The last-place Red Sox can blame a struggling rotation for their struggles this season
The Boston Red Sox starting rotation was expected to be bad in 2020. David Price is now a Dodger, Chris Sale is recovering from Tommy John surgery, and Eduardo Rodriguez is dealing with a heart condition brought on by COVID-19. But this bad? No one could’ve predicted that.
The Red Sox won the World Series just two seasons ago with all three of those pitchers in their rotation. It was one of the best pitching staffs in the league. The Red Sox ranked in the top-10 in ERA, WHIP, fewest runs allowed, and were third in strikeouts per nine innings. That now seems like a distant memory to the 2020 version of the Red Sox.
Boston entered play on Tuesday with a 6.04 ERA from their starting pitchers, third-worst in baseball behind the Tigers and Angels. And that was before Kyle Hart, making his third career start, gave up six earned runs in 3.1 innings against the Blue Jays in Buffalo; Hart’s ERA for the season now sits at 13.00.
The Red Sox starting rotation’s ERA is a sight for sore eyes
Their staff WHIP is 1.674, ahead of only the Tigers. They’ve issued the second-most walks in the league with 61, ahead of only the Diamondbacks. Opponents are hitting .285 against them, third-worst in baseball. And they have the fourth-lowest strikeout per nine innings ratio, beating only the Rockies, Orioles and Athletics. The Red Sox have already used 11 starting pitchers through 29 games this season, equaling their total from all of 2018.
Martin Perez and Nathan Eovaldi are the only Red Sox pitchers to last at least five innings in a start this season. Perez is the only regular starter with an ERA lower than 4.00. Zack Godley is 0-3 with a 7.29 ERA in five starts. Ryan Weber has given up 11 earned runs in 10 innings as a starter.
The Red Sox are currently on pace for their highest ERA in franchise history. The club record for ERA by a pitching staff is 5.21 in 1932. Only three times since World War II—2012, 2006, and 1996—did Red Sox starters finish a season with an ERA higher than five. Opponents batting average is the highest for the Red Sox since 1940. Starters have a combined record of 4-15; their .211 winning percentage would be the worst of any team since the 1962 Mets.
Only 10 teams in the Live Ball Era (since 1920) have ended a season with a staff ERA above six. The record for futility is held by the 1996 Tigers at 6.64. The Red Sox haven’t been quite that bad, but they’re close.
The result of their struggles on the mound is that the Red Sox currently sit at the bottom of the AL East with a 9-20 record. Not since the 1930s have the Red Sox finished with a winning percentage below .400, a mark that seems like a distinct possibility at the mid-way point of their season. Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom has already made one trade, sending relief pitchers Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree to Philadelphia. And he’s not done yet, as seemingly everyone not named Xander Bogaerts or Rafael Devers is on the trading block for a franchise that needs a fresh start.
Eovaldi, the Red Sox Opening Day starter, should be the most valuable target for other clubs. He still has two years left on his contract after this season and had a 1.61 ERA during the Red Sox run to the World Series in 2018. He doesn’t want to leave Boston, but the fact he’s the subject of ongoing talks reflects the team’s fortunes in 2020.
“I try not to think about that at all,” he told MassLive’s Christopher Smith on Tuesday. “If I’m thinking about being traded, I’m not trying to go out there and do my job or I’m being distracted a little bit. I feel like if we’re playing better, nobody’s going to be traded. At times, when we’re struggling, that’s part of the game.”
The Red Sox are struggling and simply playing through what’s already a lost season for a franchise used to contending for championships. Their rotation is a shell of what it was just two years ago and will look even more different following Monday’s trade deadline.