Orioles, surrendering just four hits in six innings of work. The knuckleballer has not allowed a run in 22 consecutive innings, and his ERA is down to 1.21 on the season.

The numbers alone are compelling enough. The knuckleball is a rare commodity in today’s MLB, and Wright’s superior numbers and novelty pitch make him all the more worthy of a starting job for this team.

Did Michael Pineda Have An Illegal Substance on His Hand?

Michael Pineda

In Thursday night’s 4-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox, Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda gave up only one run and four hits in six innings of work. The question everyone’s asking is: did Pineda have something illegal on his hand?

When Daniel Nava came up to bat in the top of the fourth inning in a scoreless game, NESN broadcasters Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy started to focus on the brown substance on Pineda’s pitching hand.

“There’s that substance; that absolutely looks like pine tar,” Orsillo said.

Remy replied, “Yeah, that’s not legal.”

Whatever the substance was on Pineda’s hand, it helped him hold the Red Sox without a hit for five innings. Pineda also struck out seven batters in his six innings of work.

According to MLB rule 8.02, it states that a pitcher may not, “apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball.” Rule 8.02 (b) says a pitcher may not, “have on his person, or in his possession, any foreign substance. For such infraction of this section (b) the penalty shall be immediate ejection from the game. In addition, the pitcher shall be suspended automatically.”

After the game, Pineda denied having any pine tar or any substance on his hand.

“I don’t use pine tar,” Pineda said. “It’s dirt. I’m sweating on my hand too much in between innings.”

After the game umpire crew chief Brian O’Nora said, “The Red Sox didn’t bring it to our attention, so there’s nothing we can do about it. If they bring it to our attention, then you’ve got to do something.”

This isn’t the first time a pitcher has been under fire for having a substance on their throwing hand. In June 2012, Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Joel Peralta was ejected for having pine tar on his glove while playing the Washington Nationals. During the 2006 World Series, Detroit Tigers pitcher Kenny Rogers was accused of having pine tar on his throwing hand in a 3-1 game two victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

On Friday, Major League Baseball executive Vice President Joe Torre said there were no plans to suspend Pineda.

“The umpires did not observe an application of a foreign substance during the game and the issue was not raised by the Red Sox. Given those circumstances, there are no plans to issue a suspension, but we intend to talk to the Yankees regarding what occurred.”

It is clearly a substance of some kind was on Pineda’s hands. Pitchers in the past have used substances such as pine tar to help them grip the ball better on off-speed pitches. Pineda could have also been using the pine tar on his hand because it was a chilly night in the Bronx. The Red Sox didn’t alert the umpires about the substance, but you can be sure players, managers and announcers will be keeping a close eye on Pineda all season long.

John Lackey Lacks for Nothing Now

John Lackey

Let’s play a game of who am I. In total, they make for a fascinating picture of Sox pitcher John Lackey. In his very first start of the 2009 season, the lead-off hitter was the Ranger’s Ian Kinsler; he had hit two homers against the Angels the night before. Lackey’s first pitch was over Kinsler’s head, the next one hit him in the side. Lackey never made a third, tossed out of the game after two pitches.

In 2008, Lackey led all American League starters in ERA and finished third in the Cy Young award voting. Lackey is one of only 6 major league pitchers who won at least 11 games in each year from 2004 to 2009 and more than a few in big, big post-season games.

In 2011, now with the Red Sox, Lackey went 2–5 with an 8.01 ERA in his first seven starts for the Sox, and in May, he was placed on the disabled list with an elbow strain. He did return though. In 28 starts, Lackey finished the year 12–12 with a 6.41 ERA—his worst season ever. The 114 earned runs he allowed were the most in the American League, and his ERA was the highest in Red Sox history for a starter with at least 150 innings pitched. His doctor later said that the bone spur he removed from Lackey’s elbow was, “the biggest I’ve ever seen.”

Lackey became one of the most despised Red Sox players in recent years due to his poor performance and his public links to the hugely publicized chicken and beer antics in the 2011 clubhouse. He was surly and dismissive to the media. Lackey never acknowledged the rabid Fenway faithful fans or doffed his cap. And his looming divorce became public in September of 2011, even as his wife was undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

Lackey missed the entire 2012 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, but yet travelled with the team and was in the dugout while undergoing rehab.

When a Sox rookie came up to the big club, it was Lackey who greeted him and took him to dinner and welcomed him. Of all Sox players, there was nobody who tipped the clubhouse boys and attendants better than Lackey. His teammates loved him.

Prior to the 2013 season, Lackey said he had no regrets about coming to Boston and vowed to change the narrative. He told the Boston Globe, “I thought this place would be good for me,’’ he said. “I’m a guy who likes competing and showing some emotion and that is what they want. When I’m pitching well, I think it’ll be a good thing. And I’m going to pitch well. This thing isn’t over.”

No John—it wasn’t over. Over the course of the 2013 Championship season, Lackey was brilliant. Only poor run support denied him a 15-18 win season.

The postseason? He won three games. Lackey outdueled David Price, Justin Verlander and Michael Wacha. Not a bad hat-trick. He won the series-clinching game 6 in Fenway, pitching superbly. Lackey even tipped his cap to the fans on departing.

I was thinking of all this watching him beat the Orioles last week. For the first three innings he threw nothing but fastballs, nothing Clemens-like, just 90-93 MPH but perfectly spotted. Wow, I thought, he is tough-minded. He’s tough as bark. And I sure am glad that John Lackey pitches for us.

Has Jake Peavy Stabilized the Five-Man Rotation?

jake peavy

Jake Peavy finally impressed me. It took a visit to Fenway Park, to seem him in person, to win me over. Great velocity, great command during the Saturday, August 31st game against Chicago sealed the deal.

Now, I said I was impressed. Still, I am skeptical. Sources said this wasn’t nearly his best outing. I thought Peavy looked strong on Saturday, which makes sense as he pitches more games for Boston. The numbers with previous teams he played with do not lie. They show a hot and cold record. Perhaps, now, in the right ball club Peavy can really come in to his own. This may be the right team and the right time. “May” being the operative word.

I watched him on Thursday, September 6th against the New York Yankees. He did a solid job, but I felt he needed to be pulled from game in the sixth inning. Peavy cannot go into the seventh due, in part, to his age and to his command. Things got a bit wonky with accuracy at the top of the 7th. The game was not a tight one, so I understand why management left him on the mound. Things got carried away quickly. It was not like we had a 14 run lead.

In conclusion, my skepticism remains intact, but is more specified.  Peavy cannot go into later innings. He cannot go past the 6th inning, or can he?

How does the team ensure that it’s starting pitchers stay on pace for the playoffs?

Major League Pitchers Need Greater Attention to Mechanics

Major League Pitchers

by Matt Stone

Biomechanical analysis:  The study of a pitcher’s delivery.  The Boston Red Sox have used it in the past to prevent injuries while the Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Indians still abide by it.  Many teams attempt to control the risk of injury through monitoring pitch count and only allowing a certain number of innings per game, which is standard in Major League baseball. But to many Major League pitchers and their coaches, this isn’t enough.  Clay Buchholtz, for example, is on the DL for bursitis in his shoulder along with a strained trapezius.  The star pitcher won’t be expected to play possibly before the All Star break this month.  Jon Lester was almost out for the count not long ago, after limping off the mound in the eighth inning, against the Toronto Blue Jays, and Joel Hanrahan, unfortunately, has much more to worry about. His most recent injury (a torn flexor tendon muscle in his right arm) has provoked Tommy John’s Surgery.  He will not be back as closer this season and it looks as though Andrew Bailey will take it from here.

 

Joel Hanrahan major league pitchers

Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Joel Hanrahan delivers to the Baltimore Orioles during the ninth inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston, Monday, April 8, 2013. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Biomechanical analysis can save a pitcher from future problems.  It was in 1989,  Al Leiter then of the New York Yankees, was over trained and overworked. His pitching career continued without proper analysis. After a three season stint with the Toronto Blue Jays, his pitching abruptly became a problem when he was forced to undergo two arthroscopic shoulder surgeries and a pinched nerve in his elbow.  It would not have been a problem if he had just undergone biomechanical analysis.  In 1991 he was the ‘poster child’ for the analysis.  As soon as orthopedist, James Andrews, worked on him and his mechanics the tables turned.  Together, they were able to work on a proper arm path.  His career had then taken off and he became one of the better Major League pitchers.

It’s not high pitch counts or number of innings that can control whether or not a pitcher gets injured. Eventually, if you don’t look at mechanics, it’s only a matter of time until the pitcher will show up with an injury.  Hence the reasons behind the copious amount of injuries we’ve seen this season for the Boston Red Sox.