Ice Cold: 2019 Fantasy Baseball Boston Red Sox Rotation

by Samir Qurashi
2019 Fantasy Baseball Boston Red Sox Rotation

Quick hypothetical. You are Dave Dombrowski, Red Sox general manager. You are coming off a legendary season where you were dominant from start to finish. Opening Day to the last pitch of the World Series, the Red Sox looked like, and were, the best squad in all the land.

Well, Dave, your lineup is still loaded. The 2019 Boston Red Sox rotation could be even better after adding World Series hero Nathan Eovaldi to the rotation long-term after a mid-season deal and offseason extension. You see nothing but championship banners and rings over the next few years. Boston is feared and remains fearless.

Then, 26 games into a new season, your rotations veteran stalwart suggests that he, the reigning AL MVP, and arguably the league’s top slugger, are trade bait if the ship isn’t righted. And soon. Heck, he is so self-aware of the potential anarchy, he even drops the line “We’re, what, 30th in minor league systems?”

Oh, David. Behave. It is not just hot take/high stakes season for Fantasy players. Pro Clubs feel heat even though history says teams and players can rebound from poor March/April showings. Though the clock is ticking, and the underlying statistics and analytics do show trends. So allow us to outline what exactly is going on with the Bean Town rotation and if we can make the right roster decision in the spectacular now.

2019 Fantasy Baseball Boston Red Sox Rotation

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Chris Sale

2019 Pitching Game Log
Mar 28 @ SEA L(0-1) 3.0 6 7 2 4 3 21.00 45 10 12 3 8 3
Apr 2 @ OAK L(0-2) 6.0 3 1 2 1 1 8.00 60 20 5 10 10 3
Apr 9 TOR L(0-3) 4.0 7 5 0 3 0 9.00 54 13 10 10 6 3
Apr 16 @ NYY L(0-4) 5.0 7 4 1 6 1 8.50 64 15 12 7 9 5
Apr 23(1) DET 5.0 5 2 2 10 1 7.43 72 23 13 2 8 4
W-L:0-4 23.0 28 19 7 24 6 7.43 69% 19% 12% 0.78 25%
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 4/26/2019.

The 2016 season was Chris Sale’s final year taking the mound as a south side pale hose-r. That season saw him hurl six complete games, a 1.04 WHIP, 3.34 ERA, and 233 Ks across 226.2 innings.

During that 2016 season, Sale’s four-seamer saw a two mph drop in velocity. Thankfully the change of scenery and sox color led to a return to 95 mph. The velocity went up slightly again last season from 95.11 to 95.57 mph.

2019 has seen major drops in velocity in his four-seamer again (career-low 92.85 mph) and his changeup (six-year low of 84.73 mph). This changeup continues to see a nasty decline in vertical movement as well. Once ranging from around 2.4 to 2.8 across 2015 to 2017, that changeup’s vertical movement has now dropped heavily the past two seasons. 2018 was the largest drop at a career first negative vertical movement at -0.35. So far in 2019, the trend has continued dropping to -0.89.

Within his pitching arsenal 2019 has brought many interesting usage changes. Though our sample is small, Sale’s four-seamer usage is down 7.79%. His sinker usage is down 4.8%. Meanwhile, his change usage is up 5.07% and his slider usage is up around 7.51% through five starts.

Zoom in on outcomes and the early 2019 returns are trending in the “dear god please no” direction. It begins with the massive drop in his four-seamer's whiff% (career low 5.30%, 10.2% drop) and sinker (career-low 3.57%, 4.56% drop). That sinker has become less powerful since the start of 2016. Opponent’s BAA has risen every season since to a career-high .371 in 2018. So far this season it stands at a shocking .500 BAA. Also, batters are not swinging as much at the sinker this season with a potential career low Swing% of 21.43%, a 19.51% drop from last season.

The changeup is back up to .300 BAA after a four year low of .213 in 2018. The four-seam is up at an astronomical .483 BAA after a 2017 and 2018 that saw Sale limiting batters to a career-low BAA of .189 and 0.193, respectively. Batter’s slugging percentage against the four-seamer is above 1.000. Yikes.

Verdict: Small Sample, Let’s Hold For Maximum Value

Embed from Getty Images

Let us delve right into his most recent start against Detroit. Coming off a start that saw his fastball velocity return to about 95 mph, he actually saw a decline back to around 93 mph. He only lasted five innings due to the 97 pitches it took to get there. The positives were the 10 strikeouts and the continuing limitation of free passes (two).

Seattle (that lineup is way more relevant than I admittedly ever imagined) knocked him around in his first start with three homers and seven runs. But to his credit, Sale has seen his WHIP drop from 2.67 to 1.75 since. We can also appreciate the Sox’s management of Sale early. He has not forced it past the sixth inning, and the start against Detroit, although short, was his first double-digit K performance of 2019. Better late than never.

And that is why I am not trading Chris Sale. I do not see the potential of my investment having a viable return in any of my leagues. I hear the “trade Max Scherzer crowd” too, and whether the analytics are there or not, I still remain bound to the value. Not out of fear either of these two turning it around and me missing out.

I am holding out of respect for their value. It’s not a fear thing, it’s a small sample size thing. I do not see any reason that despite the declines, Sale [or Scherzer] do not rebound to be good if not great Fantasy options this year. If someone does not blow you out of the water with a deal for a player at a position of need, hold Sale confidently.

David Price

2019 Pitching Game Log
Apr 1 @ OAK L(0-1) 6.0 5 4 2 9 3 6.00 62 16 13 5 9 3
Apr 6 @ ARI 6.0 7 4 1 4 0 6.00 57 16 7 7 12 8
Apr 14 BAL W(1-1) 7.0 3 0 0 7 0 3.79 64 12 16 3 14 5
Apr 21 @ TBR 5.0 5 2 2 10 0 3.75 64 16 13 5 4 3
W-L:1-1 24.0 20 10 5 30 3 3.75 67% 16% 13% 0.51 32%
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 4/26/2019.

An eye-catching change this season is the steep usage drop of Price’s cutter, down around 14% from 2018. Nothing to write home about yet. What is remarkable is Price inducing a noticeably greater amount of whiffs/swing on the majority of his pitches, including an 8.04% increase on his already lethal sinker and 10.71% increase on the cutter. Throw in the increased effectiveness (+10.37% whiff/swing) on his previously underutilized curveball, and we ease into the idea the Price is just another veteran off to a rocky start thanks to a batter dominated early 2019…

…Until we turn to the tape and see that batters are absolutely killing his fastball. Batters have doubled their success from 2018 to 2019, batting .412 while slugging a healthy .647. The new bump in curveball usage has led to an encouraging .200 BAA and .200 SLG. This is a stark improvement over 2018’s 1.188 SLG against. Also, alarming is the drop in flyball rate on the four-seam (-6.17%) and change (-11.82%).

The Verdict: Solid Hold

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Price will be fine as a Top 30-35 pitcher. He was drafted as such; his value return should remain in this vicinity. The Red Sox will right the ship at some point; though we love what the Rays are doing, this is still the Champs’ division. And Price is under contract for two more seasons (through 2022) with a lot of financial commitment obstructing a seamless trade.

The 2.86 FIP and 1.04 WHIP are strong signs of good things to come, and we love that he is still throwing hard and on target to the tune of an 11.3 K/9 rate and 6.00 K:BB ratio. Buying low on a ceiling-SP3 may require too much discourse at this point in the season, but he’s definitely a confident hold if you roster him.

Keep in mind that three of his first four starts were on the road and against decent offenses: Arizona, Oakland, and Tampa, all Top 15 teams in runs/game through April26. He should be able to address the ineffectiveness of his fastball and justify his Fantasy roster spot and draft ADP going forward.

Rick Porcello

2019 Pitching Game Log
Mar 31 @ SEA L(0-1) 2.2 6 4 4 3 1 13.50 43 14 6 3 9 3
Apr 5 @ ARI L(0-2) 4.2 10 7 3 5 2 13.50 61 16 6 8 9 5
Apr 13 BAL L(0-3) 4.0 6 3 5 2 0 11.12 48 11 8 10 6 3
Apr 20 @ TBR 5.2 6 2 1 5 1 8.47 60 18 7 8 8 5
Apr 25 DET W(1-3) 6.0 6 3 2 5 1 7.43 63 14 14 6 13 4
W-L:1-3 23.0 34 19 15 20 5 7.43 62% 16% 9% 0.78 25%
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 4/26/2019.

Full Disclosure: I have to let you know some personal bias I had against Porcello going into the draft season this year. I saw him as nothing more than a streamer against righty-heavy or generally weak lineups that had high-quality start and wins potential. An ideal Porcello start: 6-7 IP, 4.50 ERA, 4-5 Ks, 1.2 WHIP, 1 QS. Nothing more from my perspective.

When we take a look at his 2019, I see no reason to alter this expectation positively or negatively. In his first two starts, Porcello was absolutely destroyed by two of the biggest offensive surprises in Seattle and Arizona, on the road. But after 11 earned runs across those 7.1 initial innings, Porcello has shown improvement with eight earned runs across 15.2 innings concluding with his first quality start of 2019 at home against Detroit.

THE VERDICT: Keep Starting When Applicable

And that’s exactly what we see him as in 2019, a streamer against weaker foes with a great win and QS potential. As is often the case, his velocity across the board was slightly down, around 1-2% on each pitch, but we have seen a return to his 2018 averages in his past two starts. His average and max release speed remains consistent with his career numbers.

Left-handers have been annihilating him to the tune of .442/.554/.721 across 57 plate appearances, the trend seems terrifying. But we cry foul on the .500 BAbip they have achieved against him through his first five starts.

That cannot and should not continue to be the case. Add on the abysmal 0.73 K:BB against lefties, we see obvious room for obtainable improvement and righting of the big right-handers seasonal Fantasy ship. After all, lefties and righties both hit .241 against him in 2018. Improvement is coming and it’s shown from start to start. Porcello’s value has not changed since draft day, other than he might be on more waiver wires than expected.

Nathan Eovaldi

2019 Pitching Game Log
Mar 29 @ SEA 5.0 8 6 2 3 3 10.80 63 21 7 4 17 10
Apr 3 @ OAK 5.0 4 3 4 3 1 8.10 51 15 5 10 5 3
Apr 11 TOR 5.0 6 5 4 4 2 8.40 51 14 10 8 5 0
Apr 17 @ NYY 6.0 3 0 1 6 0 6.00 67 21 10 9 7 1
W-L:0-0 21.0 21 14 11 16 6 6.00 61% 19% 8% 0.91 22%
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 4/26/2019.

Far be it for us to suggest that Eovaldi’s struggle merit the “bust” label. With an ADP around 177 and the 64th pitcher taken, Eovaldi was drafted for his peak potential, not for Trevor Williams-esque steady eddy purposes. If you have Eovaldi, you saw that potential as more real than the Kyle Freeland (63rd pitcher off the board) and Joey Luchessi’s (69th off the board).

The Verdict: Your Investment Has Been Voided by Injury

Woof. It is always great to have an explanation, but we are never fans of elbow + surgery + pitcher. Our main fear here is that Dallas Keuchel or a trade target emerges. That would leave either Eovaldi or Eduardo Rodriguez most likely without a rotation spot. With Rodriguez being featured so prominently in Fantasy coverage heading into this season, we have to consider that a player coming off injury could start back out in the bullpen if the Red Sox make a move or a young/bullpen arm seizes a rotation spot while he’s on the IL.

I am letting go of 2019 Eovaldi. The hype is dead. Killed by an uncooperative elbow. We cannot take his 2019 small sample size at anything more than a proof of injury. I do not want to use my DL spot(s) to stash a pitcher coming off in-season elbow surgery. Tack on the fact that he missed the entire 2017 season to injury and has not pitched more than 150 innings since 2015, it is simple and easy to just walk away from 2019 Eovaldi.

Eduardo Rodriguez

2019 Pitching Game Log
Mar 30 @ SEA L(0-1) 4.1 8 5 3 5 1 10.38 61 18 13 8 8 4
Apr 4 @ OAK L(0-2) 3.2 8 6 3 2 1 12.38 51 15 5 4 13 5
Apr 12 BAL W(1-2) 6.2 3 2 0 8 1 7.98 62 15 18 10 5 2
Apr 19 @ TBR 5.1 7 3 1 6 1 7.20 57 14 16 9 8 3
Apr 24 DET W(2-2) 6.0 2 1 3 7 0 5.88 54 12 16 4 9 5
W-L:2-2 26.0 28 17 10 28 4 5.88 61% 16% 15% 0.81 24%
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 4/26/2019.

Dustin Pedroia. 2007 Rookie of the Year. 2008 AL MVP. 2019 Boston Red Sox pitching coach?

All jokes aside, Eduardo Rodriguez entered 2019 as a popular next-level breakout candidate.

Drafted amongst the Cole Hamels and Foltynewicz’s of the world, he was similar to Eovaldi as a guy you targeted later with potential for ace returns.

And the trends were there. A steady increase in K% paired with a steady decrease in BB% across the past three seasons were healthy indicators of a promising horizon. Though his lack of consistent health remained the largest factor in his unreliability prior to 2019.

In the offseason, Rodriguez consulted teammate and fellow lefty Chris Sale in an effort to pack more punch into his slider. The importance of adding an “out” pitch to his already lethal change-up was a priority for a young pitcher with a career 1.29 WHIP.

Strange that across 16 2019 plate appearances, lefties have bashed three homers and are slashing .333/.933/1.308 after allowing three-homer .234/.383/.691 clip across 104 plate appearances in 2018.

Not strange is that batters are smashing him with greater than a .300 BA and .920 OPS when they are ahead or even in the count. Also alarming is the numbers against Erod when there are two outs and runners in scoring position. Across the 12 2019 plate appearances in these situations, he’s allowed five hits, two doubles, a home run, seven runs, and a 4:2 K:BB ratio. That secondary punchout pitch/slider he’s continuing to work on and add to his change-up remains a key cog if he’s going to take a step to SP3 or above.

The Verdict: Monitor that Slider

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In his age 25 season, Rodriguez is a get if he breaks the 30 start barrier and develops that second out pitch. We talk Fantasy sports though. And the early numbers suggest that he may be better suited to 2019 SP5 and 2020 post-hype sleeper than 2019 ace-level breakout.

Through his first five starts, Rodriguez has called upon his slider 30 times. Across those 30 instances, the slider has induced a paltry 3.33% Whiff%, uninspiring 10% Whiffs/Swing, and a bush-league .250 BAA with 1.000 slugging percentage against. That’s a lot of negative adjectives!

Rodriguez is a hold through five starts, but he is a hold and monitor. If you are looking for him to reach his peak fantasy potential then bookmark his player card over at Brooks Baseball and keep an eye on whether that slider shows consistent improvement. If he cannot harness its potential this season, there remains plenty of hope for the future (dynasty players, don’t do anything crazy now!). But in redraft leagues, Rodriguez is shaping up to be a low-end SP4 or lower.

Check out the rest of our 2019 Fantasy Baseball content from our great team of writers.

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