Red Sox fans, media need a reality check on Ryan Weber
By Drew Athans
Red Sox fans and media need to pump the brakes on Ryan Weber.
Boston Red Sox fans are nothing if not eternally optimistic; after all, we are a fanbase that, along with the Chicago Cubs, perfected the art of “waiting until next year” for generations until finally arriving at the promised land. In the aftermath of the tear-down the team has undergone since they turned in the most dominating season in the franchise’s history in 2018, that optimism will be put to the test in 2020.
There’s already the unique and unprecedented aspect to the forthcoming season of it being a 60-game sprint to the finish line rather than the usual 162-game marathon, . While that may seem to benefit some teams who are on the bubble in terms of being competitive, it probably won’t make any difference either way when it comes to the Red Sox.
As was the team’s glaring weakness in 2019, it is their lack of talent and depth in pitching, both in the rotation and the bullpen, that will doom them in 2020. Some of it was self-inflicted (trading David Price in a salary dump in the Mookie deal, not re-signing Rick Porcello) while some was (somewhat) out of their control (Chris Sale’s injury and subsequent Tommy John surgery).
New Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom made a couple of middling moves during the offseason, including bringing in Martin Perez to slot in at the back of the rotation, but with ten days to go before this weird new season (potentially) starts, the Red Sox starting rotation currently consists of Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, Perez, and not much else.
Leaving aside the usual entreaties to give Brian Johnson yet another chance or the ever-present (and annoying) “opener” concept, the pitcher being most talked about by fans and Sox media alike right now is Ryan Weber. I even wrote an article back in February stating that Weber should be given a chance to compete for the number five spot in the rotation. However, there seems to be a sudden excitement around Weber in recent days that doesn’t make much sense.
As I wrote back in February, Weber is a guy who put up the following numbers in 2019 with the Red Sox: 2-4 W-L, 5.09 ERA, 29 K, 8 BB, 40.2 IP, 1.377 WHIP (3 starts). For his career, his line of 3-9 W-L, 5.04 ERA, 72 K, 21 BB, 114.1 IP, 1.294 WHIP (11 starts) isn’t much better. He looked fantastic in his first start for Boston in 2019 before hitters figured him out and roughed him up in his remaining starts.
This makes it all the more baffling that so many are clamoring for Weber to not only get a spot in the rotation, but as the number three starter. Out of sheer necessity, he’ll get a spot; Sale is injured, they have nobody in the minors ready to come in and pitch, and somebody needs to fill one of those open slots. However, using the fact that he didn’t give up an earned run in nine spring training innings as the sole thing to hang their hat on is laughable.
Indeed, it was hard not to cringe at Weber when he said the following to WEEI’s Rob Bradford:
"“If you just looked at what I did in spring training it’s not like Ron (Roenicke) committed to me after like giving up six runs or whatever. I threw nine innings, I didn’t give up an earned run and I was sharp every outing,” he said after throwing 47 of his 64 pitches for strikes Saturday. “So I like to think I made the decision easy for Rags to put me in the rotation. I went out there and did my job and that’s what Ron was expecting me to do and I held up my end of the bargain.”"
Look, Weber not giving up a run in nine (total) innings pitched is great, as is striking out eleven without walking anybody. Weber did that in spring training back in March before it was shut down due to COVID-19 and nobody can take that away from him. He also threw four innings during an intrasquad scrimmage this past weekend, tossing 47 of his 64 pitches for strikes.
As we all know and as we see every single year, though, there are always guys who look like stars in Florida who end up being duds once the games actually matter. Based on what he did in 2019, Weber seems primed to levy that disappointment on Red Sox fans and media members alike again in 2020. This isn’t to take a swipe at him as he seems like a perfectly nice guy and he’s definitely maximized his talents to even be in this discussion in the first place.
However, the fact that Weber is the presumptive number three starter for the Red Sox says far more about their dearth of pitching talent at both the major league and minor league levels than any testament to Weber’s improved ability. He is who he’s always been and almost certainly always will be: a mediocre late-bloomer who will probably have some good outings bookended by far more bad ones. He’s basically a right-handed Brian Johnson.
Let’s not as a fanbase go off the rails and treat this as some great success story, though. We can be happy for Weber if he does indeed make the rotation while still keeping an eye on the bigger picture, which is that the Red Sox are in the position of having to hope guys like Weber and Johnson can have career years (when their careers to this point show no indication that the hope is remotely warranted) in order for them to just be competitive.
If anything, it should add to the condemnation the Red Sox deserve from fans for reducing the talent level on the team and giving a higher priority to saving payroll above all else. The financial aspect alone was what drove the construction/teardown of this year’s team and no amount of equivocating will make Ryan Weber anything more than what he’s always been.
While I’m as excited as any other Red Sox fan to (hopefully) have baseball back next week, I also don’t have unrealistic expectations for this team. As currently constructed with their awful pitching (both starting and relief), the 2020 Red Sox are tailor-made to lose a lot of 11-9 baseball games. There’s no doubt that Ryan Weber, among others, will be directly involved in many of those.