The Red Sox rotation has recovered from a dismal start this season.
The 2020 season will be remembered for plenty of terrible things, not the least of which has been the abysmal Boston Red Sox starting rotation. However, as the season winds to a close we’re beginning to see encouraging signs of improvement from this staff.
The devastating losses of Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez to the injured list for the entire season were unexpected setbacks that doomed the Red Sox from the start. The trade that shipped David Price out of town and the free-agent departure of Rick Porcello forced the Red Sox to completely revamp their rotation.
Last year’s No. 5 starter, Nathan Eovaldi, suddenly became the ace by default and the insistence on resetting the luxury tax forced Boston’s brass to rely on internal options and scraps from the bargain bin to fill out the rotation. Any team would struggle under these circumstances but we weren’t prepared for the level of futility this staff would struggle through early in the season.
Boston’s rotation spent the majority of the season buried at the bottom of the rankings in terms of their collective ERA. It got to the point where we seriously had to wonder if this was the worst starting pitching staff in franchise history.
We’re no longer in historical territory but the results remain ugly. Red Sox starting pitchers enter the day with a collective 5.46 ERA that ranks as the third-worst in the majors. FanGraphs values their rotation dead-last with a 0.3 fWAR.
As bad as this year has been, the Red Sox are ending it on a high note. They finally seem to have settled on a group of starters that works and the results have been drastically improved.
Boston’s starting pitchers surprisingly own a 3.12 ERA in September that ranks second in the American League and fourth in the majors for the month.
Their middle-of-the-pack 4.29 xFIP and a 1.1 fWAR that places them only 21st in the majors this month suggests their September resurgence isn’t quite as strong as the ERA suggests but it’s still light years ahead of where they were in July and August.
Narrow the sample size to the last two weeks and it gets even better. Boston is third in the majors with a 2.39 ERA from their starting pitchers over that span. Their 10.77 K/9 is the fourth-best strikeout rate in this sample.
The Red Sox have received some stellar performances from starting pitchers in recent weeks. The latest was Eovaldi’s six shutout innings in a win over the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday but the success dates back further than that.
September 22 vs Baltimore: Nick Pivetta – 5 innings, 1 run, 8 Ks
September 20 vs New York: Tanner Houck – 6 innings 1 run (unearned), 4 Ks
September 17 at Miami: Nathan Eovaldi – 5 innings, 0 runs, 7 Ks
September 15 at Miami: Tanner Houck – 5 innings, 0 runs, 7 Ks
September 13 at Tampa Bay: Martin Perez – 5 innings, 3 runs (2 earned), 6 Ks
September 8 at Philadelphia: Chris Mazza – 5 innings, 2 runs, 4 Ks
Each of these strong starts resulted in a Red Sox victory. Boston has gone 8-5 during that stretch. They are riding a three-game winning streak and have won four of their last six.
It’s a relatively small sample but everything is a small sample size in this shorted 60-game slate. The 21 games that the Red Sox have played this month represents more than one-third of their schedule.
We know that there’s plenty of talent on the offensive side of this club, it’s the pitching that has held them back. If Boston’s starters pitched anywhere near as well this season as they have been this month, this team would be contending for a playoff spot instead of trying to crawl out of the basement.
Boston’s rotation will be remarkably improved next year with the expected returns of Sale and Rodriguez. The key will be surrounding them with suitable options. Eovaldi is healthy and proving he can be a viable middle of the rotation option. The Red Sox seem to have found a keeper in Perez.
They need to lock in a fifth starter for next season plus some additional depth in case their recovering aces aren’t quite ready for Opening Day. Houck’s early-career success puts him in the mix and Pivetta showed us a glimpse of his untapped potential.
The improved results came far too late to do the Red Sox any good in this year’s playoff race but it does provide some optimism heading into next year. If they are healthier next year, this pitching staff might not be as far off from leading a contender as the overall results from this season would lead you to believe.