Remember when you were so bored at the off season you were just dying to have something—anything—happen?
Yeah, me neither.
In the past three days or so, the Red Sox have lost out on Jon Lester, traded Rubby de la Rosa and Allen Webster for Wade Miley, traded Yoenis Cespedes and a couple spare parts for Rick Porcello, and signed Justin Masterson.
I’m going to take them one at a time, then put the whole thing together thematically at the end, just like they tried to teach you in your high school English class.
It sucks losing Jon Lester, there’s no question about it, but the fact that the Sox brass didn’t move past the 6/$135M offer is probably a good sign. You don’t want your front office to get emotional about these things and the reality is that pitchers rarely age well. Maybe Lester will be one of the ones that does—I hope he is—but it’s really dangerous to put a big wager on that.
That leaves us with a big hole at the top of the rotation, one that hasn’t yet been filled. Of the remaining options, the one I like best is signing James Shields as a free agent. It doesn’t require giving up any of the binky level prospects and it’s a shorter term lesser gamble than Lester.
I don’t particularly like the Wade Miley trade, but I have warmed to it a little after some initial loathing. The Sox came into this off season needing two top of the rotation guys and I just don’t see Wade Miley being one of those guys. He’s better than Kelly, not better than good Clay Buchholz, and a lot better than bad Clay Buchholz. So if things go right, Miley would slot in as the fourth best starter, pushing Kelly to fifth and improving both those slots a bit in the short term.
Of course, in doing so, he blocks the kids from a rotation spot, a fact that is I guess ameliorated by the fact that the kids who are most ready to use that slot just got traded for Wade Miley.
Justin Masterson just doesn’t do much for me. He was terrible in 2014 and whether that was due to injury or messed up mechanics from injury, I don’t really care. He’s the fifth best starting pitcher at the moment in large part because he’s always had big platoon splits.
I’m looking at him as someone who is insurance against Buchholz being unavailable out of spring training. Given Buchholz’ history, I think it only reasonable to build in that insurance and with the trade of de la Rosa and Webster, the in house options for someone coming out of spring training weren’t that great. Anthony Ranaudo and Matt Barnes just weren’t cutting it and both Henry Owens and Eduardo Rodriguez are guys that need to put in some more time at AAA before we think about them in the majors.
I really like the trade of Yoenis Cespedes for Rick Porcello. Cespedes was pretty obviously the odd man out when Hanley Ramirez decided he wanted to come to Boston to play left. He was on a one year deal that didn’t have draft pick compensation attached if he left, his OBP has always been lacking, and his defense has been marginal.
Rick Porcello, on the other hand, is a good pitcher who has always been victimized by bad defenses, and that brings us to the theme that ties this all together.
Porcello, Miley, and Masterson are all significant ground ball pitchers. So, for that matter, is Joe Kelly.
I was reminded of this article from a year ago about the Athletics loading up on fly ball hitters because sometimes fly balls leave the park and in an era when power is at a premium, fly balls that leave the park have a ton of value.
What the Sox seem to be doing is taking advantage of that in another direction. The strike zone has been expanding in the pitch/fx era and a lot of that expansion has come at the bottom of the strike zone.
The way Miley, Masterson, Porcello, and Kelly get ground balls is by pounding the bottom of the strike zone. Hitters are going to have to swing at those pitches a lot more than they were just a few years ago which suggests the ground ball guys are just getting more valuable.
Then there’s Christian Vazquez. He’s really good at framing pitches and where does pitch framing matter the most? Where the umpire has the worst view of the pitch—the bottom of the zone.
It really looks like the Red Sox are putting a premium on the bottom of the strike zone, keeping balls in the park, putting a good defense on the field—the infield in particular, even if Xander Bogaerts is nothing special—and surprising people with how good they really are.
If the Sox can reel in Shields or some other top of the rotation guy, I think it’s going to be a fun season.