Red Sox: Drew Pomeranz’s fastball holds key to his resurgence

BOSTON, MA - JULY 19: Drew Pomeranz
BOSTON, MA - JULY 19: Drew Pomeranz /

After struggles marred the beginning of his time with the Boston Red Sox, Drew Pomeranz’s fastball has led to his resurgence as a starting pitcher.

The renaissance of Drew Pomeranz has been one of the more surprising, and more important, stories of the Boston Red Sox 2017 season.

Pomeranz joined the Red Sox at the trade deadline last season in a memorable, and somewhat shady, trade with the San Diego Padres. He followed up his solid first half with San Diego by posting a 4.59 ERA in 14 appearances for Boston.

In April of this season, it looked like fans were in for more of the same. However, since May, Pomeranz has been the Red Sox best starter not named Chris Sale.

Drew Pomeranz’s Fastball is the Key to his Resurgence

Given the turmoil that’s plagued the rotation, Pomeranz has been nothing short of vital to the team’s success. Rick Porcello hasn’t, until recently, looked much like the Cy Young winner of last season. David Price has been injured and inconsistent. Eduardo Rodriguez is having perhaps his best season to date, but was sidelined for a long time with a knee injury. Steven Wright went down early on with a knee injury of his own, and replacing him has been a tall order for a Red Sox team with little pitching depth.

Pomeranz’s consistency, much like his rather stoic demeanor, has had a calming influence. Since May 25, he’s lasted six or more innings in 11 of 16 starts (though back spasms cut the most recent one short). He has allowed three or fewer runs in 14 of those starts. While he’s not an innings-eater by any means, that kind of predictability lends a steadiness that cannot be overvalued.

Mixing it Up

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Most of Pom’s peripheral stats don’t look very different from last season. His ground ball, fly ball, and strikeout percentages all lie just about where they finished a year ago, and his velocity remains more or less unchanged. Yet, a difference exists, and it lies in his pitch mix.

In his two years in Oakland, arguably his best years even though he wasn’t a full-time starter then, Pomeranz threw his fastball 72.2% of the time (2014) and 67.9% of the time (2015). He utilized his curveball just 26.8% and 30.6% of the time, respectively. In 2016, his fastball percentage dropped to 47.6%, and his curveball usage rose to 39.2%. His career rates for each pitch sit at 61.6% (fastball) and 30.9% (curveball). Plainly, his numbers from 2014 and 2015 fall much more closely in line with that than his 2016 numbers do.

Rate of Return

Both Drew Pomeranz’s fastball and curveball grade out as above-average pitches, but his heater remains the more valuable of the two because it sets the table. He finds success most often when he uses it, combined with his good command, to set up his curve. When he moved away from his fastball last season and relied more on his off-speed stuff, he lost that edge. The lower fastball rate made him more predictable, and hitters took advantage.

This season, Pomeranz has gone back to his roots, so to speak. So far, he’s throwing his fastball 54.2% of the time, while his curve comes out 37.1% of the time. Last season, Pom introduced a cutter to his arsenal. He threw it a whopping 12.8% of the time. This year, he uses it 7.8% of the time. Like his curve, his cutter benefits from the use of the fastball to set it up. He’s once again using his fastball more than half of the time, which makes his other pitches more effective. He probably won’t ever throw it as often as he did when he served as a part-time reliever, simply because starters mix up their pitches more over their longer outings. Nevertheless, his fastball-first approach is back, and this time likely for good.

Next: Price making progress in rehab

As the season enters its stretch, the Red Sox can count on at least two starters each time they take the mound. Porcello’s marked improvement since the All-Star Break makes that three. It rises to four if Rodriguez continues his solid play. In a short playoff series, that comfort will be invaluable. Drew Pomeranz’s fastball deserves much of the credit for that.