Seizing Up the A.L. East

 

 

Heading into the All-Star break, the American League East appears to be a three team race but every team has a serious flaw. The winner of the division will have to make moves before the deadline in 3 weeks.

Let’s start with the division leading Baltimore Orioles. Heading into the break, the Orioles are 51-36 and have a 2 game lead ahead of the Red Sox and the Blue Jays. The top three teams in the A.L. East rank number 1, 2, and 3 in the American League in Runs scored. The Orioles are third with 438 Runs. What the Orioles do best is hit Home Runs and they lead the majors with 135. Five players in the Baltimore lineup have double digit Home Runs and two have 9. Buck Showalter is a genius with controlling a bullpen and he has a good one. The Orioles have the 3rd best bullpen in baseball when looking at ERA with a 3.14 ERA and are anchored by one of the most underrated pitchers in all of baseball in Zach Britton. The flaw of the Baltimore Orioles is their starting rotation. Their starting rotation has the 3rd worst ERA in all of baseball (5.21) and have thrown the fewest innings in all of baseball (463). The inability of the starters to pitch deep into games means that the bullpen is being overused and a tired bullpen is not something that Showalter will want to have come September. Besides Tillman, no other pitcher has a sub 4.00 ERA. If the Orioles want to finish the season on top, they will have to add at least 1 starting pitcher.

The Toronto Blue Jays are tied for second in the division with Boston and have played well in their last 30 games going 19-11. The Blue Jays offense struggled for the first 6 weeks of the season but woke up and now have scored the 2nd most runs in the American League (441). The most surprising part about this team has been their starting rotation, which has been the best in the American League (3.66 ERA). They have thrown the most innings in all of baseball (572), and that is without last year’s ace David Price. The only part about this team that I do not like is the bullpen. Roberto Osuna has been very good this season converting 18 of 20 saves but the guys leading up to Osuna are the problem. As a whole, the Toronto Blue Jays have blown 12 saves this season. Drew Storen, Jessie Chavez, Gaven Floyd, and Brett Cecil have all struggled this season. Only Joe Biagini (2.91 ERA) has pitched well this season. The Blue Jays need to go out and get a set-up guy before the deadline.

The Boston Red Sox are tied for 2nd in the division and Dave Dombrowski has already been aggressive to improve this ball club. They acquired Aaron Hill and Michael Martinez to sure up baseball’s best offense in baseball (486 runs). They also acquired Brad Ziegler from the Arizona Diamondbacks to help the bullpen survive the next couple of weeks without their All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel. The starting rotation is a real problem for this organization has they only have 3 legitimate starters. Steven Wright may be the most surprising pitcher in all of baseball as he has the lowest ERA in the American League (2.68). Rick Porcello is 11-2 and David Price has had good and bad stretches but is heading into the All-Star break with 8 innings of shutout ball today against the Rays. After that, who knows who will be in the rotation? Eduardo Rodriguez, Sean O’Sullivan, Clay Buchholz, and Henry Owens are possible options but have all struggled this year. The Red Sox have a deep farm system and Dombrowski will have to deal a solid prospect if they want to compete for a division title.

The most interesting team in the American League East is the New York Yankees. They enter the break at .500 with a 44-44 record. Every time the Yankees look to be ready to take off, they have a 4 or 5 game losing streak that eventually takes them 2 weeks to get back to .500. Yankee fans must be frustrated. The Yankees could become sellers this trade deadline and deal Chapman, Miller, and Beltran. But this is the Yankees we are talking about and they never wave the white flag. Besides their bullpen, the Yankees are a weak team. Their rotation (4.81 ERA) and their offense (24th in runs) have been inconsistent all season. Baseball Prospectus ranks the Yankees farm system as the 16th farm system in baseball. In order to compete for the division, they will have to sell the few prospects that they do have to stabilize their rotation and lineup. The Yankees have not had a complete rebuild in 25+ years and I think this would be the ideal time to rebuild and regroup.

The Tampa Bay Rays are in the cellar of the American League East and they can look to their last 30 games as to why they will be sellers at the deadline. Over the past month, the Rays are 8-22 and head into the break with a 6 game losing streak. In the Month of July, the Rays are 1-8 and are averaging 2.5 runs per game. The Rays are always known for their starting pitching but this year it has not dominated like it normally has in the past. I really thought that Chris Archer was turning into one of the game’s best pitchers but he has really struggled this season as he already has 12 losses. The Rays could be able to deal potential trade chips like Alex Colome and Logan Forsythe. The 2017 rebuild of the Tampa Bay Rays should start to begin now.

If I had to predict who would win the division right now, I would go with the Toronto Blue Jays. Good starting pitching and a good offense can hide the lack of bullpen depth that they currently have right now. The Red Sox and Orioles both have major starting pitching problems and unless those problems are fixed, it is difficult to imagine either of them being able to maintain consistency when the games become more important. Expect all 3 of these teams to be active during the trade deadline. It should be a fun race that goes deep into September.

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The Red Sox Cannot Develop Pitching.

 

 

Being a Red Sox fan this season has been frustrating to say the least. The team is loaded with young stars and their offense seems to score double digit runs every night. It is awesome to watch but at the same time, it is very painful due to their pitching. As of today, the Red Sox starters as a whole have a 4.52 ERA and right now cannot fill a 5 man rotation. They are currently going into the All-Star break with a 4 man rotation and one of those 4 starters is journeyman Sean O’Sullivan.

The struggling rotation and the lack of success from their young pitchers that have come up through the system got me thinking about how the organization’s top pitching prospects have performed over the past 10 years. The Red Sox have produced star position players like Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Travis Shaw.  Right now, Clay Buchholz is the only starter in the rotation on the Red Sox that was developed in the Red Sox farm system and even he has been booted from the rotation twice this year. So let’s take a look.

  1. Clay Buchholz:

Buchholz debuted in 2007 and saw immediate success as he threw a no-hitter in his 2nd big league start. Buchholz has been a solid pitcher and had a nice season the year the Sox won the World Series in 2013. But injuries have always been a major concern and have limited his success. Career numbers: 76-60, 4.00 ERA

  1. Michael Bowden:

Remember this guy? He was one of Boston’s top pitching prospects for a few years and only made 2 starts in his entire career before getting moved to the pen. He only lasted a few seasons in the majors and he never threw over 40 innings in a season. Career numbers: 3-5, 4.51 ERA

  1. Justin Masterson:

Masterson had a good start to his MLB career as he was a nasty reliever for the Sox before getting traded to Cleveland in the Victor Martinez trade. Masterson became a starter for Cleveland but only have a sub 4.00 ERA twice with the Indians. His strange arm angle saw his velocity dip and injuries have always been a question for this guy. Career numbers: 64-74, 4.31 ERA

  1. Daniel Bard:

This guy was a stud for Boston. When he was used as a setup guy, he was looking like he was going to be one of the best bullpen arms in baseball for a long time. Boston saw him as a starter and tried to make him one but the experiment failed miserably. Bard forgot how to throw strikes and found himself out of baseball 2 years after being a dominate reliever. Career numbers: 10-19, 3.67 ERA

  1. Casey Kelly:

Kelly was a 1st round draft pick for the Red Sox in the 2008 draft and a top pitching prospect in their system that was viewed as a potential front of the rotation starter. He was traded from Boston to San Diego in the Adrian Gonzalez deal and never turned into anything. He has never thrown more than 30 innings. Career numbers: 2-8, 6.39 ERA

  1. Anthony Ranaudo:

This is a guy who I really liked but his stuff was just average. Boston gave him a shot but could not get big league hitters out consistently and eventually was traded to Texas. Like Kelly, he has never thrown more than 40 innings in a season. Career numbers: 5-4, 6.33 ERA.

  1. Brandon Workman:

Workman was an important bullpen piece when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2013 but then they tried to make him a starter. The following season, he went 1-10 as a starter before going down with TJ surgery. He just made his first appearance since surgery in the minors the other day. Career numbers: 7-13, 5.11 ERA.

  1. Felix Doubront:

I might have been Doubront’s biggest fan. I thought he had the stuff to be a good number 3 starter in the big leagues and in his first full season it looked like that could have been true as he had a sub 4.00 ERA and 10 wins before the All-Star break. Doubront had a decent year with the Sox the year they won the World Series but he seemed to struggle every year at the end of the year. Fatigue seemed to catch up with him. His velocity dropped significantly since his rookie year and he could no longer get hitters out and was traded to the Cubs for a bucket of balls. Career numbers: 31-26, 4.89 ERA.

  1. Allen Webster:

Webster was acquired in the deal that gave the Red Sox new life as they sent Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Nick Punto to the Dodgers. Webster showed he had a great arm and good stuff but he struggled to control any of his pitches that led to a 4.9 BB/9 ratio for his career. Webster always seemed like he was overwhelmed on the mound and it looked like the bright lights where too much for him. Career numbers: 7-6, 6.13 ERA.

 

Now it is extremely difficult to draft and develop pitchers in professional baseball. There are so many uncertainties when it comes to starting pitchers. Health is by far the biggest question mark but it is almost impossible to predict how a high school pitcher who dominates at the high school level will match up against major league hitters. Now I want to look at some of the current arms in the organization and see if they could turn out to be something rather than nothing.

 

  1. Matt Barnes:

A first round draft pick out of Connecticut in the 2011 draft was thought of as a potential front end starter but early in his minor league career he struggled to get deep into games. Barnes really struggled to throw his off speed pitches consistently for strikes. The Red Sox told him what he needed to work on and that he would be a member of the bullpen rather than a rotation option. This season Barnes has been a valuable piece to the Sox bullpen and is now being considered for high leverage situations. This season: 3.07 ERA, 8.8 K/9.

  1. Henry Owens:

Owens is a frustrating pitcher to watch because he can get hitters out if he throws strikes. Owens cruised through rookie ball all the way up to AA before running into trouble with his control. This season, his 9.5 BB/9 ratio does not even give him a chance in games to succeed. Unless Owens is able to correct his mechanics to throw more strikes, he looks like a left-handed specialist rather than a number 3 or 4 in the rotation.

  1. Trey Ball:

Ball was a first round pick out of high school in the 2013 draft and at the time the Red Sox could have made him a position player or pitcher. They elected to make him a pitcher and the results early were rough. He could not throw strikes for the first few years of his minor league career but this season is having a breakout year in A+ with a 3.36 ERA. The concern with Ball is while his ERA is more than a run less than last year, his WHIP is exactly the same at 1.403. That is a number that will have to come down if he plans to move up in the minors and be taken seriously in the future. The jury is still out on this guy.

  1. Eduardo Rodriguez:

Rodriguez was a steal in a deal that sent Andrew Miller to the Orioles. E-Rod has a great arm but is learning how to pitch at the big league level. Not an easy thing to do. He saw success in his rookie season going 10-6 with a 3.85 ERA but he did not show signs of a third pitch at all and there were issues with tipping pitches. He ran into some bad luck in Spring Training as he injured his knee in PFP’s and missed the first 5 weeks of the season. This year, Rodriguez still has no third pitch and is getting smoked. He is 1-3 with an 8.59 ERA. He has a lot of work to do in the minors to be relied on for the next few years as a stable piece of the Red Sox rotation. But I like this kid a lot.

  1. Anderson Espinoza:

Espinoza is the kid I am looking forward to the most in the next few years if he is still a part of the organization. He is only 18 years out of Venezuela but has a terrific arm. He is consistently in the mid to upper 90’s and has a really good curveball. Some scouts are projected him to be a front end starter and that is why he has earned the honor of being the Red Sox second ranked prospect according to baseball prospectus. A lot to like about this kid.

 

I do believe that the current pitching prospects in the system have the opportunity to turn into good starting pitchers but the track record is not promising. Young prospects are always a gamble. Only time will tell if these players become what some scouts predict them to be.

Please Fix the Scheduling!

 

Am I the only one who is bothered by teams playing each other in back to back weeks? This weekend, the Red Sox are playing the New York Yankees, a series that just occurred 5 days ago in Boston. The scheduling is so bad that we are seeing the same pitching matchups as last weekend. Rick Porcello threw for Boston and Michael Pineda threw for the Yankees last night. Today, we are seeing David Price go up against Nathan Eovaldi, which we saw on Sunday Night Baseball this past Sunday. This is not the first time that something like this has happened this season as a few weeks ago Kershaw and Bumgarner matched up in a similar situation. Now I was not complaining that I got to see Kershaw and Bumgarner match up two times in a row but I think it is poor scheduling.

Personally, I do not want to see the same teams play in back-to-back weekends and I definitely do not want to see the same pitching matchups. I understand that the Red Sox and Yankees play each other 19 times throughout the course of a season, and that is a number that I wish would go down but that’s another argument for another day. If anyone is reading this, please, let’s change the scheduling!

  • Another note from yesterday is it was announced that Garrett Richards from the Los Angeles Angels will miss the rest of the season as he needs TJ surgery. This is a huge loss for the Angels as they lose their ace, who was having a good season posting a 2.34 ERA. The Angels’ rotation has struggled this season and losing Richards will only make matters worse. The Angels are going to have to rely on some young arms to try and keep themselves in the race as the season continues. As for Richards, it is a shame for this talented kid. This will be the second year he will be missing due to injury. In 2014, he missed the end of the season due to a torn Achilles injury that he hurt covering first base in a game in Boston. I hope Richards can come back and be the pitcher that he has shown he can be because when he is healthy, he is one of the toughest right-handed pitchers in all of baseball.
  • Also the strikeout of David Ortiz last night might have been one of the worst calls I have seen in a while. Not only did Ron Kulpa blow the 3-1 pitch that would have tied the game up, he completely missed the 3-2 pitch that was very low. Kulpa was awful all night as players who normally do not argue balls and strikes were arguing balls and strikes. Kulpa had this smirk on his face that looked like he could care less. The MLB should review Kulpa’s poor performance because something should be done about this. Yes, I am a Sox fan and I am definitely favoring the Sox in this case.

Red Sox and Eduardo Rodriguez Lucky

erod

The Boston Red Sox received some lucky news that there is no structural damage to the knee of their young starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez.

On Saturday, it appeared the Sox were about to face a major blow before the season even started. On the same pfp drill that Toronto’s Marcus Stroman tore his ACL last year, Eduardo almost did the same. He awkwardly came down on his right knew and was down for several minutes. He was able to walk off on his own power.

E-rod will take a few days off to rest his sore knee. The soon-to-be 23 year-old had a nice rookie season going 10-6 with a 3.85 ERA. He figures to be an important piece for the 2016 Sox rotation.

 

Boston Red Sox Preview

Over the next couple of weeks, we will be looking at each team and their biggest offseason move, their biggest question heading into the season, their prospect to watch, and their 2015 outlook. I will be starting in the American League East and because I am a Sox fan, I will start with them.

Boston Red Sox

Biggest Off-Season Move: Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez

I could not pick just one of these players because both were signed to fix the offensive woes that the Red Sox faced in 2014. In the 2013 season, the Red Sox lead the American League in runs scored with 853. In 2014, they finished in the bottom half of the American League with 634 runs. 200 + runs are a big difference and one of the reasons why the Red Sox finished in last place in the A.L. East.  One way to fix the 2014 offensive struggles is to go out and sign the two best free agent bats and that is exactly what Boston did. Sandoval, .279/.324/.415, is a consistent hitter that the Red Sox are looking for despite the fact that he appears to be a couple of pounds overweight. It will be interesting to see how Sandoval’s aggressive approach fits in with Boston’s approach to drive the opposing pitcher’s pitch count up. An argument could be made that when Hanley Ramirez is healthy and on the field, he is one of the most valuable players in the league. In 86 games in 2013 he was in MVP conversations and in 128 games last year he produced .283/.369/.448. The big question for Hanley is health but if healthy he could have a big year in his return to Fenway Park.

Biggest Question: Starting Pitching

When the Red Sox lost Jon Lester to the Cubs, there was a big gap to be filled. Did the Red Sox do enough to bolster their rotation? Adding Porcello could be huge because his ERA has dropped in each of his last five seasons, 3.43 in 2014. The Red Sox added two more pitchers in Justin Masterson and Wade Miley and both had solid 2013 seasons but subpar 2014 campaigns. Masterson had a 3.45 ERA in 29 starts in 2013 but pitched through injuries last year and his ERA showed at 5.88. Miley is moving to the American League East which can be difficult for pitchers to do. In 2013, he had a 3.55 ERA but last season he saw his ERA climb to 4.34. The biggest question mark for this rotation is Clay Buchholz. Buchholz has shown that he can be a top of the rotation pitcher but he has struggled at times where he doesn’t look like he could get outs in AA. Boston appears to be going into Spring Training content with their rotation but a move for Cole Hamels could be made if things do not go as planned.

Prospect to Watch: Rusney Castillo

I know a lot of Boston writers would pick Blake Swihart as their prospect to watch but I am very interested to see Castillo for a full 162 game season. In only 36 games, he produced .333/.400/.528. His unique skill set of speed and power could be a huge part of the Red Sox’s offense this season. One concern for every young player is if he can produce for an entire season and if he can make adjustments once pitchers make an adjustment on him. There is no question Castillo has the tools to be successful but can he produce at the major league level in the city of Boston at a high level is still a question that must be answered.

2015 Outlook:

There is no question that the 2015 Boston team will have a better season than the 2014 team but there are a lot of pieces that have to fall into place for this team to compete for a division title. The offense will be much improved from last season but Pedroia will need to stay healthy and Ortiz is entering his age 39 season. The starting pitching is definitely a cause for concern and I do feel a move must be made if this team has expectations of making the postseason. If all the pieces fall in place, this team can compete for the division but I see this team competing for a Wild Card spot rather than a division title with the roster they have right now.

Exhibit A: Allen Webster

Sure there are pitchers like Josė Fernandez and Matt Harvey who seem to have figured out big league hitters immediately after their promotion to the show. But many pitchers go through growing pains before they figure it out. Allen Webster is one of those pitchers.

If you look at the win/loss record for Webster, it doesn’t look all that bad (3-2). But look deeper into the statistics and if you watch him pitch, there is nothing easy about Webster’s starts. His 5.81 ERA is a couple of runs above league average and his 49 base runners in 31 innings shows how hard he works each and every inning.

Webster has the makeup to be a starter in the big leagues. He has 3 pitches, fastball, slider, and change up. His fastball sits between 91-95 and he has a swing and miss change up. His slider is a work in progress but has greatly improved since last season. So what’s the problem. CONTROL.

Watching Webster, you see a guy who can cruise one inning, and the next inning cannot find the zone. As a fan, it is extremely frustrating to watch but I can only imagine how frustrating it is for Webster. Webster does not have the stuff where when he is down in the count he can just blow it by hitters. Webster has to hit his spots, and by the numbers, he has not been able to do that. Big league hitters can hit a fastball, no matter how fast it is, when they know it’s coming. If Webster wants to show signs of improving, he has to throw quality pitches in the beginning of the count to get ahead.

Another aspect of Webster’s game that I have noticed is he struggles in shut down innings. Shut down innings are crucial when it comes to grabbing momentum and Webster has not been able to put up a 0 in them. For instance, back on August 2nd in a start against the Yankees, The Red Sox spotted Webster a 3 run lead in the second inning. Webster followed that by allowing 4 runs in the 3rd. These are situations for a pitcher to grab hold of the game and get your team back in the dugout to score again and Webster has not been able to do that.

There is nothing left for Webster to prove at AAA (4-4, 3.10 ERA). He has to figure out how to get big league hitters out. Luckily for him, the Sox are basically tanking the season and allowing their young players to try and prove themselves at the big league level. Webster could be one of those pitchers that never pans out as a starter, or one that never pans out at all. But Webster most likely will have the opportunity to figure things out for the remainder of the season and try and prove to the Boston organization that he could be a piece moving forward.

A Busy Day

The Trade Deadline is always a busy and eventful day for Major League Baseball but today may have been the busiest one of all. A total of 12 trades were made, and 3 of them are big time deals.

  1. Price to the Tigers:

Tigers: David Price

Mariners: Austin Jackson

Rays: Drew Smyly, Nick Franklin, Willy Adames

  1. A’s Continue to add

A’s: Jon Lester, Jonny Gomes

Red Sox: Yoenis Cespedes, Completive Balance Pick

  1. Cardinals Add to Rotation

Cardinals: John Lackey

Red Sox: Joe Kelly, Allen Craig

These are big time deals that could have a huge impact on the postseason and future postseason races. Over the next few days we will dig deeper into each of these 3 deals and decide who were the winners and losers. What a day for baseball!