Red Sox Debate: Chris Sale vs Eduardo Rodriguez for title of staff ace
By Tim Starr
With the dreadful 2019 season posted by Chris Sale, is he still the ace of the staff, or has Eduardo Rodriguez overtaken his spot in the Red Sox rotation?
Eduardo Rodriguez put the ribbon on his gem of a 2019 season by finishing sixth in Cy Young voting. Chris Sale finished in the top-four in seven consecutive seasons before falling short of the ballot this year. Now, when determining the ace of the staff, will the Boston Red Sox value track record (favoring Sale), or recency bias (favoring Rodriguez)?
The entire Red Sox rotation, except for Rodriguez, entered 2018 hot after a dominant postseason run. They all left 2019 cold, except for Rodriguez.
Sale entered 2019 after a shaky end to his 2018 season. He still was the ace of the staff, but he did not act like one. He exited April winless and with an ERA of 6.30. He was not seen as the same pitcher, based on stats or the eye test and his fastball saw a decline in velocity.
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His May ERA was under 2.50, but by July, he had proven that he was going to put up an insanely inconsistent 2019 season. His ERA at the end of April was 6.30, fell to 4.35 by the end of May, down to 3.82 at the end of June, and shot back up to 4.26 by the end of July.
Going down with a shoulder injury in August, Sale narrowly avoided Tommy John Surgery this offseason. He still doesn’t have a fully healthy shoulder and should not be expected to throw more than 200 innings or to start the season ready to go.
From the middle of July, Rodriguez emerged as the front of the Red Sox starting rotation. He had a shaky April first four starts of the season but cruised his way to the end of the season. His ERA shrank at the end of every month from April to September.
He proved that he could be a work-horse, topping 200 innings, and ultimately being very effective in those innings. Steady Eddie was the savior of a disastrous starting rotation. He has proved that he can remain healthy throughout a whole season and put his potential and execution together to create his marvelous 2019 season.
2020 Projections for the Red Sox starters
If we examine baseball reference’s 2020 projections, there can be an interesting case to be made for both of them.
Sale: 9-8, 3.68 ERA, 149 IP, 206 SO, 2.4 BB/9, 1.074 WHIP
Rodriguez: 14-7, 4.01 ERA, 173 IP, 187 SO, 3.3 BB/9, 1.301 WHIP
Sale overdoes Rodriguez in nearly every statistic except for innings pitched. This could likely be traced back to his previously mentioned injury history. Nobody is 100 percent sure if he will begin 2020 back to form.
These projections seem to believe the lanky-lefty can bounce back, while the flame-throwing 26-year old will see regression from his Cy Young worthy 2019 season. I agree with the projections that Sale will have a quality 2020 season and we will see the 2017 and 2018 versions of him.
Overall, Rodriguez deserves to start Opening Day and should be the ace of the pitching staff come 2020. However, if he shows some regression, and the Conductor (or David Price or Nathan Eovaldi) shows his prior, Cy Young stuff, then he should slide back to the front of the rotation.
If I were to bet, Rodriguez starts Opening Day, but if the Red Sox were to enter into the AL Wild Card game, then I would think that Sale would start that game.