Welcome to our 2020 Red Sox in Review series. This is, as you can probably guess, where we will be reviewing all of the players who made at least a modest impact on the Red Sox in 2020. Every week day we’ll be deep diving into one player. For each edition we’ll describe the season in a sentence, look at the positives from the year as well as negatives, look back at our one big question from the season preview and look ahead to the 2021 season. We’ll be going in alphabetical order of the players on this list. You can look over that list and drop a name in the comments if you think I left anyone out who should be mentioned here. Got it? Good. Today we are exploring how 2020 was for Zack Godley.
2020 in one sentence
Godley was worth a shot as a no-risk minor-league pickup, but he was never able to regain his 2017 or even 2018 levels of performance, instead becoming another in a long line of ineffective Red Sox pitchers.
Remember the very beginning of the season, way back in *checks notes* July? Godley had just recently been signed to the minor-league deal, and it was a bit curious that he wasn’t part of the first turn through the rotation. In fact, his first appearance with the Red Sox came out of the bullpen in mop-up duty, but he sure took fans by storm. Part of it was that we were looking for anything — anything! — to be excited about on the pitching front, and he provided that hope. Over a four-inning relief appearance the righty didn’t allow the Mets to score any runs while striking out seven. It was dominant, and it put Godley into the rotation.
And that was just about the end of the positives for his season. If you really want to keep digging for some more, you could look at his strikeout rate. The righty struck out just under 20 percent of his opponents in 2020. That is not even an average rate in today’s game, granted, but it was a two-point bump over the previous season. Progress! And, well, uh, er... That’s honestly all I’ve got. It was a rough, rough year for Godley.
How long do you have? Do you have a hard stop at any point? Because I could be here a while. To be fair to Godley, this was a shortened season in which he didn’t even get to pitch full-time, so the sample isn’t exactly a wholly representative one. In total, the righty only appeared in eight games (with seven starts) and tossed a total of 28 2⁄3 innings. If you want to toss aside small samples, you could have an argument here.
But when he pitched, it didn’t take long to realize he simply didn’t have it beyond that one initial relief appearance. Godley ended the season early with an elbow injury, and when he was shelved he had pitched to an ugly 8.16 ERA. The good news is the peripherals paint a better story. The bad news is the story is still grim, with his FIP coming in at 7.10. Those numbers are 76 and 62 percent worse than the league-average pitcher after adjusting for park.
If you’ve watched baseball even a little bit, you probably know that to be that bad, even in a small sample, you really need to spread the areas of your struggles around. And that was exactly the case for Godley. In fact, it’s kind of difficult to pin down exactly what we should focus on for this section. The control, for example, was rough. This has never been a big part of his game, to be fair, but when you don’t get whiffs you’re going to get into trouble walking ten percent of your opponents, which is what happened to him in 2020.
To make matters worse, he was also crushed on a regular basis. Again, sample size plays a role in these numbers — especially these numbers — but Godley finished the year with a .371 batting average on balls in play while allowing nine home runs, or almost one every three innings. Only seven pitchers who threw at least 20 innings this past season allowed homers at a higher rate.
If you want to toss some of that aside as small sample noise, be my guest. I’m not your dad. However, consider that by just about every metric Godley “deserved” (in the luck/skill sense; I’m sure he’s a nice guy who doesn’t deserve to fail at his job) the numbers he put up. According to Statcast data, he was in the bottom quarter of the league in terms of hard-hit rate and the bottom 15 percent of the league by barrel rate. When you get into expected numbers, which take quality of contact into account, he was in the bottom seven percent of the league in each of expected wOBA, expected batting average, expected slugging and expected ERA. Which, to be fair, is what happens when you leave your two most-used pitches, the curveball and the cutter, over the plate so often.
I could go on. I could mention that Godley allowed wOBAs (on the same scale as OBP) over .400 against both righties and lefties. I could mention he was no better home or away. I could discuss the fact that none of his pitches were especially effective in isolation, never mind working as a cohesive unit. But I don’t want to spend my entire Thursday morning working through all the flaws and you probably don’t want to spend all day reading about them.
The Big Question
Looking Ahead to 2021
Godley, as mentioned above, ended the year on the injured list and was eligible for arbitration. The injury combined with his performance made him a clear non-tender candidate. They didn’t even wait to make the move, either, as he has already been outrighted off the roster and into free agency. It’s always possible he comes back on a minor-league deal, but it’s more likely that the Godley era in Boston was a short, ineffective one. In fact, his career in the majors could be running out and it wouldn’t be surprising if he ended up going overseas for a year or two to try and get his value back.