While the most recent profiled player, slumping Tommy Layne, (three runs in his last three innings) is now back in Pawtucket after yesterday’s demotion, hopefully the recent run of success will continue for today’s subject, Robbie Ross, Jr . Let’s take a look at his professional career.
Ross was drafted in the second round of the 2008 draft by the Texas Rangers straight out of high school in his hometown of Lexington, Kentucky. A 2.34 over 161.1 innings in 2011 in the minor leagues led to his promotion in 2012 to the major league team. He was almost exclusively a starter in the minors, making only one relief appearance there. Once he was in the majors, he flourished in the relief role. His rookie season of 2012 was a spectacular one. He posted a 2.22 ERA in that season, including 0.95 in the first half of that year. A 5.60 second half ERA may have been a sign of batters seeing him more which may have made them more comfortable against him. It shouldn’t have been a question of innings as his arm strength was built up from years of starting in the minors.
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2013 was another solid year for Ross, posting a 3.03 ERA in 62.1 innings. He suffered a bit on his ERA from an abnormally high BABIP (batting average of balls in play) of .326 (normal is around .300) which would naturally lead to giving up a few more runs on his ledger. His ERA once again suffered over the second half of the season, falling from a first have 2.59 to a second half 3.92. Ross probably figured he was on his way to a career of uninterrupted success at the major league level.[small-schedule]
In baseball, the specialized reliever is a concept of recent vintage. In earlier baseball days, a reliever was just a starter who wasn’t good enough to keep starting. They sent him to the bullpen to get himself right until he could resume the workload of a full-time starter without hurting the team too much. Now in the baseball world, if there is a reliever who has had success in that role and can pitch multiple innings, the temptation is to turn him into a major league starter. Ross had been an effective starter in the minors, so the Rangers figured that they could get that same success for more innings if Ross was groomed to start in the majors.
In 2014, the Rangers made Ross a starter. Initially, he met with success, posting a 1.00 ERA after three starts that season. Then the roof caved in. Over his next five starts, Ross was shelled to the tune of 7.76 ERA over 26.2 innings. After a return to the bullpen, Ross continued to struggle, allowing 12 runs over 12 relief innings. Ross then sustained a forearm injury to his pitching arm which kept him out for two months. Ross tried starting again. One bad start, one good start then another terrible start ended the experiment with starting. As his Texas Rangers fell from playoff contention to also-ran, Ross’ Texas stock plummeted with the organization.
When the Red Sox gave phenom Anthony Ranaudo a shot to prove himself at the major league level last year, he could not sustain his minor league success. A 4.81 ERA and 10 homers allowed in 39.1 major league innings made him expendable with all the starting prospects at the minor league level waiting for their chance. A deal was struck on January 27 of this year to trade Ranaudo for Ross, one for one.
Considering Ross’ earlier success, the Red Sox must have seen a place in their bullpen for an effective reliever who could go multiple innings. They also saw a pitcher who had minor league options left. The Red Sox have tried to take advantage of both situations. Ross has made four trips back and forth to AAA Pawtucket this year. For the most part, though, the Pawtucket shuttle has happened due to Ross’ ineffectiveness. The first two months of the season were rough for Ross who posted just a 5.29 ERA over 17 innings.
One bright spot of the Red Sox season from a pitching standpoint though has to be Ross’ most recent two month run of success. Over 22.2 innings, Ross has allowed just six earned runs since June 1 (2.38 ERA) Considering Ross’ struggles in the second half over his career, the Red Sox have to be encouraged with this second half turnaround. With the Red Sox struggles among their starting rotation, Manager John Farrell has had to become reliant on more and more relievers for effective work as they try to stay in games. As the Red Sox attempt to navigate their wobbly ship toward the end of the season, this will be decision time for the Red Sox organization as to who they are going to bring back next season.
If Ross can continue his success for the rest of the season, perhaps he will be entrusted with more leads (the team is just 8-20 in games in which he has appeared) for the rest of this season and become a vital part of the bullpen in 2016. An effective pitcher who can throw multiple innings is one the Red Sox will utilize and relieve the workload of the rest of the bullpen.
Robbie Ross, Jr. is hoping he can be just that kind of pitcher.