The Boston Red Sox had some spectacular pitching performances this year. Many of them came from closer Craig Kimbrel and ace Chris Sale. These two stars led the Sox to the fourth-best ERA in the Majors this past year, and combined for 434 strikeouts this season over 283.1 innings. That’s good enough to strike out roughly 13.79 batters, per nine innings. Doing the math, that means that between Kimbrel and Sale would strike out, on average, more than half of the outs through a typical 9 inning game when they were the only two that pitched that game. Obviously, the instance of Sale and Kimbrel going back-to-back and being the only pitchers to appear in a game was slim, and will continue to be slim. Kimbrel was dominant the entire year, not showing any signs of fatigue in September. He finished sixth in the Cy Young voting, finishing ahead of Twins’ ace Ervin Santana and Blue Jays’ Marcus Stroman.
Chris Sale’s case is incredibly different, as he slowed down significantly over the last two months of the season. In August and September, Sale recorded a bleak 4.09 ERA, according to Baseball Reference. In the last two months of the season, Sale went from being a potential unanimous Cy Young and possible MVP candidate to finishing as the runner-up in the Cy Young to Corey Kluber. Kluber, despite being injured throughout a decent portion of July, undeniably deserved the award. He finished with the AL lead in wins and had an unbelievable 2.25 ERA. In addition, he finished with a 8.0 WAR, which was the highest among any pitchers in the MLB.
The Cy Young Reality
Did I expect Chris Sale to win the Cy Young Award given his late-season performance? Of course not. I was holding on to hope that voters would somehow look past the blow-up that occurred in the final two months of the season. But I figured Kluber’s near-perfect second half would be plenty to pull away from Sale in the Cy Young contention. It became too obvious, especially in the last two weeks of the season, that Sale had lost control of the honor. A lot of scouts and pro evaluators blamed faulting in Sale’s game due to a difference in his arm slot. In Game 1 of the ALDS, FOX analysts showed a side-by-side of Sale’s arm slot in the first half of the season versus his arm slot in the first game of the ALDS. The difference was drastic. His arm had lowered, throwing more off to the side than previously, and his wrist would be about even with his shoulder early in his delivery. In June, this was much different, as his wrist would be slightly above his head early in his delivery. In Game 4 of the ALDS, you would see a higher arm slot than in Game 1, which led to a slightly more successful outing out of the bullpen in Game 4 than his start in Game 1.
We saw the kryptonite known as fatigue hit Boston’s Superman in the stretch of the season. What adjustments can Sale make? Should we expect him in 2018 to repeat what he did in 2017? What can we expect from the starting pitching staff in 2018? Let’s take a look to see what to expect from the Red Sox starting rotation in 2018.
The starting rotation for Boston was not bad this year, but showed inconsistency and flaws throughout the season. Rick Porcello, the 2016 AL Cy Young Award winner, took the biggest step back in 2017. Should we expect 2016 Rick Porcello to ever return? No, but at times he was barely a serviceable fifth man in the rotation. However, you should expect somewhat of a return for Porcello. His 11-17 record with a 4.65 ERA is not what you want for a guy who is suppose to serve the third pitcher in the rotation.
The Return of Pretty Ricky
According to Baseball Reference, Porcello averages a 15-12 record with a 4.25 ERA throughout his career through a 162 game season. I’ll go to say the pitching coaches and trainers will focus on getting Porcello’s two-seam fastball and sinker back to where it needs to be. He will have a better than average season, compared to his career average, but still not close to what he was in 2016.
2018 Projection: 189.1 IP, 13-10, 3.82 ERA, 161 SO, 41 BB
Now onto the most controversial pitcher on the entire pitching staff. I am a David Price fan, and have been since he came to Boston. His less-than-spectacular start has overshadowed anything else good he has done with the organization. In the ALDS, this narrative began to change. Price came out of the bullpen and straight up dominated the future World Series champions. Unfortunately, his playoff appearances were usually after a poor start by someone in the Red Sox rotation or the offense failed to support Price. His elbow injury is, of course, a concern. Price is 32 years old, so surgery would take him out for 2018. Price showed a lot of passion at the end of last season. He came out of the bullpen and was always fired up after getting out of a jam or striking out in a big spot. He also showed the ability to hit 95-96 with his four seam fastball on multiple occasions, showing his elbow is all good for at least 20-25 pitches. His endurance will be the question, but with rehab this offseason, he should be all set and ready to go.
What to Expect in 2018
2018 should be a dominant year for Price. He took that first step to being great in the Postseason this past season. I can see Price, along with Sale, being the most dangerous 1-2 starting pitching combination in the league. Price’s emotion and mindset will lead him to do great things next season. Do not sleep on David Price.
2018 Projection: 204.2 IP, 16-8, 3.16 ERA, 201 SO, 49 BB
ERod is an interesting case. He has always been limited by injuries, specifically knee injuries, throughout his career. He did not look good after coming back from the knee subluxation that occurred in early June. Rodriguez is only 24, and will be 25 by next season. There is an argument saying that he hasn’t even entered his prime yet, and that argument is very valid. I believe that some small injuries will hamper what he will be able to do next season, maybe landing on the 10-day DL for a stint or two next year. However, I think he’ll still get at least 25 starts in this season, as he has been able to get at least 20 starts in his first three seasons.
A Look Ahead
Incorporating a two seam fastball may help ERod, to add onto his slider, changeup and occasional sinker. Increasing the usage of his sinker and being able to use his sinker effectively will help his game. Is this realistic? Yes. Is it likely to happen? No. ERod will most likely rely on his changeup to get batters to swing and miss. His four seam will be used to get batters to put the ball in play and get batters to ground out and fly out. ERod should have a better year than usual, showing development this upcoming season.
2018 Projection: 146 IP (28 starts), 11-9, 3.86 ERA, 154 SO, 45 BB
The Dwew Tang Clan rallied behind the goofy, 6’6″, 240-pound lefty Red Sox pitcher in 2017. It could be considered that Pomeranz was the most consistent pitcher on the Red Sox staff. He gets absolutely no credit for being so good, however. Pomeranz gets so little attention I almost replaced his section with a section on Steven Wright. I apologize to all of the Dwew Tangers out there that may take offense to this.
The Continuance of the Dwew Tang Clan
Throughout his career, Pomeranz has been good. This past season with the Red Sox, he had a career year, but Chris Sale’s chase to 300 strikeouts overshadowed Pomeranz’s performance in 2017. He put up a 3.32 ER, which was the seventh-best in the AL. He also had 17 wins, tying Trevor Bauer and Chris Sale for the fourth-most in the American League. Drew showed that he was a top 10 pitcher in the AL, and did it ever so silently. Pomeranz will also be 29 next season, and showing he is in his prime still. Expect another solid performance from Pomeranz this season.
2018 Projection: 179 IP, 16-6, 3.49 ERA, 173 SO, 71 BB
Now back to the workhorse himself. Don’t expect a drop off in effectiveness or efficiency from Sale in 2018. Throughout Sale’s career, he has always been a monster on the mound. Some people don’t realize Sale is going on his age 29 season, either. The flamethrowing lefty is still in his prime. There is no need to worry about Father Time catching up to Sale anytime soon.
What To Expect From Sale
With the help of Pitching Coach Dayan LeVangie, will fix the arm slot issue next year. A big issue that Manager Alex Cora and LeVangie will have with Sale is making sure he does not get worn out like he has in season’s past. The way to fix Sale’s endurance problem is to rely on a two seam fastball and more movement than speed. Doing this will conserve Sale’s energy for September and October. His focus should also be on getting batters out, not just getting batters to strike out. Sale is a very intelligent baseball player, and will figure out how to fix what hurt him in 2017. Be prepared for another Cy Young-candidate season in 2018.
2018 Projection: 210 IP, 19-6, 2.72 ERA, 248 SO, 51 BB
Injuries happen in the game of baseball, especially to pitchers. They can range from a minor hamstring strain to torn ligaments in the elbow. We witnessed this with David Price, Steven Wright and Eduardo Rodriguez in 2017 alone. Brian Johnson, Hector Velasquez and Doug Fister did a decent job filling in for the guys listed above. Fister had the most success, as he was the number three guy for Farrell come September. Johnson and Velasquez will most likely be back, and Fister will probably join a new club via free agency. Be prepared for Steven Wright to make several starts to give guys rest during the season, especially if Rodriguez and Price have reoccurring injuries. Roenias Elias is another pitcher who made a couple appearances in 2017. Elias could be a guy who fills in for an injured or rested pitcher a few more times in 2018.