The Red Sox could use Matt Hall behind an opener.
The Boston Red Sox won’t have five viable options to fill their rotation when the season opens. A case can be made that they’ll struggle to find three healthy pitchers we have confidence in as a starter. That’s going to lead to at least one rotation spot being filled by an opener, a strategy popularized by the Tampa Bay Rays last season.
An opener often only pitches one inning to focus on shutting down the top of the lineup to prevent the opponent from getting off to a quick start. They are treated similar to a closer only in reverse, locking down the first inning instead of the ninth. The remainder of the game is patched together with various relievers but the first man out of the bullpen is typically tasked with tossing multiple innings. The Red Sox will need one of these “bulk” pitchers to follow an opener and lefty Matt Hall has emerged as a candidate.
The sample size from Hall’s career is limited but uninspiring, producing an unsightly 9.48 ERA in 31 1/3 innings over the last two years as a reliever for the Detroit Tigers.
The disappointing results understate his potential. Hall produced a sub-3.00 ERA at each level during his rise through the minor league system while being utilized both as a starter and reliever. He was having a strong 2018 season split between Double-A and Triple-A before getting blasted in his first taste of major league action. Those struggles carried over to 2019 when he struggled in Triple-A and the majors.
Recency bias will spoil the perception of Hall but we’ve seen him have success before, he just needs to prove himself at the big league level. He’s not a high-upside pitcher and isn’t expected to claim a rotation spot but he can carve out a role in the bullpen.
Hall impressed in a few innings of work during a simulated game Monday morning. The analysis of his performance is limited considering there was no defense playing behind him but he threw the ball well. He struck out Rafael Devers by getting him to chase a couple of pitches, including a curve that he swung through for strike three.
Manager Ron Roenicke praised his curveball, calling it a “real nice weapon.”
Hall’s curve is his second-most frequently used pitch and comes with a spin rate that is in the 95th percentile, per Baseball Savant. He held opposing hitters to a .226 batting average and .285 WOBA with the curve last year and it was by far his best put-away pitch at 24.6 percent.
The Tigers used Hall for multiple innings in eight of his 16 relief appearances last year, lasting as long as three innings in one outing. If the Red Sox need a pitcher to log multiple innings in relief of an opener, Hall is an option that we know can handle that workload.
Hall produced a solid strikeout rate throughout his minor league career and despite his struggles in the big leagues he still posted a strong 10.4 K/9 last year.
If he’s going to find success at the major league level, the key will be control. Hall was wild last season with a 5.8 BB/9 rate. That’s not a small sample size outlier either, as his walk rate hasn’t been below 3.2 BB/9 since he was in Low-A ball during his pro debut season.
His control issues prevent him from being an ideal choice to be brought in with runners on base but being the bulk guy behind an opener would allow him to enter a clean inning and most of his work would come against the bottom of the opposing lineup.
Hall still has much to prove during Summer Camp to warrant a roster spot but he’s a pitcher to put on the radar with his ability to potentially fill a necessary role on this team.