Red Sox remain undecided on Game 4 starting pitcher for ALDS

BOSTON, MA - JULY 9: Eduardo Rodriguez #57 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the second inning of a game against the Texas Rangers at Fenway Park on July 9, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JULY 9: Eduardo Rodriguez #57 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the second inning of a game against the Texas Rangers at Fenway Park on July 9, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

The Boston Red Sox remain undecided on who would start a potential Game 4 of the ALDS but it’s clear they should turn to Nathan Eovaldi.

The starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox in Game 4 of the ALDS is still up in the air. There’s no guarantee there will even be four games in a best-of-five series. If the series does last that long, the expectation is that Chris Sale would not be asked to pitch on short rest. That means the decision of who to send to the mound for a potentially pivotal Game 4 comes down to Nathan Eovaldi or Eduardo Rodriguez.

The choice may boil down to which team makes it out of the Wild Card game between the New York Yankees and Oakland A’s.

Manager Alex Cora revealed to reporters on Tuesday that Eovaldi will almost certainly get the start if they face the Yankees in the ALDS. That’s hardly a surprise considering that two of his best starts of the season came against the Bronx Bombers, including eight shutout innings in his second start following his mid-season acquisition from the Tampa Bay Rays. Eovaldi is 1-1 with a 1.93 ERA over four starts against the Yankees this season.

Rodriguez hasn’t had the same success against New York, going 1-2 with a 6.62 ERA in five appearances (three starts) against them. He faced them twice out of the bullpen in the final series of the regular season, giving up three runs over three innings between the two appearances.

The last time Rodriguez faced the Yankees as a starter was on September 20 when he was shelled for five runs in only 3 2/3 innings. He issued a career-high seven walks in that game and was banished to the bullpen for the rest of the season.

If Boston meets New York in the ALDS they may want to consider leaving E-Rod off the roster. It’s difficult to trust him against this lineup given his recent history with the Yankees.

Cora is still toying with the idea of using Rodriguez if they face the A’s. Rodriguez has only faced Oakland once this year. He wasn’t awful, but allowing three runs in five innings doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

Eovaldi beat the A’s in his first start of the season back in May as a member of the Rays. He tossed six shutout innings without allowing a hit and walked only one. You would think he’d be chomping at the bit to get back to where he left off against this lineup after being pulled in the middle of a no-hitter.

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One game by each pitcher isn’t enough of a sample to base a decision of this magnitude on. Who knows if we can even trust the sample from Eovaldi considering how long it’s been since he faced them. The A’s are a much different team than the one that got off to a slow start this season.

You would think the case for Eovaldi starts with one of the main factors that made him more successful against the Yankees. Oakland can stack their lineup with right-handed bats.

Eovaldi has pitched very well against right-handed hitters this season, holding them to a .239 average and .633 OPS with a 10.80 K/BB ratio. He hasn’t been terrible against lefties but the .254/.311/.426 line he’s given up to left-handed bats is a noticeable dropoff.

Matt Olson is the only real threat from the left side in Oakland’s lineup. His batting average splits are fairly even but 25 of Olson’s 29 homers have come against right-handed pitchers this season.

Eovaldi would be a solid choice to start for the Red Sox but Rodriguez may actually match up better with Oakland. It has little to do with the pitcher’s production against right and left-handed bats, as E-Rod’s splits nearly even. This has more to do with an Oakland lineup that has shown abnormal reverse splits this season.

A’s vs LHP .245 .322 .423 .745 9.2 22.8 .322 105
A’s vs RHP .255 .327 .446 .773 8.6 21.8 .333 112

Oakland’s production isn’t drastically different against either type of pitcher but the numbers show some improvement against right-handers. The A’s have posted a higher batting average, OBP, SLG, OPS and wRC+ against right-handed pitchers. They walk at a slightly higher rate against lefties but also strike out more against them. Rodriguez is a strikeout pitcher with an elite 10.1 K/9 so Oakland’s penchant for striking out against southpaws plays to his strengths.

Of the regular lineup options the A’s would likely roll out in the ALDS, only three hitters have an average above .280 and four have an OPS above .800 against lefties. Khris Davis, the biggest power threat in their lineup, hit only .219 versus left-handed pitching. His .811 OPS is solid but far below what he produced against right-handers (.897) and only 11 of his 48 home runs came against lefties.

The batting averages aren’t much better against right-handed pitching but Oakland could conceivably put together a lineup with eight hitters with an OPS of at least .829 against right-handers.

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Evoldi was the better pitcher down the stretch and has the superior head-to-head numbers against Oakland this year. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Cora gave him the start but based on the data we have about the A’s lineup it would make more sense to go with Rodriguez if Boston faces Oakland.