2017 Red Sox preview part II: starting pitching

By Mark Paulette

With Opening Day upon us, it’s time to take a peek at those who will be toeing the rubber for the Sox this season. After a lavish week of exploration and fine dining, Nostra-Markus has been locked back in his bunker and is here to bring you the starting five, as well as anyone else who might find themselves on the bump during the upcoming 162 games.

  1. Rick Porcello, R (2016 stats – 22-4/3.15/189, 33 games started)

Through two years in Boston, we have seen Porcello at his absolute worst in 2015 and his absolute best in 2016. It’s a vast spectrum, ranging from a near-5.00 era-to-a Cy Young award. Helping the cause a year ago was the 6.53 runs per start the Sox offense provided during Porcello’s starts, which is the highest number among starting pitchers in all the MLB. But let’s throw away facts, Porcello developed a bulldog-ish demeanor last campaign while becoming the 28th pitcher in franchise history to log 20+ wins in a season. If Rick has his salt-stained cap in 2017, (literally and figuratively) he should be just fine.

2017 projections – 17-8/3.41/182, 32 games

 

  1. Chris Sale, L (17-10/3.34/233, 32 games)

Christmas came early for the Red Sox when ‘Trader Davey’ dealt for Chris Sale on December 6, 2016. Yes, they coughed up arguably the best prospect in all of baseball, but in return they got arguably the best pitcher not named Clayton Kershaw. Sale is the ultimate innings-eater, evident from his MLB-leading six complete games a year ago, as well as his 7-innings-per-start average over the last four seasons. With a career 3.00 era, expect a slight uptick in era as Sale makes the move to life in the AL East, but this is a guy who has finished top-5 in Cy Young voting each of the last four seasons. He should handle the pressures of pitching in Boston with flying colors.

2017 projections – 18-10/3.45/229, 31 games

 

  1. David Price, L (17-9/3.99/228, 35 games)

Brace yourselves, Red Sox Nation, we may be in for an infuriating, Buchholzian-esque season with our $217-million-dollar man. The concerns were already in place about Price’s abilities to assimilate to the pressures of Boston. Though, what we tend to overlook is despite an era just a shade under four last season, he still posted 17 wins, 228 strikeouts, and led the league in innings pitched (230), as well as starts (35). I don’t like being negative, but working for The Drive for over a year now, I’m concerned the guys have started to rub off on me. We need to temper our expectations for Price, greatly. He has yet to begin throwing, and claimed that if he were younger he would’ve opted for surgery on his tensing arm. The timeline is (hopefully) pointing towards a mid-May return, but this has all the makings of a lengthy road to recovery.

2017 projections – 9-6/3.68/122, 20 games

 

 

  1. Eduardo Rodriguez, L (3-7/4.71/100, 20 games)

No matter how bright a future one James Churchill wants to paint for (still very) young Eddy, we also must acknowledge the lefty managed a win rate of just 0.15 in 2016. Nagging injuries and anatomically malfunctioning knees not only delayed the start to his season but also plagued him throughout, leading to several missed outings. But E-Rod is set to open this year healthy, and thanks to the floundering of Drew Pomeranz and Price’s injury, he will do so as the No. 3 starter in the rotation. In five spring starts, Rodriguez went 3-0 with a 3.32 era and 16 strikeouts in 19 innings, an encouraging sign for someone with so many questions surrounding him. Should Rodriguez regain his rookie form of 2015, he could be an x-factor in this suddenly battered Sox rotation.

2017 projections – 11-8/4.11/153, 29 games

 

  1. Steven Wright, R (13-6/3.33/127, 24 games)

Wright surpassed his career total for wins, innings pitched and strikeouts in the 2016 season, which was cut to 24 games due to a highly-debated shoulder injury, suffered in August when John Farrell inserted his as a pinch runner at Dodger Stadium. Prior to that incident, Wright was one of the revelations of 2016, posting a 10-5 record and 2.68 era in the first half to earn a spot on the AL’s All Star squad. The innings caught up to Wright after the break, who’s knuckler lost its magic and the 32-year-old got tagged to the tune of a 5.06 era in 7 starts. He’s appeared to bounce back this spring, allowing just one run in 13.1 innings, while also managing a commanding 0.83 whip. Wright’s track record, or lack thereof, makes it difficult to project how long he’ll hold up or be successful for this season, but he’s hot right now and has shown that he’s capable of carrying on a hot streak for several months.

2017 projections – 8-7/4.02/115, 25 games

 

The others –

– Drew Pomeranz, L (11-12/3.32/186, 31 games)

What do we make of this fellow? When he was traded to the Sox last, July Pomeranz was coming off an All-Star appearance for the hometown Padres and had a 2.47 era, allowing 28 runs in 102 innings. Pomeranz never seemed right once he got to Boston (due in part to his hidden injury history which the Sox overlooked not once, but twice) as the converted reliever was tagged with a 4.59 era in 13 starts with the Sox. He’s continued his sub-par performance this spring, allowing 11 runs in 12 innings, including a 4-inning outing out of the bullpen on Friday. Now, Pomeranz is starting the year on the DL, though will be activated to pitch the sixth game of the year on April 9, yippee. With Price on the shelf for an extended period, Pomeranz will get the interim tag of fifth starter, but I’d be willing to bet his eventual place will be as a stretch reliever in the ‘pen.

2017 projections – 6-7/4.21/89, 27 games

 

 

– Kyle Kendrick, R (2016 – DNP, 2015 – 7-13/6.32/80)

Based purely off Spring Training performances, it is nothing short of a travesty that Kendrick isn’t on the opening day roster, let alone the 40-man roster. A six-time 10-game winner with a career record of 81-81, Kendrick went 4-0 in eight spring outings (seven starts) with a 2.18 era and 31 strikeouts in 33 innings pitched. The flip side of those numbers, of course, is the fact that Kendrick hasn’t faced true Major League competition in over a year, and the last time he did, his era was equivalent to a decent credit score. He’ll begin the year in Pawtucket, pitching every five days, but should Pomeranz or any of the latter three starters in the rotation falter, Kendrick will find himself making the quick drive to Beantown.

2017 projections – 3-2/3.81/37, 7 games

 

– Roenis Elias, L (2016 – 0-1/12.91/3, 3 games)

Elias’ career has been on a steep decline since debuting in 2014 with the Seattle Mariners, when he went 10-12 with a 3.85 era in 29 starts. He struggled mightily a year ago in his brief spell in the majors, allowing 11 earned runs in 7.2 innings, and this spring appeared in just two games, allowing two runs in five innings. He appears to be another lefty lost in the Triple-A-shuffle and I wouldn’t be surprised if by year’s end he was wearing another organization’s uniform.

2017 projections – 0-0/4.00/6, 2 games

 

– Henry Owens, L (2016 – 0-2/6.95/21, 5 games)

There will inevitably come a time this season when the Red Sox need a spot-starter and either don’t want to disrupt rotations or burn through precious options, leaving Dombro and Co. no choice but to turn to Mr. Owens. The 24-year-old has gone from highly touted prospect to enigma to hopeless in two years’ time, routinely filling out the bad parts of a pitching box score as if he was Russell Westbrook in pursuit of a triple-double. 2016 was a prime example of this, as Owens allowed 23 hits, 17 runs, walked 20 and struck out 21 in 22 innings pitched. Don’t expect to see much of Owens in 2017, but when you do, it will be hard to forget.

2017 projections – 0-1/5.91/10, 2 games

 

– Brian Johnson, L (2016 – DNP, 2015 – 0-1/8.31/3)

Much to the chagrin of Aaron Jackson, Johnson was never called up in September after suffering a lengthy absence mid-year as he battled anxiety. In 15 starts at Pawtucket, the 26-year-old went 5-6 with a 4.09 era, though was decidedly better after returning from his leave of absence. Johnson appeared in just three games this spring, going 0-2 with a 5.40 in 6.2 innings. There’s simply no place for the once-promising prospect, though he is more likely to get the call than someone like Hector Velazquez (11er in 11ip in Spring Training) should the Sox find themselves in a pickle.

2017 projections – 0-0/5.40/3, 1 game

 

Mark Paulette is the Senior Producer of The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine.com and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.