The Red Sox failed to make the playoffs, and many point to their pitching as the problem. The Sox play on the defensive side of the ball failed for many reasons, some of which were out of their control. As management starts its search for answers, here we look back at some of the reasons why they failed.
The Situation of the League
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like the Red Sox pitching was the worst in the league. But a team with a top-five offense should never miss the playoffs. The easiest conclusion to make was that their pitching is to blame, which it is. The Red Sox ranked near the bottom third in the league in team ERA, which is even worse when you take into context that this year was the third worse pitching year since 2000.
This could also be due to the whole ” juiced ball” controversy which is making its rounds. There is a bit of evidence to support it, like how this was the greatest home run year in all of MLB history. Scientists in a Washington State Sports Laboratory have said they figured out the issue with the balls and could produce “fixed” ones in the near future.
Also, the Red Sox had to go up against some heavily powered teams at crucial moments of the season. This included the record-breaking offense of the rival New York Yankees, as well as the Houston Astros. There were certainly many reasons and excuses for their underperforming pitching, but the blame ultimately falls on themselves.
You would think the Red Sox had all the talent they needed going into this season. Yet it fell apart, as coaching couldn’t decide which route to go down. Their bullpen coach actually is pretty good, hence why he is still on the staff. He made a relatively bad bullpen into at least a solid option in comparison to their starters.
Craig Bjornson, the bullpen coach, got the best out of his guys. Brandon Workman had the best season of his career, pitching in 73 games with a 1.88 ERA. Marcus Walden and Matt Barnes also pitched pretty well, as they carried numbers similar to last year despite the overall negative change league-wide. Even Heath Hembree seemed to start shifting back to the success he had at the beginning of his career. We also saw some rookies contribute, as Josh Taylor proved to be a stalwart, Travis Lakins impressed in the short time he played, and Darwinzon Hernandez played spectacularly until he fell off a bit near the end of the season.
But unfortunately, a lot of the blame was placed upon the two pitching coaches, Brian Bannister and Dana LeVangie. Bannister, the assistant pitching coach, also happened to be the vice president of pitching development. But after this disappointing season, he was booted off the assistant coaching duty while still retaining his job with pitching development.
But he got off easy compared to Dana LeVangie. LeVangie, who has spent 29 seasons with the organization, was demoted all the way to the position of scout! The failures of the unit could be responsible for their attempt to slow down naturally fast pitchers like Chris Sale. They complicated things that didn’t need to be complicated. But now their pitching positions are open, with no clear sign of who will replace them for next year.
The easiest people to point the blame on, the pitchers failed to meet high expectations. First, we can start with starting pitcher Rick Porcello. Rick has gotten worse each year since he won the Cy Young, and this year he was at his worst. He will most likely not be on the roster next year, like many of his teammates.
Chris Sale also struggled, which is very uncharacteristic for the star pitcher. He had his worst season in his career, having over a 3.50 ERA for the first time. After being a great pitcher for the past two seasons, as well as for the beginning of this past year, David Price finished the season with the second worse season of his 12-year career. He continues to underperform his giant contract, and it remains to be seen if he will be here next year.
Then, of course, there is the case of Nathan Eovaldi. After earning a massive contract in his first year at the club, Eovaldi was quite simply the worst pitcher on the roster. He was kicked to the bullpen but was inconsistent at best. He headlines one of many overpaid flops that the team needs to deal with either through trade, buyout, or restructuring if he doesn’t recover next year.
But the bullpen also has many players who MUST get better for next year. Ryan Brasier, like Price, came off a good season and started this season off well, before flopping. Colten Brewer, Hector Velasquez, and Brian Johnson all regressed this year, yet still received time pitching due to the lack of good options. They even brought in Andrew Cashner, who at first looked good as advertized, before getting demoted to the bullpen like Eovaldi.
The combination of injuries, failure to adapt to strategic changes, and classic contract extension complacency doomed the Sox from the start. They can turn it all around this offseason. There are many great options to take over for the pitching coach positions, so that shouldn’t be hard. Free agency is packed full of amazing pitchers, from starters like Stephen Strasburg (if he opts out) and Gerrit Cole, to relief pitchers like Aroldis Chapman (if he also opts out) and Kenley Jansen. They have a great chance of landing some great pitchers, as long as they can get rid of at least a few of their many overpaid players. But with everything said, there is good reason to be optimistic for next year.