The Boston Red Sox had a busy Winter Meetings. The team had major holes to fill in its starting rotation. When your best pitcher is Clay Buchholz, who is projected for just 2.1 WAR in 2015, you know you have problems. Thankfully, the team made strides in patching up the rotation. It’s interesting to note that all three of the players acquired are heavy ground ball pitchers.
The Red Sox traded with the Arizona Diamondbacks for LHP Wade Miley in exchange for RHP Rubby De La Rosa and RHP Allen Webster. Miley is a significant upgrade to the starting rotation. He has a history of staying healthy and pitching lots of innings. Steamer projects him to have a 4.23 ERA and 3.98 FIP in 2015. His projected 2.0 WAR is likely a 2 win upgrade for the starting rotation.
Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster were originally acquired from the Dodgers in the famous blockbuster trade in 2012 when the Sox were able to dump a huge amount of salary.
De La Rosa was once a top-tier prospect in the Dodgers system. Unfortunately, his elbow did not like him throwing 100 mph fastballs, so he had to have Tommy John surgery. I’ve seen him pitch plenty here in Boston, and I can tell you that his fastball is nowhere close to that. Although a 95 mph fourseam fastball may seem pretty good, the problem is that it’s a lifeless, pin-straight pitch. As a result, he gives up plenty of hard contact with it. According to Brooks Baseball, batters hit a whopping .360 against his fourseamer in 2013, and a better, but still bad, .294 in 2014.
De La Rosa’s struggles have him at barely above replacement level for his career. This past season, he had a 4.51 RA9 and 4.30 FIP, which are below average. If he can develop a good breaking ball, I believe he can be a serviceable back of the rotation starter.
I’m less high on Allen Webster. I would not fault the Diamondbacks if they wanted to keep him in the rotation, but I think he should go straight to the bullpen. His career 14.6 K% and 11.4 BB% means that he can’t strike anybody out and has terrible control.
It’s not unlikely that both pitchers turn out to be busts, but given what we know now, this is a fair return for the Diamondbacks. The Red Sox get to turn a couple of big question marks into more of a sure thing, which is absolutely the right thing to do for a team that can contend in 2015.
The Red Sox then turned mid-season acquisition OF Yoenis Céspedes into RHP Rick Porcello. There were rumors that Céspedes was unhappy and difficult in Boston, and with only one year left on his contract, it made perfect sense for the Red Sox to trade from their outfield depth in order to further strengthen their weak rotation.
Céspedes is a good baseball player, though he tends to be a bit overrated. In 2014, his line of .260/.301/.450 resulted in only a 109 wRC+. As you can see, he hits for plenty of power, but he can’t get on base. As a result, his offense was only 9% better than the league average in 2014. As for his defense, everybody has seen the highlights of his cannon. However, it masks the fact that he is not very rangey, and range is much more important than the arm. He’s a good defender overall, just not as good as those fun highlights may suggest.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Céspedes’ low OBP is a big deal. Thankfully for Tigers fans, the fact that he hits for plenty of power and is a solid defender goes a long way toward making up for all the outs that he makes. He had a 4.1 WAR in 2014 and projects to be at least a 3 WAR player in 2015.
Rick Porcello has been frustrating Tigers fans for years. Year after year he would look good in spring training, by stats and scouts, but failed to deliver when it actually counted. At least that’s what Tigers fans think. If you look at his FIP each season of his career, he’s been solid, but nothing special. Per Fangraphs, which uses FIP to calculate WAR and is my preference for pitchers, Porcello has turned in three consecutive seasons of ~3 WAR. Steamer projects for him to make it four in a row. Porcello is also very durable. He has not so much as missed a start in the last five seasons. Like Miley, Porcello can be said to be taking the place of a replacement level player, meaning that he’s a big 3 win upgrade for the Red Sox.
The Céspedes/Porcello trade works out nicely for both sides. Each side gave up roughly equal value in order to fill a need with the respective organization.
Unfortunately, I cannot speak as highly of the Justin Masterson acquisition as I can about Miley and Porcello. He’s coming off the worst season of his career. He had a horrific 6.32 RA9, but a less horrific 4.50 FIP. By FIP-based WAR, he was replacement level. The big difference between his FIP and runs allowed is partially the result of playing in front of bad defenses and batted ball luck. Hitters had a .339 BABIP and 14.6% HR/FB against him in 2014. Make no mistake of it, though, because he was still legitimately terrible in 2014. The good news is that Steamer is optimistic that he will bounce back in 2015 with a 2.0 WAR. If nothing else, it’s worth it to take a chance on him since it’s only a 1-year, $9.5 million deal.
Masterson’s biggest weakness has always been his arm angle. That low 3/4 slot makes it very easy for lefties to see the ball coming out of his hand. Usually pitchers with that kind of arm slot get relegated to the bullpen, but Masterson has made it work up until last year. He kills righties, but as a starter, it’s not that hard to just stack the lineup with a bunch of lefties when facing him. For his career, lefties have a .350 wOBA against him, while righties have a .278 wOBA. Not only does that prove what I just said, that .350 wOBA against lefties is atrocious. They really kill him.
I think Masterson would be more effective out of the bullpen as a long man or even a righty specialist. However, the Red Sox have announced their intentions on using him as a starter. Seeing as how the projections are optimistic, I can’t say that it isn’t worth a shot.
All three pitchers the Red Sox acquired have one unifying theme:They all induce lots of ground balls. Miley has a GB% of over 50% the last couple of seasons, Porcello has a career 52.1% rate, and Masterson leads them all with a 56.6 GB%. For the first time since Masterson left the Red Sox, and for the first time in Miley’s and Porcello’s career at all, all three pitchers will be playing in front of an overall good defense. Xander Bogaerts is a shaky defender at shorstop, but Pablo Sandoval is decent at third, Mike Napoli is shockingly good at first1, and Dustin Pedroia is the best defensive 2nd baseman in the game. The ground balls that those pitchers generate will find more gloves than they ever have.
I do not doubt for a second that GM Ben Cherington and his analytics department were well aware of the ground ball tendencies of these pitchers. It was a very smart move to bring in pitchers who can keep the ball on the ground, given that infield defense and the hitter-friendly nature of Fenway Park. Cherington never ceases to impress me.
Cherington has done a great job fortifying a weak rotation. The problem is that he still does not have an ace, or really even a number 2, as a result of the organization screwing up with Jon Lester (more on that in my next post on the Cubs). They’re either going to have to pay Max Scherzer $200 million, or trade for Cole Hamels. Scherzer is the better pitcher, but Hamels is the cheaper, safer option.
Cole Hamels is also a cheaper, safer option than Jon Lester, and he’s just as good. He’s still owed $90 million over four years with a $19 million vesting option for 2019. That looks a lot better than Lester’s 6-year, $155 million deal with a $25 million vesting option for a seventh year. The Red Sox have a ton of position player depth and a strong farm system that they can leverage to acquire Hamels. The Jimmy Rollins trade indicates that Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is finally willing to listen to reason in negotiating trades. If I were Cherington, I’d be sure to make Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts untouchable. If I were Amaro2, I wouldn’t give up Hamels without one of those two players coming back, or the Red Sox covering the entirety of the remainder of the contract. Amaro needs a difference maker coming back in the trade. I’d prefer a top-tier prospect like Bogaerts or Betts, but I’d also settle for what I can do with all the money that not paying Hamels would free up. Then again, with Amaro’s incompetent track record, he’d probably spend that money in the worst way possible.
Hamels does have a limited no-trade clause in his contract. Interestingly enough, the Red Sox are included. In order for Hamels to waive it, he would certainly force the Sox to pick up his $19 million option for 2019. The bottom line is that the Red Sox can afford it, and they need Hamels if they really want to contend in 2015.
The Red Sox have had an excellent off-season so far. Unfortunately, screwing up with Jon Lester means that they’re not done yet. If they really want to contend in 2015, they need an ace, and Cole Hamels is their most viable option.
- Seriously, he is. I couldn’t believe it when I saw his advanced defensive metrics in 2013, but he almost repeated them in 2014. Granted, I am not a scout, but I’ve seen most of his games here in Boston and I have to say that he’s surprisingly agile for a big guy. He gets good reads on balls in play and moves well out there. ↩
- That’s a horrible thought. ↩