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Alex Speier

Can the Red Sox get enough innings from the rotation?

Joe Kelly averaged just 5 1/3 innings and recorded a 19th out in just five of his 25 (20 percent) starts. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Does the Red Sox rotation behind David Price have an innings problem?

Price, of course, represents about as solid a bet for seven elite innings per outing as the American League has seen since 2010. But aside from the ace lefthander, there will be questions about the load that the Red Sox starters will assume.

Red Sox manager John Farrell often has discussed the considerable difference between the starter who can deliver 18 as opposed to 21 outs. Yet the Sox appear likely to feature as much of the latter as the former.

Rick Porcello has averaged almost exactly six innings a start for his career, though he’s moved past that mark in each of the last two years; his season-ending run of seven of eight starts in which he logged seven or more innings suggests a pitcher who represents the Sox’ best bet for 200 innings after Price.


Clay Buchholz averaged 6 1/3 innings and pitched at least into the seventh in 11 of his 18 outings, but of course his ability to pitch deep into games is always circumscribed by the question about how much he can pitch at all.

Eduardo Rodriguez averaged a tick less than six innings a start in his rookie season; he delivered more than 18 outs in just eight of 21 starts. Most notably, for all the promise he showed in his eight-game winning streak, Joe Kelly averaged just 5 1/3 innings and recorded a 19th out in just five of his 25 (20 percent) starts.

In other words, with Rodriguez and Kelly, and perhaps Buchholz depending on how the Red Sox manage his innings (or if he is injured and replaced in the rotation by someone like Henry Owens, Brian Johnson, or Roenis Elias), the Sox could be looking at a lot of starts where 18 outs represents an aspiration rather than a floor.


Twenty years ago, or perhaps even five years ago, a pitcher like Kelly might have been examined with considerable skepticism as a rotation option given the uncertainty about his ability to log innings. Teams might have shown greater urgency to see their young starters like Rodriguez tack on additional innings in order to avoid torching the bullpen.

But the increased centrality of the bullpen, particularly in recent years, is altering the game’s standards to a place where a Kelly represents a pitcher who can be given more time to see if he’ll sink or swim as a starter. A growing slice of the wins pie is being claimed in games where starters last five or six innings.

In 2015, there were 261 games that teams won in which their starter was done after 15 outs – up 7.7 percent from 2014 and up 14.2 percent since 2010. Starts of five to six innings resulted in 1,029 wins in 2015, up 6.0 percent from 2014 and 9.8 percent since 2010. Meanwhile, there were just 1,204 wins in which a starter recorded at least one out in the seventh – down 8.8 percent from 2014 and 9.8 percent from 2010.

Wins by starter innings, 2010-15
Year 5-6 IP Change > 6 IP Change
2015 1029 6.0% 1204 -8.8%
2014 971 -3.3% 1320 4.1%
2013 1004 4.1% 1268 -1.9%
2012 964 -1.2% 1293 -2.0%
2011 976 4.2% 1319 -1.2%
2010 937 1335

At a time when clubs are loading up on three, four, and five elite relief arms, teams are winning more games than ever when their starters aren’t giving them length, potentially shifting the conversation from the distinction between an 18- and 21-out pitcher to one between a 15- and 18-out pitcher. In 2015, for instance, teams posted a .532 winning percentage in games where their starters logged exactly six innings – the equivalent of an 86-win team, and the highest winning percentage seen in starts of 18 outs since 2010.


We live in the age of a bullpen revolution, writes Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News. At a time when wipeout arms enter games in the sixth inning, pitchers like Kelly and potentially Rodriguez and others whose workloads will be managed represent trends rather than aberrations – pitchers whose innings limitations do not represent an affront to a winning formula, but instead part of a bigger pitching puzzle in which teams cultivate deep reservoirs of dominant late-innings arms (see Kimbrel, Craig, and Smith, Carson) in order to try to take advantage of starters who can deliver five or six strong innings.

Follow Alex Speier on Twitter @alexspeier.