When it comes to the Red Sox’ starting rotation, it’s all about managing expectations.
This probably isn’t going to be a top-five rotation in baseball. Nor is it going to be a repeat of last year, when the Sox finished 25th with a 5.34 ERA from their starting pitchers.
“We feel pretty confident that this group is going to give us innings and keep us in ballgames,” manager Alex Cora said Sunday.
It was an honest assessment. And arguably the loftiest of goals one could reasonably expect from this group would be just that, to throw innings and give the offense a chance.
All signs point to a starting rotation that ranks somewhere in the middle of the majors.
After Nathan Eovaldi allowed four runs in four innings against the Twins on Sunday (but touching 100 mph several times in classic Eovaldi form), the Sox’ rotation has a 4.75 ERA this spring. As meaningless as spring training stats are, that number puts them 18th in the majors.
Again, that seems about right.
Without Chris Sale, who is still recovering from Tommy John surgery and could return sometime in the middle of the season, the Sox are likely to start the year with some combination of Eovaldi, Eduardo Rodriguez, Garrett Richards, Martin Perez and Tanner Houck in their starting five. Newcomer Matt Andriese and former Phillies right-hander Nick Pivetta could also be in the mix.
It’s a group that is mostly unproven, but can light up the radar gun and twist the spin-rate machines with their breaking balls. There are a lot of oft-injured pitchers in there, but chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom loves their upside. At least the team has some depth.
Add it all up and you have seven starting pitchers who can form something close to an average big league rotation.
Take a look at the averages these guys have put up over the past three years (numbers include 2020 except for Rodriguez, who missed the entire year):
Eovaldi: 4-3, 76 IP, 4.44 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 74 K, 21 BB
Rodriguez: 13-6, 157 IP, 3.92 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 170 K, 57 BB
Richards: 2-2, 45 IP, 4.09 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 48 K, 19 BB
Perez: 5-6, 104 IP, 5.30 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 78 K, 44 BB
Houck (2020 stats only): 3-0, 17 IP, 0.53 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 21 K, 9 BB
Pivetta: 4-7, 91 IP, 5.10 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 98 K, 32 BB
Andriese: 3-5, 60 IP, 4.91 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 63 K, 21 BB
Combined, the seven of them have 550 innings with a 4.47 ERA and 1.35 WHIP. The innings totals are skewed because of the short season in 2020, but overall, a starting rotation with these stats once again puts the Red Sox around league average.
“I do believe it’s a solid rotation,” Cora said. “You see the guys, their track records and the upside. We’re very comfortable with it.
“I do believe this group, how deep we are, is going to help navigate the season. I feel pretty confident. That’s one of the reasons we have a complete team. These guys, they’re going to give us innings. They’re going to keep us in ballgames. And obviously the bullpen is a solid one.”
“Solid” is about the best word you can use to describe them.
Sure, Eovaldi, 31, and Richards, 32, have elite stuff and are capable of magical moments. But to project either to start more than 20 or 25 games would be a stretch.
“Right now, probably three out of five (pitches) are what I want, and that number will only get better as you continue to throw,” said Richards.
Eovaldi said Sunday his splitter still isn’t where he needs it to be, but after touching 100 mph on the radar gun several times, “I felt really strong.”
Nobody knows how Rodriguez, 27, will bounce back from myocarditis.
The Sox seem to like Perez, 29, more than the 29 other teams, despite his ERA being the highest in the majors over the last three years.
Pivetta, 28, and Andriese, 31, are respectable depth options.
Houck, 24, is the wild card of the group after showing incredible stuff last season and increased velocity this spring.
“We have a lot of diamonds in the rough who can go out there and do the job,” Eovaldi said. “It’s a completely different rotation this year. I’m excited for it for sure.”
At 31 years old, Eovaldi is the second-oldest to Richards on the staff.
“I still remember when we traded for him, he was so quiet, he just wanted to pitch,” Cora said. “Now, with all the guys gone, he’s taken that leadership and taken it to another level.
“What he does to take care of his body, obviously there’s always a red flag or question mark, but he does everything right in the weight room, the training room, throwing bullpens. That’s a guy you have to follow.”
Whether it’s Eovaldi or Rodriguez to pitch April 1 at Fenway Park, the Sox are likely to have an Opening Day starter who, you guessed it, ranks among the middle of the league compared to other teams’ No. 1 starters.
Three good months from Sale could turn it all around. And Cora is hoping improved defense can help, but the Sox will undoubtedly be worse in the outfield after letting Jackie Bradley Jr. walk in free agency.
This team is most likely going to live and die with its offense.
And after the starting pitching fiasco last year, anything close to an average rotation would be a welcomed sight.
Story by Jason Mastrodonato, Boston Herald.