The Boston Red Sox rotation needs quality and quantity innings that were missing from 2019. Where do the Red Sox find them?
Just what is a sin-eater? A cultural anthropologist would say it is a ritual whereby a sin-eater would consume a ritual meal to absorb the sins of the deceased. Baseball old-timers had the term applied to pitchers who could absorb the sins of the pitching staff with superb performances. What today would be a stopper. An ace. An Old Hoss Radbourn.
In baseball, innings-eater is invariably applied to pitchers who take the ball with a level of consistency and give innings, but just what kind of innings? This term is usually connected with the mention of former Red Sox pitcher Rick Porcello who certainly has provided innings, but with questionable results.
Porcello took to the bump in 2019 for 32 starts and 171.1 innings pitched. In his career, Porcello could be consistently counted upon for 30+ starts and 200+ innings. Porcello eats innings, but many of those innings needed to be regurgitated. A pitching sin-eater needs to be on the roster. An arm that is capable of quality and quantity. Good luck with that.
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Eating innings is also – at least from my view – a euphemism for a pitcher who just may be rather pedestrian in the big picture of a season. Far too often the redeeming quality of the innings-eater is to give the bullpen an extra inning or two while he is pounded into submission such as Porcello’s 5.52 ERA for 2019 would suggest.
When you combine innings eating with high-level results you have a level attained by recent wallet heavyweights Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. Innings of quantity and quality that define a staff ace. The Red Sox certainly have a trio on the staff with David Price, Chris Sale, and Eduardo Rodriguez capable, but unfortunately, both Price and Sale were rather limited in 2019. Will 2020 be a return for Price of 2016 with 230.1 innings? Or Sale of 2017 with 214.1 innings? For both lefties, those totals led the American League. Three aces is generally a winning hand.
The Red Sox have replaced Porcello with lefty Martin Perez and the only difference is salary. Perez will be paid $6.25 million and Porcello will earn $10 million from the Mets. Porcello managed 21 starts of 5+ innings in 2019 and Perez made 29 starts and 20 went 5+ innings – a baseball wash. The Red Sox will get the quantity back but the quality will stay in baseball limbo.
With the budget issues still being a Sword of Damocles, the Red Sox will be lining up for more innings-eaters who lack quality since that is what the market dictates. That does not present a promising outlook for 2020 especially if Sale erodes and Price is moved elsewhere.
The Red Sox do have an out for the situation and that is trades with Mookie Betts and a controllable Andrew Benintendi. Both are most likely to be able to fetch an arm on the cusp of an MLB breakout and (hopefully) ready to give the innings that have a strong tinge of quality.
The possibility of freeing up payroll could mean dipping into the free-agent pool after the 2020 season. Back to the old crapshoot of either getting a rubber or a wooden arm. The early list shows few that would make a GM jump in the air and kick their cleats.
Where the issue could be resolved is our farm system that produces a viable rotation pitcher about once every decade. Maybe Tanner Houck will magically prosper at Pawtucket and gain some traction? The rest of the system has little in the immediate with Jay Groome, Bryan Mata, and Noah Song all works in progress. Maybe Darwinzon Hernandez will find the plate and be shuffled to the rotation?
The difficulty with the previously mentioned prospects is none project to being dominant. Terms such as “back of the rotation” work their way into the scouting reports. Meanwhile, the Red Sox will get a Perez or another Andrew Cashner to plug along and only strike fear into those attempting to figure out FIP and ERA.
In the good news department, the current machinations of the Red Sox allow me and a good portion of Red Sox Nation to whine incessantly about the obvious. Certainly an emotional cleansing, but also a warning regarding the pitfalls of long term obligations.