Boston Red Sox must hold on to surplus of pitchers


The Boston Red Sox appear to be treating the abundance of pitching as an issue. Why? Baseball has a way of depleting pitching rather quickly.

Too much of a good thing can have serious consequences, but that usually involves personal choices and not baseball. Can you have too much hitting or too much pitching? The Boston Red Sox have a problem and it is the type of problem that virtually every team in baseball would accept – too much pitching with the concentration on starting pitching.

They are overloaded according to any depth chart analysis. The recent trade brought another “Ace” to the staff that joins a long-term ace in David Price and a short-term ace in Cy Young Award pitcher Rick Porcello. There it is, folks, three pitchers who are capable of a combined win total that could easily reach 60 games. There is more.

Eduardo Rodriguez showed he is ready in the second half of 2016. After an injury nightmare, spring training, and an early season collapse E-Rod returned to predicted form with a 3.24 ERA in the second half. Want more? Clay Buchholz impressed enough for Boston to pick up his option. Pinch runner/pitcher Steven Wright was an All-Star. Drew Pomeranz is in the mix. That is seven starters who are capable of being in the rotation.

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The excess means someone must go and that brings me to a simple word – why? Do they need to shuffle someone off so that a hole or holes can be patched elsewhere? The lineup seems set. The regulars are all set and the bench is deep. The only competition looks like it may be between Josh Rutledge and Marco Hernandez for bench performer extraordinaire.

Maybe the bullpen needs a buildup? The first move was the prospect closet lost a few bodies to bring in another quality arm in Tyler Thornburg. Carson Smith may be returning from the repair shop a few months into the season and he was outstanding in 2015. The other names can be listed off and all seem reasonably solid. Maybe have a taxi squad? The baseball version of the Hellenic Flu?

The logjam exists on the entire staff. Then comes the wild card possibilities of a Henry Owens finally narrowing down home plate to its real dimensions. Or Brian Johnson makes up for lost time in spring training. If a starter is getting the short performance straw and sent to the bullpen, then a bullpen arm will suddenly be gone. Oh, what delightful problems to have.

Do not – and I mean do not – ship anyone out until a feel for the season takes place. All one has to do is wander back a few seasons to 2009 when the staff was again loaded with a potential of somewhere in the season having seven capable starters. What or what to do with John Smoltz or Brad Penny. My, oh my, we are stocked solid.

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The Red Sox finished that season with a 95-67 record good for second place in the American League East. The division series was a remarkable three and out against the Angels that featured the only real meltdown of Jonathan Papelbon’s playoff career. The Red Sox spent the last 50 or so games spinning their wheels and attempting to find – pitching!

How bad was it? Paul Byrd was plucked from the scrap pile and tossed into the rotation for the enjoyment of the opposition’s hitters. Junichi Tazawa made four starts that saw 43 hits rattled around in 25.1 innings. Buchholz was given 16 starts to impress. He didn’t. Daisuke Matsuzaka was 18-3 in 2008 but fell apart to 4-6. Penny? Might as well call it a loss. Smoltz got released thanks to an ERA that almost reached four digits. Justin Masterson was a year away from being competent and got six forgettable starts.

That is the history of the 2009 too much pitching. That team’s pitching – on paper – had the talent and the questions arose at what to do with the surplus. What surplus? They fell by the wayside with poor performances, injuries and incredible inconsistency. Too much became not enough.

So now the same issue has surfaced with such an abundance of pitching with the focus on the starting rotation. Go all Nippon and do a six man rotation. No? Put Buchholz and Pomeranz in the bullpen. The one thing you do not do is simply respond to the logjam by dumping a pitcher or two.

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The Red Sox may need an arm even if all are healthy and performing as expected. Holes pop out elsewhere, as do injuries. Maybe a tempting morsel is presented as a trade option? Just hold your arms until the season starts to develop and needs arise either in Boston and elsewhere.

Sources: Baseball-Reference