Red Sox fans have a reputation for passion, to put it in the nicest possible terms. They also have a reputation for overreacting to every little event over the course of a long, 162-game season, to put it a little less nicely. For the most part, the reputation is probably warranted, though I think it has more to do with volume than anything else. Every fan base is irrational — that’s part of being a fan — there are just more Red Sox fans. With the team off to a shockingly slow start, the easy joke is that fans are panicking and the sky is falling. Perhaps in my old age I’ve just learned to avoid the fringe, but I don’t see that being the case. Instead, it seems that people are confusing panic that the blue above us is coming down on our heads with general frustration with watching bad baseball. I mean, how could you not be actively and viscerally frustrated watching those first five games, ya know?
That aside, one thing I have seen that would fit the ol’ overreaction stereotype is the second-guessing of Alex Cora’s plan to rest starters in spring training and ease them into the season. Now, obviously everyone is entitled to second-guess, even with someone like Cora who had the closest thing to a Midas touch since, well, King Midas. Still, in this particular case it seems more like people trying to find a place to direct their frustration because it is, frankly, absurd to reflect on this strategy five games into the year.
Now, we all know how poorly the first turn through Boston’s rotation went. In those first five starts, Red Sox starters allowed a whopping 26 runs over 21 innings for an almost — key word there — comical 11.14 ERA. They’ve also allowed 11 home runs while walking over 11 percent of the opponents they’ve faced. Even putting aside the numbers, the eye test has been absolutely brutal. There is clear rust there, with velocity down and the general sharpness of every pitch lacking severely. None of these guys looked quite like themselves, with David Price’s four-run, six-inning outing looking like a masterpiece in the context of the rest of the group. Even in Chris Sale’s second start, in which the results were phenomenal, he still struggled to get his fastball up over 90 mph. Given the numbers and, more importantly, the way these pitchers have looked, it’s impossible not to connect all of this to the lack of work in spring training in which Eduardo Rodriguez received four starts, Rick Porcello three and the other three starters getting two.
Even with that connection, though, it’s still way too early to say this strategy was a failure, and I think even the people criticizing it probably know that. Granted, the early returns are terrible and that absolutely matters. Part of this strategy involved how ready these guys would be early in the year. That said, clearly the view was much more long-term. Cora did this because of the heavy workload experienced by all of these pitchers last year after the long postseason run. This was to prevent injury and also to have all of these guys still at their best at the end of the year. It’s unclear whether or not that will actually work out, as it is clearly easier said than done to achieve those goals. Judgement just shouldn’t come now, or even anytime soon.
Ultimately, I think this is another scenario that comes down a similar phenomenon as the one deciphering the difference between frustration and panic. As I alluded to above, it would frankly be strange if a Red Sox fan didn’t have some sort of negative reaction to the start of this season. It’s been a bummer to watch, and the starting pitching has been front and center for the entire skid. It’s simply not logical to call anything with long-term views a mistake less than a week into the season, and instead it should probably be months before we make such judgements.
We’re all looking for a place to direct our frustrations, as it’s human nature. I would probably, if I had to pick a target, direct most of mine towards the players. At the end of the day, these are ultimately the guys who are not getting the job done. Most logically, though, it’s probably best to direct the frustration into the abyss, trying to remember that we can rarely learn important details in such a small sample size. Of course, that would be extremely rational, and where’s the fun in that?