Coming into the year, it seemed to me that the pitching was going to be the backbone of this Red Sox team. While the lineup has indeed rebounded as everyone hoped, the pitching is still vital to Boston’s success. Their rotation was the biggest reason they went to the postseason for the second consecutive season in 2017, and they returned the entire group for 2018. When David Price dealt with injuries for most of last year and Rick Porcello took a massive step back, Drew Pomeranz took it upon himself to step up and become the number two starter that the team would have been missing. It was his second straight underrated and strong season, and there wasn’t a ton of reason to expect anything different. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case and it’s tough to have much confidence any time he takes the mound at this point. Obviously it’s still early in the year and in his season in particular, but it’s hard to see this lasting too much longer without some other step being taken.
Although there have been some surprisingly solid outings from Pomeranz this season, the overall numbers are not where you want them to be, to say the least. Through his first six starts of the season, the lefty has pitched to a 5.97 ERA (77 ERA+) with almost a strikeout per inning but also with five walks per nine innings and a whopping 11 hits per nine innings. That’s simply not going to cut it, and the peripherals don’t describe a pitcher who has gotten unlucky. His FIP is 5.13, and his DRA is an unfathomable 8.98. Even his cFIP, which is the more predictive counterpart to DRA, is at 130. In other words, he’s been pitching like someone we can expect to be 30 percent worse than league-average moving forward. It’s all bad, is what I’m really trying to say.
Now, as I said we are only talking about six starts, and a common rebuttal to these issues is that Pomeranz had a similarly slow start to last season before eventually turning things around in a big way. It is true that he got off to that rough start — his sixth start was among his worst of the season and after that outing his ERA climbed to 5.23. That being said, he wasn’t quite as hittable during that time. On top of that, the issues that have plagued him weren’t there in the same way last year.
We talked about the southpaw’s problems at the beginning of the month, but it’s worth looking back over them since that was after just two starts. The velocity on his fastball remains the biggest issue for Pomeranz throughout this season. He’s consistently averaging 88-89 on his fastball, and it’s been a struggle to get it up to 90 on anything close to a consistent basis. Last year wasn’t like that, as he was sitting in the 91-93 range.
The other issue for Pomeranz has been with his repertoire, as too often he’s reverting back to his two-pitch style. We’ve talked about this with him throughout his Red Sox career, but while it’s undeniable that his fastball and curveball do most of the heavy lifting, he needs to work his cutter and changeup in enough to keep it in the hitter’s mind. So far this year, he’s throwing those two offerings just 13 percent of the time, and it’s been a lot lower than that in some of his starts. This one was an issue last year, though it didn’t stand out as much because his fastball was less hittable than it is now. If his fastball velocity isn’t going to get back to where it was, he needs to work the cutter and changeup in a lot more.
For whatever it may be worth, it continues to appear as if the Red Sox and Pomeranz both believe the stuff is going to come back at some point and that he’ll be able to turn things around. Given how much better he’s been than his perception over the last couple of seasons, and given his turnaround last year, I can’t say for sure that they’re wrong. That being said, watching him now it’s hard to see where the velocity jump is going to come from. Where they stand now, the Red Sox have three options.
- Do nothing. Leave Pomeranz in the rotation and hope things turn around by themselves while also keeping someone like Steven Wright fresh every five days in case you need him in long relief.
- Swap Wright and Pomeranz in their roles and see if Pomeranz can succeed in a similar role to that of Hector Velazquez earlier in the year.
- Place Pomeranz on the disabled list to give him some time to either rest something that is ailing him or just to reset his mechanics. This would also allow him to get some time in the minors to work on whatever could be giving him these issues.
We’ll take these in order. It seems option number one appears to be the plan for right now. It’s hard to say for sure that this is dumb without knowing everything the Red Sox know, but from where I’m sitting I can’t see how long this lasts. Even in his solid outings Pomeranz has always been one or two good swings away from a blow-up.
Number two is a favorite of some fans, and it’s the least likely plan in this group. Pomeranz has been too good as a starter for two years in a row to change his role after just six starts. If they try other roads and we’re still looking at a similar situation in August, then perhaps this plan can be revisited.
Number three is my favorite plan, because it gives Pomeranz the best chance at a reset. The Red Sox, if they are going to reach their ultimate ceiling, could really use an effective Pomeranz in the long-term to be a part of their playoff rotation or at least the roster. They can get by for a few weeks right now without him if that’s going to help get to this point. I’m not sure how much more the Red Sox need to see to get to this point, but at this juncture it appears to be more a matter of if than when the southpaw will be shut down for a few turns.