Boston Pressure Getting to Eduardo Rodriguez

Eduardo Rodriguez started his career with one of the greatest starts for a rookie in Boston Red Sox history.  With the way that the Red Sox season has been going, it was good to see something that could finally be looked at as a positive for the team.  But as prior players have shown, it is not easy playing in Boston, especially when there are high expectations put on you.  After seeing two more solid starts following his debut, Rodriguez had one of the worst pitching performances for the Sox this season.  And now, Sox fans are starting to think that these early expectations may have come a bit too early.

In his debut on May 28, Rodriguez tossed 7 2/3 scoreless innings against the Texas Eduardo RodriguezRangers in a 5-1 victory.  He gave up only three hits and two walks while striking out seven batters.  His delivery looked great coming from a 6′ 2″ left-handed position, and he was simply dominant.  He followed this up with two more great starts against the Minnesota Twins and Baltimore Orioles, giving up only one run combined.  But could this just be a case of the opposing batters not knowing much about him?

In his time in the Minors, Rodriguez pitched for eight teams.  He recorded a 29-30 overall record, and had a 3.23 ERA with five complete games.  These are not outstanding numbers, but with the way that the Boston media and fans were portraying him, it seemed like he should have been a stud as a minor league pitcher.  This just wasn’t the case though.  And following his most recent start, it seems like reality is starting to check in for the young lefty.

In that start against the Toronto Blue Jays, Rodriguez got his first loss of his major league career.  He only pitched 4 2/3 innings while giving up eight hits and nine runs in a 13-5 loss.  Now I’m not saying that this is what we should expect to see from him in the future, but I think it brought us all as Red Sox fans back down to earth.

Boston is not an easy place for professional athletes.  You need to be a special person to deal with the expectations and criticisms that come along with playing here.  Because of all the success that our teams have had in the recent past, we expect to see greatness all the time, especially if we’ve seen it early in a particular players career.  Rodriguez is a perfect example of this.  Obviously there have been many that have lived up to these expectations, but more that have not.  Rodriguez has his next start on June 18, and let’s hope that he can get back to his dominant ways, and not become one of the many duds in Boston sports history.

4 Questions as Red Sox Head to Spring Training

spring training

While New Englanders will be braving the cold weather this February, the Boston Red Sox will be preparing for the start of spring training. Red Sox pitchers and catchers have to report to Fort Myers, Fla by February 20.

Boston has added a number of new faces to its roster over the off-season. While it appears the team has improved, there are a number of questions the team needs to answer if they are expected to contend in the American League East. Here are four key questions for the Red Sox as they enter spring training.

Can Xander Bogaerts live up to expectations?

Spring Training

This is a huge spring training for Xander Bogaerts. Last season, the shortstop came into spring training with lofty expectations after an impressive 2013 postseason where he hit .296 in 12 games.

In 2014, Bogaerts struggled as he batted .240 with 12 home runs and 39 RBI in 144 games. While he is only 23-years-old, the pressure is on Bogaerts.

Boston doesn’t have a backup plan if he continues to struggle. Even with an improved lineup, the Red Sox need Bogaerts to play better this season.

Can any of the pitching prospects earn a spot on the 25-man roster?

While the Red Sox added pitchers Rick Porcello, Wade Miley and Justin Masterson in the off-season, the team still lacks an established No. 1 starting pitcher. Because Boston lacks a true ace, this will be a great opportunity for one of the team’s young prospects to earn a spot in the rotation.

Henry Owens is regarded as the Red Sox best young pitcher in their minor league system.  The left-hander started last season in Double-A before being promoted to Triple-A late last summer.

Owens has to improve his command this spring before he has any chance of being on the opening day roster this April. Other pitchers to keep an eye on this spring are Danny Rosenbaum, Eduardo Rodriguez and Brian Johnson.

How will the Red Sox handle their crowded outfield?

The expected starters in the Red Sox outfield are Hanley Ramirez (left field), Rusney Castillo (center field), and Mookie Betts (right field). That leaves Shane Victornio, Daniel Nava and Allen Craig to battle for the remaining outfield bench spots.

In 2013, Victornio was a key member of the Red Sox World Series Championship team. Last season, he was limited to only 30 games. It wouldn’t be surprising if Victornio were to beat out Betts for the starting right field spot if he can remain healthy throughout spring training.

The more interesting decision for manager John Farrell is who will he choose to be the fifth outfielder? Craig was an All-Star in 2013, but he only hit .215 and eight home runs a season ago.

Nava is a switch-hitter that batted .270 last season in 113 games. Given his previous role off the bench and his production on the left side of the plate (hit .293 when batting left-handed in 2014), Nava is probably the better fit as a fifth outfielder

How much longer can David Ortiz produce at a high-level?

David Ortiz had another All-Star season in 2014 as he hit .263 with 35 home runs and 104 RBI. Now at age 39, how much longer can the designated hitter produce at a high-level?

While no one knows how much longer Ortiz can continue to hit over 30 home runs and 100 RBI, you can’t rely on his spring training numbers to answer that question. Last spring, he batted .054, but he hit five home runs and 14 RBI in the first month of the regular season. Ortiz probably has another season or two left in him, but we truly won’t know until April or May.

Which Pitchers Will Make their Red Sox Debut in 2015?

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With Spring Training rolling around the corner, fans will have an opportunity to get a glimpse at some new, young talent; a look at some guys who could potentially make an impact on the Boston Red Sox this year. Of course, there will be the same young players who could impact the team, but there are even younger, even newer players to keep an eye out for.
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In terms of pitching, the Red Sox top three pitching prospects are all set to start off the 2015 season as members of the Paw Sox rotation. Henry Owens, Brian Johnson and Eduardo Rodriguez are all left-handed starting pitchers who were dominant in their time with the Red Sox organization last year.
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red soxTo the surprise of many, Henry Owens is not a power pitcher despite standing tall at 6ft7. He is more of a finesse guy and the power pitchers of the bunch being Eduardo Rodriguez and Brian Johnson who occasionally top out at 97 MPH and 95 MPH respectively. Right now, Owens and Rodriguez are on the 40-man roster but if Johnson pitches up to his ability, there is no reason why he should not get the call.

Although no new relievers are on the 40-man roster right now, things could soon change. Slated to start off the 2015 season in Pawtucket are two relievers who could end up helping the big league club if they make their MLB debuts this season— 2011 fourth round draft pick Noe Ramirez and Cuban defector Dalier Hinojosa.
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Ramirez spent most of his year last year in AA Portland where he posted a 2.14 ERA in 42 outings totaling 67.1 innings. Hinojosa on the other hand, was a Paw Sox reliever the entire season and despite struggling early, he turned his year around by posting a 1.57 ERA in his final 23 innings of work.

Working in their favor is the fact that they can be stretched out and give a team multiple innings in relief. Working against them is that neither of them are on the 40-man roster— yet.
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September Showed Christian Vazquez’s Offensive Skills

Christian VazquezFor those who actually watched the Boston Red Sox play meaningless baseball in September, I salute you. You’re a rarity in this day and age, and your loyalty is inspiring. With that said, you were probably focused on the offensive emergence of Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts, and on new-comer Rusney Castillo. They, in all honesty, were the men to watch in September, so it’s no surprise they were the ones you were talking about. However, there’s a Red Sox by the name of Christian Vazquez who also had himself a very solid month from the plate, but he doesn’t nearly get the recognition he deserves for it. Well, if it wasn’t already obvious, my mission in the subsequent paragraphs will be to shed light on Vazquez’s terrific final month of the 2014 season.

It is, indeed, irrefutable that Vazquez is a special talent, and his defensive aptitude is already at an elite-level. His offensive skills, on the other hand, have been his Achilles’ heel in his rookie season. Yet the Red Sox don’t mind — at least for this waste of a season — taking the trade-off, and rightfully so. Vazquez, with his 0.7 fWAR that doesn’t take into account his tremendous pitch-framing ability, pegs him as a valuable commodity even with his lackluster offensive contributions. Further, Oliver 5 Year Projection projects going forward that the right-handed hitting catcher will be worth roughly two and half wins each of the next five seasons

Now, this system isn’t perfect, but does give us a good indication on how a player will perform the next five years based on numerous factors such as his major and minor league production, as well as his age, ballpark, etc.

The point being, there’s reason to be optimistic about Vazquez even if his offense never comes. But, as I wrote three weeks back, there’s all the reason in the world to be hopeful that his bat will, in fact, come around. And wouldn’t you know it has come around this September.

Oh, yes, and in 74 plate appearances in that span the 24-year-old churned an exceptional .277/.351/.385 slash line, which resonates into an above-average 107 wRC+. His .333 BABIP in September doesn’t suggest luck has played a big role; therefore, there’s no reason to believe this won’t persist, given his minor-league track record. There’s no guarantee Vazquez becomes a decent bat, but, at the very least, he has shown he can hit in MLB.

Boston Red Sox Year In Review: 2014 Bright Notes

Red Sox brock holtFor the defending World Series Champ Boston Red Sox, expectations could not have been higher heading into 2014.

To call it as it was, 2014 was a disappointment. Boston went just 71-91, securing themselves a top-10 pick in the 2015 MLB draft.
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Aside from landing themselves a high draft pick, 2014 was, for the most part, a failure. Prospects failed to impress as did veterans. Whether it be Clay Buchholz posting a 5.37 ERA, Brandon Workman going 1-10, Jackie Bradley Jr. hitting below the Mendoza Line or Will Middlebrooks flat out just not playing well, there were many problems with the team.

Those were just few of the Red Sox problems this year and to name all of the problems would require an entire novel, so let’s focus on the positives a bit instead.

The emergence of Brock Holt was a big and pleasant surprise for the Red Sox. Hitting .281/.331/.381 while providing versatility with the ability to play seven positions, Holt is a keeper for Boston despite his second half slump.
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Although many rookies try and most fail, Mookie Betts tried and succeeded. He hit .291/.368/.444 on the year in 52 games clubbing five home runs while swiping seven bags. Hitting .310 in his 100 at-bats in September, Betts proved he is ready to put up All-Star caliber numbers in 2015, most likely as an outfielder.

A lefty-one-out guy or, as many call it, a LOOGY, Tommy Layne had one job and he came up clutch time and time again doing what he does best — setting down lefties. In 30 appearances totaling 19 innings, Layne let up just two earned runs putting his ERA at 0.95. Although he is not a guy Boston wants facing right-handed batters, he is one they want to keep.
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Ending the year on a 7-for-11 note, Christian Vazquez made it clear he can handle Major League Baseball right now. The 2008 MLB draft choice hit .240/.308/.309 in 55 games which may sound less-than-impressive, but he did something else well—defense. Catching 52% of would-be base stealers, runners may think twice before running on the Puerto Rican native.

A slew of other rookies also impressed in their short stints in Boston. For example, Bryce Brentz went 5-for-7 off left-handed pitching, Rusney Castillo posted a .400 OBP in 10 games, Garin Cecchini posted a .361 OBP in 11 games, Dan Butler called a good game and was a great receiver behind the plate, and Drake Britton tossed 6.2 scoreless.

For veteran players not much can be said on a positive note, but a few things are worth noting.

Mike Napoli showed no signs of regression and posted a .370 OBP with a .789 OPS, both of which are nothing to scoff at.

David Ortiz managed to club 35 homers while posting a .355 OBP. It will be sad to see Ortiz go within the next five years.

After a slow start and a stint in AAA Pawtucket, Daniel Nava still managed to clip .270 with a .346 OBP, the highest of all qualifying Red Sox outfielders. It is hard to imagine Nava leaving the team this off season with that in mind.
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Relievers Burke Badenhop, Alex Wilson, Junichi Tazawa and even Edward Mujica proved their worth with Boston this season all posting 2.29, 1.91, 2.70, and 3.90 ERA’s respectively. They put together the best pitching performances of any Red Sox pitchers this season.

Despite all that went wrong this year for the Red Sox, knowing that next year will be better gives fans hope and makes the 2015 season worth watching.

Has Allen Webster Turned A Corner?

Allen WebsterAllen Webster has ‘the stuff’ and minor league success that suggests he could be a prosperous big league starting pitcher. The Red Sox certainly concur with that statement, and have given him multiple opportunities the past two seasons to try to fulfill the prophecy set for him. However, his control, or lack thereof, has held him back from thriving, and among starters who have logged at least twenty innings, Webster has the highest BB/9 ratio at 6.97.

No one, I mean no one, can be mildly successful with such an abysmal walk rate. I don’t care if you have a strikeout rate like Jose Fernandez or a sharp sinker designed to induce ground ball double plays; simply put, it’s just impossible.

The right-hander surrendered eleven — yeah, eleven — free passes his first two starts this season. His last two outings have been much better, as he only allowed five base on balls in that period, and earned two victories to his name in the process. Each of those starts he failed to eclipse 85 pitches, but still went six plus innings both games.

Sure, one — his most recent, actually —  of the two aforementioned starts was against the not-so-formidable Houston Astros’ offense, however, the start beforehand was facing, according to wRC+ at least, the best offense in baseball in the Los Angeles Angels. Ironically, to this date it is the best outing of his young career.

Has a corner been turned? Truthfully it’s too soon to say for certain, yet going to his slider, which has held hitters to a meager .118 OPS this season according to Pitch F/X, much more frequently the past two starts may be the answer to — other than control of course — his new-found MLB success. Take a look at his slider percentage correlated to his performance per game in ’14.

7/27 vs. Tampa Bay Rays- Allowed 2 earned runs in 5 and 1/3 innings while throwing the slider 7.0% of the time.

8/2 vs. New York Yankees- Allowed 4 earned runs in 2 and 2/3 innings while throwing the slider 5.6% of the time.

8/8 vs. Los Angeles Angels- Allowed 2 earned runs in 6 and 2/3 innings while throwing the slider 25.0% of the time.

8/14 vs. Houston Astros- Allowed 4 earned runs in 6 innings while throwing the slider 24.7% of the time.

Obviously this is a small sample size, and a firm perspective on him can’t be judged at this early juncture. However, signs of hope for Webster can be evidently seen.