Perhaps you haven’t paid much notice, what with the constant concerning news updates as Major League Baseball lurches toward a restart that feels both premature and ill-considered, but your 60-game-sprint Red Sox have a starting pitching problem.
Specifically, they don’t have any.
A quick inventory: 19-game winner Eduardo Rodriguez is recovering from COVID-19, leaving his status for the early part of the abbreviated season in limbo. And it’s too soon to call him an ace anyway. He’s been inconsistent enough in the past that he must prove he can do it again for us to fully trust him at the front of a rotation.
Nate Eovaldi is a talented and dedicated pitcher, but he is an enigma, one who has battled injury and inconsistency through most of his career. He had a 5.99 ERA last year, and is 46-54 with a 4.30 ERA in his career. His most similar pitcher through age 29 is Kris Benson. This is your probable Opening Day starter.
And then beyond that, it really gets shaky. Ryan Weber, who turns 30 in August and has a 5.04 ERA for four teams in five seasons, will be in the mix somewhere. Martin Perez, whose career is a bad-case scenario of how E-Rod’s could go, will get his turn as well.
Collin McHugh, 33 years old, has had some success — he won 19 games for the 2015 Astros — is coming back from an elbow injury that interrupted his 2019 season and may not be ready to start this season. He feels like this year’s version of 2005 Wade Miller.
The situation is dire enough that Brian Johnson, who had a 6.02 ERA last year, was designated for assignment over the offseason, and went unclaimed, is now back in the hunt for a role. He’s had some decent moments for the Red Sox, but this is the kind of pitcher they should be trying to replace.
The most runs Red Sox pitching has allowed in a season is 922, set way back in 1925. The 1996 Red Sox missed tying this record by a single run. (Starters Tom Gordon, Aaron Sele, and Tim Wakefield — all quality pitchers who stayed in the big leagues for a combined 55 seasons — all had ERAs above 5.00. Hitters sure were large in those days.)
I recognize that the bullpen has a chance to be pretty good, and pitchers we are barely considering now — such as Austin Brice — have a chance to emerge as success stories. I trust that chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom will find value in unheralded players like the Rays did habitually when he was part of their front office.
But the Sox are starting from a very bad spot, and it’s amazing how much pitching they’ve lost since October 2018, when David Price, Chris Sale, and Rick Porcello headed a championship staff. The Red Sox pitched 53 innings in the ’18 World Series. Presuming Rodriguez isn’t ready to start the season, only four pitchers that took the mound in that World Series remain on the roster: Eovaldi, Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, and Heath Hembree, who combined for a total of 13 innings in the Red Sox’ five-game World Series win.
Looking at what the Red Sox have on their staff right now, especially in that makeshift rotation, I cannot help but believe that in a full season this staff would give up close to 1,000 runs. The starting pitching, even utilizing the concept of an opener, which they almost certainly will do, is so thin that even a deep bullpen is going to be overwhelmed by the workload it is going to have to take on.
It’s so thin, in fact, that I can’t help but play a facetious game of Back to the Future in search of ways to improve it. Maybe Bloom could give a second chance to some players of the past.
Sure, they might be old and gray now, to borrow a phrase from a certain basketball coach, but about a chance for Joel Finch, Chuck Rainey, or some of the other young arms Don Zimmer ruined in the late ’70s? I hear the Bobby Sprowl kid has ice water in his veins.
Maybe the Red Sox could give an audition to some of the prospects from the late ’80s that didn’t quick stick, like Rob Woodward, Eric Hetzel, and Steve Curry? Remember when Jeff Sellers nearly pitched a no-hitter the day after the Red Sox clinched the division in 1988? I bet he could help.
And how about a shot for some of those reclamation projects Dan Duquette used to bring in, hoping for one more burst of glory, like Steve Avery, Ramon Martinez, and David Cone? I bet Bret Saberhagen’s shoulder is feeling better on roughly 7,000 days rest.
Actually, all facetiousness aside, you could talk me into giving Pedro Martinez a couple of spot starts over these 60 games. Sure, he’s 48 years old and hasn’t thrown a pitch in anger since the 2009 World Series. I’d still like his chances better than some of these guys that are getting real shots.