Here at SB Nation it is underrated and under-appreciated players week. As a Red Sox fan, I honestly find it difficult to think of an underrated player due to the market size of Boston, but there is one player from the 2015 and 2016 rosters that you might have forgotten about: Robbie Ross Jr. Most fans, I think, try to forget the 2015 season. The team finished last in the AL East for the second year in a row, John Farrell stepped away from the team to battle lymphoma, and Don Orsillo would call his last game for NESN. At times, though, Robbie Ross Jr. was here to save the day.
As with most great prep baseball players, Ross Jr. was both a hitter and pitcher. During his high school career, he had a 1.98 ERA with a .404 BA and was the Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year in Kentucky during his senior year. The Rangers drafted him in the second round of the 2008 amateur draft and gave him a $1.575 million signing bonus to pull him away from his college commitment. While he was never thought to be an ace, he was projected to be a mid-rotation starter that would eat a bunch of innings. He progressed throughout the minors, generally posting decent ERAs but his lack of command stunted his potential. In 2012, he made the Rangers bullpen out of spring training and performed well. He was a ground ball-inducing, low strikeout pitcher and finished the season with a 2.22 ERA in his 58 appearances. His strikeout rate increased the following year in another very strong year before moving to more of a swingman role with worse results in 2014.
Move to Boston
The Red Sox were coming off a very disappointing 2014 season where they found themselves going from worst to first to worst. In that following the offseason, the Red Sox were in dire need of some left-handed help in the bullpen and sent one of their pitching prospects, Anthony Ranaudo, to Texas in exchange for Ross Jr. They also traded for Rick Porcello and Wade Miley and signed Pablo Sandoval and Justin Masterson. It seemed like the team was determined to move out of the basement of the AL East. The Baseball Gods would have other plans for the team, though, and they started cold with a 9-17 record in April and then went 6-20 in May. Things looked bleak. Ross was on the Triple-A shuttle but returned for good in the middle of May. Then he did this.
This was not just a one time occurrence either. After this, the catches/attempted catches kept coming and continued into the 2016 season.
After catching a David Ortiz home run in his hat, his performance improved. At the end of May, Ross Jr. had a 5.29 ERA, 1.53 WHIP and 127 ERA-, which is not what you want.
After May, however, he started to incorporate his slider and curveball. His slider was especially lethal. It held batters to a .157 AVG, with a 28.3 strikeout rate. The slider was a major worm killer, inducing ground balls 68.6 percent of the time and his average exit velocity of 83.1 MPH was in the 98th percentile for the league. Was incorporating the slider more or catching a David Ortiz bomb the reason for his improvement? I’ll let you decide.
Ross Jr. started to see more and more seventh and eighth inning work as the awful season continued. The season got even worse after Koji Uehara’s wrist was broken by a comebacker in early August that ended his season. Ross Jr. split the closing duties with Junichi Tazawa and finished the season with a 3.44 ERA, six holds, and six saves in his 22 appearances.
So in a awful season where we would finish last for the second year in a row, Don Orsillo would call his last Red Sox game, and John Farrell stepped down as manager to battle lymphoma, the one bright spot I remember was Ross Jr. making those hat catches from the bullpen.