Felix Doubront is not pitching very well, by anyone’s standards. Doubront got absolutely shellacked in his fifth start of the year against the Texas Rangers, in Arlington. He surrendered six runs on twelve hits and one walk, while striking out only two in 3.2 innings pitch. It was the latest in what is turning into a long line of mediocre to bad starts. However, Doubront is hiding behind 3 wins, but in this day and age wins mean a lot less, he’s only pitched to two quality starts this year. I’m all about sample size, and Doubront’s is admittedly incredibly small, but the outlook to this point is fairly bleak.
The Venezuelan lefty has been declining after a bit of a break out start to the year in 2012. Ever since 2011, Doubront’s velocity has been deteriorating across the board, in all four of his offerings. However, the drop in his fastball from an average velocity of 92.9 MPH in 2011 to 90.3 this season is concerning. Doubront’s always had swing-and-miss stuff, but as the velocity declines, so does his ability to strike people out. John Farrell had this to say on Doubront’s lost velocity: “When he tries to get his better velocity, that’s when he starts to really lose command.” Farrell, too, has noticed Doubront’s shocking loss in speed, but was also quick to note that there appeared to be no injury concerns.
The question that remains is: should the Red Sox keep Doubront in the starting rotation? My answer is this is, why not? Doubront has turned into a quality fifth starter, and no one is trying to claim that he’s anything more; there aren’t any Clayton Kershaw comparisons on the horizon. Not to mention he’s a strike out machine, striking out 9.3 and 10.3 hitters per nine in 2012 and 2013 respectively. The one thing Doubront doesn’t do is go deep into games and preserve the bullpen. Unfortunately for the Sox, John Lackey, who pitches the nights before Felix, will also need bullpen help as he works his way back from injury. These guys are a 1-2 punch of overworking the bullpen.
If the Sox do decide to replace the young Doubront, there are a couple of routes that they can take. First, even though John Farrell has said that there are no injuries, given the drop in velocity; it would be easy for Boston to stash Felix on the disabled list for a while to work out his issues. In that event, they could call on someone like Allen Webster or a healthy Franklin Morales to take his spot. If the Sox want to flat-out demote the young lefthander, they would want to look for a more long-term solution for their rotation.
The only conceivable way to get a long-term solution, without rushing a prospect is to explore the trade market. One possible solution is to swing a deal for Cliff Lee, but I think his contract would be prohibitively expensive. It would be fantastic for the Sox to swing a deal for a guy like Derek Holland, but I don’t see the Rangers giving him up for anything less than a king’s ransom.
But I think the Sox should stick with Doubront for a little while longer. A fantastic fifth starter might be that one thing standing between them and a World Series appearance, but any problems are unlikely to be solved by one roster change. Doubront is a more than capable fifth starter, but at some point the Boston has to put the brakes on. Replacing Doubront isn’t worth mortgaging the farm system or future expenditures to make a trade and rushing Webster simply isn’t the answer just yet. The Sox should give Felix another couple of chances to right the ship, and if he fails to do so, look for a suitable, cheap and worthy replacement.