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2017 Red Sox Review: Drew Pomeranz

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A look back at the strong year for Boston’s southpaw

MLB: New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Red Sox Review series. It’s a fairly standard feature in which we will review the year that was for every player who made a decently large impact on the Red Sox this year. How do I come up with that definition? Completely arbitrarily, of course! The list of players I’m using can be seen here, and if I am missing anyone please let me know in the comments. Anyway, for the players who are included we will look at the positives of their 2017, the negatives, review their One Big Question from the preseason and look ahead to what’s on the table for 2018. Today, we discuss Drew Pomeranz.

The Positives

I don’t think anyone would argue that 2017 wasn’t, on the whole, a very positive year for Drew Pomeranz. If that is something you would argue, well, let me just say that I vehemently disagree with this baseball opinion that you hold. Pomeranz was one of the big keys for the Red Sox and he helped keep them firmly in a postseason race all year long. We knew (as much as we can possibly know anything) that Chris Sale was going to be a horse atop the rotation, but when it turned out that David Price was having health issues and Rick Porcello was not his 2016 self, the Red Sox needed someone to step up. All Pomeranz did was make 32 starts with a 3.32 ERA, a 3.81 FIP and a 3.86 DRA. For context, those numbers, were 27, 11 and 12 percent better than the league-average.

Along those same lines, it wasn’t just that his overall numbers ended up being very impressive. It was the fact that Pomeranz was reliably consistent for essentially the entire season. There are a couple different ways to look at this. For one thing, he only allowed more than three runs in six of his 32 starts (19 percent) and more than four runs in four of those starts (13 percent). In other words, he almost always kept the team in punching distance. Furthermore, he didn’t really have any significant down periods in the year. The following is the OPS he allowed in each month of the season: .764, .717, .719, .687, .682, .719. Typically, good seasons are marked by some great stretches that outweighed more average ones. Pomeranz didn’t have any months that were truly dominant, but he also didn’t have any that were truly bad. There’s big value in that.

Divisional Round - Boston Red Sox v Houston Astros - Game Two Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Zooming in a little bit more, we have Pomeranz’ ability to miss bats. There are some other deficiencies that hold the lefty back from taking a leap to the next level, and we’ll get to those later, but his ability to miss bats is something that can keep his numbers on the right side of average. With a two-pitch, fastball/curveball combination — and when things are really going well, a three-pitch combo that includes a cutter — he keeps hitters off-balance with velocity and movement.

The Negatives

While Pomeranz’ year was a surprise overall and one that we will look back upon fondly, it was not all good. There are still some things that need to be addressed over this offseason and as they get ready for 2018. First and foremost has to be the way that he showed noticeable fatigue down the stretch. There were still some good performances from Pomeranz in the month of September, as you can see from the consistent month-to-month OPS he posted all year, but he didn’t look the same. Specifically, his velocity dropped way off as the year went on, and it made him more hittable in many outings. After sitting in the 92-95 mph range with his fastball for most of the year, Pomeranz’ fastball could rarely crack 90 in September.

Along those same lines, he struggled in his one postseason start. It’s hard to hold this too much against him considering he was facing off against a historically great Astros lineup that went on to win the World Series. Still, he allowed four runs in only two innings of work. He was the number two starter on the team, and while that’s still probably not his ideal role, they needed a better day from him in Game Two of the ALDS and they simply didn’t get it.

Finally, there’s the matter of his control. Pomeranz can miss bats like crazy and keeps the ball on the ground a fair amount, but he also has a tendency to lose the strike zone at times. This was actually one area in which he was a little inconsistent, as he would go on some runs without walks before allowing a bunch of free passes in short stretches. The end result was 3.6 walks per nine innings, which is holding him back from taking the next step. He often did a good job of working around runners on base, but that’s not really a skill you want to depend on year after year.

The Big Question

Who is the real Drew Pomeranz?

The Red Sox lefty who was acquired midway through the 2016 season was something of an enigma heading into 2017. He was outstanding in the first half of the season with San Diego, but got off to a really poor start with Boston after being traded and didn’t really get back to his first half level after this. It was a complete mystery as to what he’d give the Red Sox this past year, and as it turned out it was something in the middle. Still, all things being told, I think I’d have to argue he was closer to the first half. That being said, it should be mentioned that his end-of-year numbers in the two seasons were almost identical.

Looking ahead to 2018

With that in mind, I think at this point we have to expect more of the same from Pomeranz, who is entering his last year before hitting free agency. How exactly he gets to these above-average, but not spectacular, numbers is up for debate, and he does have to work on making it through a full season without showing obvious fatigue. His stuff is outstanding, though, and it’s been proven for two years now. There’s no reason to look at him as anything besides the number three starter on this roster behind Sale and Price.