Now that the 2015 season is in the books, the BoSox Injection staff will hand out their final report cards, grading the performances of each member of the Boston Red Sox roster based on their expectations entering the season.
Robbie Ross, Jr. 0-2, 3.86 ERA, 4.02 FIP, 60.2 IP, 53 K, 20 BB, 0.8 WAR
The Texas Rangers pitchers reject pile that brought along Alexi Ogando to the 2015 Red Sox also brought them Ross, Jr. who, like Ogando, had known success with the Rangers but had fallen on hard times, performance-wise. Unlike Ogando who was signed as a free agent, Ross, Jr. came over in a trade from the Rangers in a trade for one-time hot prospect Anthony Ranaudo who had flamed out in his seven start 2014 audition at the big league level, (4-3, 4.71 ERA, 6.89 FIP) to the tune of ten homers allowed in 39.1 innings, to go along with 16 walks and 15 strikeouts.
A second round draft choice out of his Lexington, Kentucky high school in 2008, Ross, Jr. came into the majors with a splash in 2012, with a 2.22 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in 65 innings without eye-catching strikeout numbers (6.5 per nine innings). 2013 was just slightly worse, posting a 3.03 ERA, 1.32 WHIP in 62.1 innings. A need for starting pitching prompted a try at starting pitching for Ross, Jr. with disastrous results in 2014, a 6.30 ERA and 1.7 WHIP and two stints on the disabled list, making 12 starts and logging 78.1 innings. It is somewhat surprising that a pitcher who had known success and was under contractual control for four more years would be thought of as expendable, but the Rangers made the aforementioned trade on January 27, 2015.
When the Red Sox bring a player to the big league club, the team likes to have flexibility with players to replace them when they are not performing. When the Red Sox broke camp in Spring Training and started their season, Ross, Jr. was on the major league roster. His early work in the 2015 season caused the Red Sox to re-think that position as Ross, Jr. posted a 5.82 ERA (11 earned runs in 17 innings) through May 10, whereupon the 5-11 lefty was optioned to AAA Pawtucket. While the team likes that flexibility, they knew Ross, Jr. did not belong in the minors and he made four trips back (one time for just a single day) and forth to AAA Pawtucket before being called up for good on June 15. Ross, Jr. figured something out in the minors, posting a 3.30 ERA in 43.2 innings for the remainder of the season.
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When Red Sox closer Koji Uehara went down with for the season with a broken wrist on August 7th, the Red Sox hoped that Junichi Tazawa would be able to seamlessly step into that role for the remainder of the season. Tazawa crashed and burned in that role, getting hit hard in his closer audition, seemingly a victim of overuse as much as an unsuitability for the closer role. On September 1, Ross made his first closer appearance, notching the final out of a 7-5 win against Philadelphia. While Ross converted all of his six chances for saves, only that first one was a perfect one. In each, Ross allowed at least a hit and twice allowed runs. His overall stats as closer were: 5.1 IP, six H, three ER, one walk, and six strikeouts.
One thing about Ross that stands out is his ability to throw hard. His fastball averaged 93 miles per hour and his hard slider (87 miles per hour) generated a healthy amount of ground balls. In analytical circles, there was a theory that since Ross did not get many close pitches called strikes, that the Red Sox defensive tandem of Ryan Hanigan and Christian Vazquez would increase Ross’ effectiveness since would get more close calls than he had been getting.
Vazquez’ throwing arm injury cost him the whole season, so Ross did not have the benefit of Vazquez’ defense and the numbers support the theory that Ross needed those defensive-minded Red Sox catchers to help him. In 38 innings with Hanigan and fellow defensive whiz Sandy Leon behind the plate, Ross posted a 3.32 ERA. In 22.2 innings with 23 year old catcher-in-progress Blake Swihart behind the dish, Ross had just a 4.76 ERA. Whether it is pitch-calling or pitch-framing, Swihart did not help Ross much this season.
One fact that benefits keeping Ross around for next season as a Red Sox potential closer option is that he loves the role. In an early September interview Ross stated that the closer job was “always a dream” for him and he relished finishing out games. Ross is slated to make around $1.1 million next season, which would be quite affordable as Dave Dombrowski rebuilds the bullpen for 2016.
Koji is going to be 41 when next season starts so Ross makes an extremely affordable safety net for 2016, though likely not the only one that will go to Cleveland when the season starts there next April. While it is debatable whether Ross can assume the role for a full season, his success and enjoyment of the role, makes him a pitcher almost certainly to be back for 2016.
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