In the last few days I have seen many, many Red Sox writers present some version of this...
…which, with apologies to the wonderful Alex Speier and Co., is really just a way of saying it without really saying it: PANIC! It’s the nature of the gig: writers have to write about something, and the current something surrounding the Red Sox is the poor performance of their rotation. I find the premise silly enough to ignore, but for those of you who don’t find it silly -- and hey, it was written for a reason -- I will tell you: yes, it is too early to panic.
The boring but simple truth is that the most important thing this rotation has to do is stay healthy. That’s it. The person for whom this has been the hardest, the oft-injured Clay Buchholz, has made it through April fine except for two bad starts that weren’t, in totality, as bad as they seemed. Per FanGraphs, he’s posted a 0.6 WAR, the same as Matt Harvey and Madison Bumgarner, among others, and a FIP of 2.62. That’s good! Of the 16 runs he's allowed this season, 13 of them came in those two starts. So yes, they were ugly, but don't forget about the three runs over the other 19 innings, or the serious strikeout stuff he's showing. A couple bumps in the road are much different than being terrible, and we haven't seen enough of 2015 Clay to know which he is, but what we've seen suggests there's a lot of overreacting going on.
Then there’s Joe Kelly, the man who never met a 3-2 count he didn’t like. His results have been decidedly mixed, but there’s no question that he’s throwing the ball hard. FanGraphs says his fastball has been second-fastest in MLB at 96 miles per hour, behind Nathan Eovaldi at 96.1.
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The Farnsworth Corollary states that velocity means nothing in a vacuum, of course, but the point isn’t that his control has obviously been iffy. The point is that, like Buchholz (who has the best raw talent of the rotation), Kelly has something to offer when he’s up there. They all do. Wade Miley’s the sturdiest (average of 200 innings the last three years, though, he's far off that pace right now), Rick Porcello the perkiest, and Justin Masterson the best guy to get everyone in the stadium tear out their hair. Which must count for something.
The point is that the rotation does not have to be great at all times. The point is for them to be average-to-above-average over the course of six months, while the lineup that added Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval and a full season of Mookie Betts and a healthy Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts' second season can do its thing. It’s not that you shouldn’t panic after one month: it’s that you shouldn’t panic after even two. It’s not so much a statement of principle as a sample size allowance. If the rotation is scuffling, it will likely stabilize within that time. There will be good stretches and bad, and the hope is that the hitting keeps on happening during it all.
I would imagine most people know this, but would rather exploit fears about the new players that are ultimately grounded in a strange self-importance. There’s no reason to think a group of four average-to-good pitchers would all stop being good when they got to Boston. They’ll be fine and, with the Sox’ offense, the team will be better.
The Sox are down one game to the invisible Yankees, who have just lost Masahiro Tanaka for at least a month. They’re tied with a Rays team that’s been buoyed by pitching from Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer, who are both likely to regress unless Odorizzi is suddenly an ace instead of a back-end arm and Archer is the greatest pitcher of all-time. The Sox are so far from a reckoning just over 20 games in that it’s useless to sweat it.
But we do. We beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into a past that’s only ever nine innings old. It’s doesn’t make sense, but we do it anyway; that sounds like a criticism, but it’s just the cost of being alive, more or less. It’s what we do. We’re dying to see a better rotation. The good news? We will!