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How much rotation depth is needed?

And do the Red Sox have enough?

Philadelphia Phillies v Boston Red Sox Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Red Sox have some major question marks with their rotation, and that’s if we only look at the main five guys they have at this moment in time. Obviously, one big question is whether or not David Price will even be on the roster, but for this exercise let’s just assume he is. Even with Price, they have three veterans in Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi and Price himself who have missed significant time with injuries in recent years. All three are, by all accounts, ready for a normal spring coming up, but their health is no guarantee. Eduardo Rodriguez isn’t as old as those three but, last year notwithstanding, he doesn’t have the cleanest injury history either. Martín Pérez has generally been healthy, but he missed time two years ago and there’s less guarantee with him than the others that he will be good enough to remain in the rotation all year even with health.

The point here is that the Red Sox are going to need more than five starting pitchers this year. I hate going out on a limb and making firm predictions, but I am confident in this one. In fact, Andrew Simon of wrote about this recently and noted that only two teams in the last 111 years have made it through a season with only five starters. Call me crazy, but I don’t see the Red Sox being number three. Also included in Simon’s piece was that the average number of starters needed last year was just shy of eleven. Given the aforementioned injury risk, I would guess the Red Sox will need more than that in 2020. For what it’s worth, they used 15 last season.

New York Yankees Vs. Boston Red Sox At Fenway Park Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

So, the question looking ahead to 2020 is whether or not the Red Sox have enough here? If we assume they will be right around average in terms of starters used in the coming season, they will need at least six starters beyond the top five, and if they repeat 2019 they would need ten more. With that in mind, here’s a list of the presumed depth pieces for the rotation.

  • Ryan Weber
  • Hector Velázquez
  • Brian Johnson
  • Chris Mazza
  • Kyle Hart
  • Tanner Houck
  • Daniel McGrath
  • Mike Shawaryn
  • Denyi Reyes
  • Bryan Mata

That list is roughly in the order I think they fall on the depth chart right now, though it’s very tentative, particularly in that top half. Either way, things get pretty bleak pretty quickly. Granted, no team is going to be thrilled with who they get when they reach the 15th spot on their depth chart, but it’s realistic that guy will be needed.

The top four here are all pitchers with major-league experience. Weber is out of options and may need to make the roster out of camp to even stay with the organization. Velázquez, well, he struggled enough last year that it’s fair to question how good he really is. Johnson is no longer on the 40-man roster. Mazza has only pitched as a reliever in the majors.

As you move further down, you get to Hart, who has no major-league experience and is a low-ceiling prospect. I like him, but it’s fair to be concerned about him, particularly to start his career. Houck is better off in the bullpen, though if injuries pile up quickly he could be needed as a starter. McGrath put up intriguing numbers last year, but the scouting report has never really matched that. Shawaryn is a reliever now. Reyes hasn’t pitched above Double-A, and while I think he was better last year than he gets credit for he still was more fine than good. Bryan Mata is probably a guy who shouldn’t debut in 2021, but when you get this deep on the depth chart you start running out of options.

One of the common refrains here will be that they can just use openers, but that just shifts the problem rather than solving it. Openers are fine as strategy, but you still need a pitcher who can go five or so innings. They aren’t technically a starter, but functionally they are. They can also use bullpen games and almost certainly will at times. When you start piling them up, though... Well, just go look back at the second half of last season.

So what’s the takeaway here? I think it’s that the Red Sox could use some more rotation depth. Like I said above, no one can be expected to be thrilled at any name when you get to double digits on the rotation depth chart. No teams have ten, fifteen viable major-league starters ready to go right away. The Red Sox can do better than this, though, and hopefully between now and the start of camp they’ll get one or two more pitchers signed to minor-league deals with invites to spring training.