Anthony Ranaudo's major league career is not off to a good start.
It's not just the results. In fact, Ranaudo's results are arguably the best thing he has going for him. Make no mistake, 32 innings of 5.29 ERA baseball is not a good thing. It's roughly in line with what the Red Sox have received from the disappointing Brandon Workman in his 82 innings of work, and while once upon a time that may have been fringe-acceptable output from a fifth starter, the game has changed to the point where a 5.29 ERA pitcher is just not viable on a team that hopes to contend.
But it's how Ranaudo's getting to that ERA that makes 5.29 look almost...positive in comparison.
In his 32 innings of work, Ranaudo has essentially checked off every negative a pitcher possibly can. He's been wild, walking batters at a rate almost exactly equal to the league worst among qualified pitchers (4.17 per nine innings for C.J. Wilson, 4.18 for Ranaudo). He's given up fly balls and hard contact, with a ground ball rate that would be fourth lowest amongst qualified pitchers and a stunning 2.78 HR/9 compared to a league worst 1.52. Now that ERA is starting to look surprisingly low, all things considered, and easily explained away by a .221 BABIP. That said figure is 13 points below the league low is particularly surprising, since all that hard contact Ranaudo gives up would seem to lend itself to balls in play going for hits. Surprising or not, though, it's certainly not even close to sustainable.
None of these numbers seem out of place when you consider how easy batters are finding it to see Ranaudo and his pitches. If there's one positive for Ranaudo, it's that he's been able to find the strike zone well enough, with 48% of pitches thrown in the zone leaving him somewhere around the middle of the pack. The problem is that it doesn't matter where Ranaudo throws the ball if batters are always able to make the right call.
According to PITCHf/x, opposing hitters are swinging at 67% of the pitches Ranaudo places in the zone. That puts him in the top-10 in the majors. Not necessarily a bad place to be--hitters often get aggressive against the best, leading to more swings and misses at pitches both in and out of the zone. Not so much for Ranaudo. Hitters are making contact on slightly over 90% of those swings at strikes, some two percentage points off the top spot and leaving him in the top quartile. On the other hand, they're allowing nearly 78% of his pitches outside the zone go for balls, coming in just slightly below C.J. Wilson who, once again, represents the league's worst qualified pitcher in that department.
All-told, Ranaudo is recording swinging strikes on just 5% of his pitches, and has a strikingly low 3.62 K/9--another pair of figures that would rank the worst amongst qualified pitchers, the latter by a mile.
It seems rash to pass judgement on a pitcher after such a short time, particularly when said pitcher is getting his first experience in September, coming off a 2012 injury with a lot of innings already on his arm this season. There are certainly excuses to be made.
But...well, when watching an Allen Webster start, there's usually plenty of runs, a lot of misery, and better than a handful of truly spectacular pitches which make you think that, if he can ever get his pitches under control, the Red Sox will have themselves one hell of a starter.
That's not there with Anthony Ranaudo. It's hard to imagine the pitcher he becomes who has success in the majors outside of a bullpen role while still remaining recognizable as Anthony Ranaudo. It can't just be a few more miles per hour on his fastball. It can't just be improved command to paint some corners. It can't just be an improved changeup. Ranaudo--who is not exactly young for a pitcher making his major league debut--needs to make all these improvements together if he's going to cut it.
And the thing is, this is exactly what Ranaudo's detractors warned us about. He does not have the stuff to miss bats, nor the location to still them. His repertoire is limited without much in the way of standout offerings, and it's hard to believe all that much is going to change coming fresh off his fourth offseason with the organization when these have been the knocks against him all along. It's frankly difficult to find a nice thing to say about him as a starting pitcher. Maybe he just shouldn't be one.