While Roenis Elias is making his debut tomorrow as a starter, he may be a better option than Tommy Layne as the second left-hander in the Boston Red Sox bullpen.
Although Roenis Elias is making his Red Sox debut on Tuesday as a starter, the team must let him also work in relief this spring, as it would allow him to demonstrate why he may be a better option than Tommy Layne as the second left-hander in the Red Sox bullpen.
The 27-year-old Elias was acquired by the Red Sox from the Seattle Mariners in the Wade Miley trade this past winter. A starter his entire professional career, including the last two seasons with the Mariners, Elias presents the Red Sox with options. The first option is to use him as depth for the starting rotation, and the second is as one of the two lefties out of the bullpen along with Robbie Ross.
During the past two seasons with the Mariners, Elias was very good when you consider his role, which was a back-end starter. In 2014, Elias started 29 games for the Mariners, compiling a 3.85 ERA, surrendering 151 hits, walking 64 batters and striking out 143 over 163.2 innings. In 2015, Elias started 20 games and pitched 115.1 innings, compiling a 4.14 ERA, surrendering 106 hits, walking 44 batters and striking out 97. As you can see, Elias was more than serviceable over the last two years as a starting pitcher and would likely be able to do the same for the Red Sox in 2016 and beyond. In fact, his numbers are overall better than what we have seen from Joe Kelly and Henry Owens, who are the two most likeliest of candidates to be crowned the Red Sox fifth starter.
Outside of two appearances in relief last season, Elias has no experience working out of the bullpen. However, when you dive into his numbers it becomes quite apparent how successful he could be as a reliever. Here are eight reasons Elias would make a strong reliever:
- He can get both left-handed and right-handed hitters out. Last season, right-handed batters hit .251 off Elias, while left-handed batters his .227.
- Given his previous work as a starter, and his past success against batters on both sides of the plate, he will be capable of providing multiple innings of work in a single outing.
- In addition to providing John Farrell with an option for long relief work, Elias is capable of being a lefty specialist. In his MLB career, left-handed hitters are batting only .218 against him. Although he has struggled with his command against righties, he walked only eight of the 97 left-handed batters he faced last season. More impressive though is the fact he struck out 34 of the lefty hitters he faced, which equals more than a third of them.
- In 2015, Elias held the first batter he faced in an inning to a .105 batting average, which would serve him well in a relief role, especially if expected to face one batter before exiting the game.
- In 2015, with RISP, he held hitters to a .240 batting average. However, with RISP and two outs, he held hitters to a .179 batting average. These numbers, more so the latter than the former, demonstrate how effective he is with leaving runners on base, which is hugely important for any reliever.
- In 2015, in late-and-close game situations, Elias held hitters to a .167 batting average. Again, this is something any great reliever needs to be able to do well.
- In 2015, pitching while ahead, Elias held hitters to a .189 batting average. Being able to be so effective when pitching with a lead is another important quality for any reliever to have.
- The higher the leverage of a game situation, the better Elias performed in 2015. In high-leverage situations, he held opponents to a .226 batting average. In medium leverage situations, his opponents batting average rose to .241, and in low-leverage situations, his opponents batting average was highest at .257.
There is a strong case to be made to keep Elias as a starter this season. The Red Sox rotation is far from perfect, especially after David Price. Clay Buchholz cannot seem to stay healthy, ever; Rick Porcello is coming off a poor 2015 campaign; Eduardo Rodriguez is currently dealing with an injury and only has one season under his belt; Joe Kelly is coming off the worst season of his career; and Henry Owens has only started 11 games in the major leagues. Between injury concerns, poor 2015 performances and a lack of track records, the Red Sox rotation is a cause for concern right now.
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Therefore, they will need to have reinforcements ready to go in case of injury or poor performance and who better than Elias. He has two 4.00 ERA seasons under his belt as a starting pitcher in the American League, which is not something anyone else can say who is projected to be in the Pawtucket rotation.
At the same time, Elias has a great arm and can help a team win games at the major league level. We have seen him do that for two straight seasons now. As discussed above, his stats suggest he could be a really effective relief option for a Red Sox team that had one of the worst bullpens in the major leagues last season.
Is Tommy Layne really the answer? Do we want to anoint him the second left-hander in the bullpen without competition? If Joe Kelly wins the fifth spot in the rotation, don’t Henry Owens and Brian Johnson provide the team with enough depth? If Elias can help this team win games out of the bullpen, is it really all that wise to force him into the Pawtucket starting rotation so he can serve as the seventh or eighth option for the Red Sox rotation?
Sure seems like a waste, which is why the Red Sox should try him out in both roles this spring. If the numbers that demonstrate how effective he could be as a reliever reflect reality, what a weapon he could be.