The Red Sox have not made things easy all year long, but they got where they wanted to go. In clinching the division on Saturday, they put themselves into an ALDS and avoided the wildcard game. Every team in baseball will tell you at the start of the year that, while the ultimate goal is of course a championship, the first step in that quest is winning the division. All things considered, this was a very successful regular season for the Red Sox.
That being said, there are of course some real flaws with this Red Sox team. That can be said of every team in the playoffs, but we only care about the Red Sox. There are things about this team that could very well make this stay in the postseason a short one, though clearly it remains to be seen if those flaws will backfire too much. One of the rotations, particularly if you’re judging by recent performance, is the rotation, specifically the back half of it. Chris Sale and Drew Pomeranz are getting postseason starts, but they’ve looked a bit shakier of late than they did when they cruised through the middle of the season. Eduardo Rodriguez, Rick Porcello and Doug Fister are also inconsistent-at-best, and they are likely all fighting for two rotation spots. Of course, there is another name who is getting more and more calls to man one of those spots — or even the second spot over Pomeranz -- and it wasn’t hard to see coming. After all of his success in the bullpen, it’s understandable that people want David Price in the ostensibly more important role as a starter. However, the Red Sox need to avoid that temptation. He provides more value to them as a reliever with everything considered.
Before we get into all of that, it’s worth looking into why those cries are coming out in the first place. Remember, Price is a pitcher who has had highly-publicized struggles in October, so people wanting him to start in the postseason wasn’t exactly a given. However, he has done nothing but dominate since rejoining the team as a reliever. He’s made five appearances since that return with all but his most recent including more than three outs recorded. He’s yet to allow a run in any of these outings and has 13 strikeouts to just two walks in those 8 2⁄3 innings. Furthermore, he has only allowed three hits and they all came in one of his outings.
That, of course, isn’t the only reason people would like Price to start again, but it certainly plays a major role. There’s also the simple fact that he is the second-most talented pitcher on this staff when everyone is healthy and he was pitching like it before he went down with his injury. The thought is, with some rest he should be able to go three or four innings, and maybe even five if everything goes perfectly. Given his skillset, that’s almost certainly a better option than Porcello and Fister and possibly a better option than Rodriguez. That doesn’t necessarily mean putting him in the rotation is the best move for the team, though.
Really, it’s a fairly simply explanation for why Price is more valuable in the bullpen than in the rotation right now. To put it in its most basic terms, it comes down to how stretched out he is at the moment. I said above that, with some rest, he could come in for a start and make it through three or four innings provided he would be shut down for a few days after that. I believe that to be true, but it’s also something we haven’t seen yet. Since returning, Price hasn’t gone more than 2 2⁄3 innings. More recently, we’ve seen him throw multiple innings and then show the ability to come back out the next day and dominate again.
Personally, I would rather have someone with his skillset have the ability to throw an inning or two in three or four games in a five-game series rather than throwing four in one game. Price is so valuable because he is going to be available to put out fires in any game. Rather than tying himself down to just one specific game in the series, John Farrell has the ability to turn to an ace-level pitcher in huge moments in any game.
This clearly isn’t ideal, and the discussion of whether or not the Red Sox should have attempted to stretch him out more is a valid, but different, one. If Price was able to go six, seven or eight innings at a time, then sure you’d rather have him start. That’s not the case, though, and the Red Sox can only play with what they have. Here, they have a supremely talented pitcher who can’t go forward with a full starters’ workload, but one who can pitch multiple innings often. That is much, much more valuable than someone who can only start once or maybe twice a series and not go very deep in those starts. Price should be a very valuable weapon in October, and rather than giving into temptations they need to take advantage of what they have.