It’s no secret that the Red Sox have some real issues on their roster. With it being September, there’s not really time to fix the flaws. You can hope for improvement, of course, but at this point in the year it’s more about hiding your flaws as best as possible rather than fixing them outright. For Boston, their biggest flaw is clearly the offense, which can totally disappear at times. Obviously, they can’t hide that when everyone is struggling, but if it’s just a few players they have the depth to overcome it. The bullpen also has some inconsistencies, but that becomes easier to hide.
One thing that cannot be hidden is the rotation, whether we’re talking about the rest of September or October. It’s hard to win when your starter is pitching poorly. (#Analysis) The back of the Red Sox rotation has been a question for most of the year, even though the pitching on the whole has been good. That’s nothing new, and as I wrote about on Thursday Boston still has some time to figure out who will emerge from that group. At the top, the issue isn’t talent, but instead fatigue. Chris Sale has had September issues in the past, and has been slightly less dominant of late. Today, though, I want to focus on Drew Pomeranz, who has clearly emerged as the team’s number two starter heading into the home stretch.
In my eyes, Pomeranz is the much bigger concern than Sale. Obviously, part of that is because one of the pitchers mentioned is Chris Sale, and the other...is not. Plus, looking at the history of both players as they get late into the season, Sale’s struggles are only really bad relative to his standards. Pomeranz, at least when we saw him last September, was truly worrisome. Now that we’re in September again (crazy how time works), it’s time to wonder whether or not we should be worrying about a late-season slide from the lefty once again.
First, some relevant numbers. Part of the reason this is coming up, besides the obvious fact that it happened last year, is that we’re already seeing some elements of a backslide from Pomeranz. Some of that is simply that our expectations have gotten so high after how well he’s pitched for much of this year, but a lot of it is an actual decline in his performance. He’s allowed seven runs over his last two starts, and over the last month or so he’s having the type of efficiency problems that plagued him early in the year.
So, with a couple of bad starts under his belt recently, it’s worth looking back at Pomeranz’ year in 2016. While looking back it seems as if his entire time in Boston was bad, he was actually pretty good in August. Things didn’t start to trend downwards until the final month of the year when he was surpassing his career-high in innings. In September of 2016, Pomeranz allowed a .351 wOBA to his opponents. wOBA is an all-encompassing offensive stat that is on the same scale as on-base percentage, so .351 is not a very good mark. Prior to September, Pomeranz hadn’t allowed a mark over .300 in any other month of the season.
With all of that in mind, it’s time to worry, right? Well, I’m not so sure. At least, I’m not sure we should be worrying nearly as much about this as with the other issues on this roster. For one thing, he’s not on pace to go over his career high in innings, at least not in the regular season. If he continues at his current pace, in fact, he’ll finish with one-third of inning fewer than he did last year. Last year, he jumped a whopping 74 innings over his career-high. It feels like forever ago at this point, but Pomeranz did miss a few turns in the beginning of the season, and that took a toll on his innings totalled. If things go well over the next couple weeks and the Red Sox take control of the division more than they have to this point, they’ll be able to get him some rest and ensure he won’t go over his career-high inning total until the postseason. At that point, outings will be shorter and he can go all out for four or five innings without having to worry as much about going deep.
On top of the simple fact that he’s not looking at the same giant leap in innings as he was in 2016, Pomeranz also wasn’t quite as bad in September of 2016 as we remember. In absolutely include myself in that group as well, because I remember implosion after implosion. Instead, looking at his gamelogs, he really only had a couple of bad outings in the month. Granted, he wasn’t shutting opponents down start after start, but he had as many solid starts as bad ones. There were some real concerns — his strikeouts fell pretty dramatically and he couldn’t stop giving up home runs — but the results weren’t quite as bad as we may remember.
In the end, there is still some concern about Pomeranz’ workload, because how can there not be? He’s a pitcher with some injury history who has looked slightly more shaky lately than he has all year. It’s natural to be a little concerned going forward. That being said, the signs aren’t really there yet. For one thing, he’s on a similar inning pace as last year, so it’s not some new jump in workload on his arm. Additionally, the swing-and-miss has still been there for the most part. This start on Friday night should be a telling one against a team that strikes out more often than any other team in the American League. If Pomeranz struggles to get whiffs and gives up a lot of hard contact against the Rays, then perhaps the concern can ramp up a bit. For now, though, it’s just a mild worry to keep in the back of your head with the other unimportant stuff like how/when you’re going to pay your bills.