One of the big themes of this bizarre baseball season has been what to do with small sample sizes. It’s all we have to judge players with in 2020, but we also know intellectually that these are not samples with which we would normally judge them. At least not with any confidence. It’s an impossible balancing act, and that’s without adding in all of the other external factors these players have to deal with during one of the most tumultuous years in our country’s modern history. There’s a lot going on, is what I’m trying to say.
And yet, teams like the Red Sox with rosters largely in flux need to gather all of the information possible as they try to outline rough plans for what they’d like the 2021 roster to look like. As you can imagine given the small sample size of this season, those questions haven’t been totally answered. I do think, for the most part, players have been roughly sorted into metaphorical bins ahead of the coming offseason regarding what the team will plan to do with them when transactions start up. But there are three players for whom I believe there is still wiggle room, and they can make their case stronger or weaker for 2021 with how they perform in the final six-game stretch of the season.
It’s been a bad season for Chavis. Let’s just call it like it is. It doesn’t seem like things ever really went according to plan for the former organizational number one prospect, as he started the season already somewhat on the outs with José Peraza getting the reps at second and Mitch Moreland getting them at first. Chavis wasn’t completely shunned from the starting lineup, but it wasn’t quite the everyday role some of us were expecting. That playing time did increase as the year went on, but that was mostly because Moreland was traded and Peraza played himself off the roster. He’s even been getting chances in the outfield to increase his versatility.
But amid all that, Chavis hasn’t performed himself. He’s only gotten 135 plate appearances, but we’re seeing the same issues we saw from him in his rookie year. The 25-year-old is hitting .216/.267/.384 for a wRC+ of 70, which means he’s been 30 percent worse than league-average at the plate. His strikeout rate — 35.6 percent — is actually a bit higher than last season, and he continues to struggle with high velocity. With Yairo Muñoz on the injured list and Christian Arroyo dealing with back spasms (as of this writing, it’s unclear how that has progressed since he was removed from Saturday’s game), Chavis should get plenty of playing time in this final week. Coming off a two-homer performance on Sunday, there’s momentum to build on, and with a suddenly crowded competition for bench spots with Muñoz and Arroyo as well as a wide open spot at second base, Chavis needs to build on that momentum. If he doesn’t, there’s a real risk of him starting 2021 either in Triple-A or another organization.
This is a little bit of a weird one, as Pivetta hasn’t actually pitched for the Red Sox yet, unless you want to count work at the Alternate Site. Your mileage may vary regarding how much that actually counts. Either way, he is making his big-league debut with the team on Tuesday against Baltimore. Pivetta is going to be in the organization in 2021 almost no matter what next season. At the very least, there’s no way they’ll non-tender him after acquiring him in the deal that send Brandon Workman and Connor Seabold to Philadelphia. He has been a frustrating pitcher for the Phillies for years, showing tantalizing potential at times but never really making good on it. In 2019, he was demoted from the rotation, and the majors, in a season that ended with a 5.38 ERA over 93 2⁄3 innings.
Pivetta has made it clear multiple times that he views himself as a starter, and that is what he is pitching to prove over the final six games in which he should be able to get two starts in. Many, myself included, see his best chance at success in the bullpen where his stuff can play up, his lack of command can be hidden more easily and he can work with just his fastball and his breaking ball. On the other hand, the Red Sox have a whole lot of potential openings with their rotation, particularly since we don’t really know what Eduardo Rodriguez will be able to do next season, if anything. No decision will be made based solely on two starts, but as we’ve seen recently with Tanner Houck, perceptions can certainly be swayed at least a bit in that amount of time.
I’ve talked a lot over the years about how much first impressions affect us as fans, particularly for fringe-type players. A big start can boost a player’s profile longer than it should, and a bad one can hurt it. Enter: Jeffrey Springs. The lefty got off to an atrocious start this season for the Red Sox, allowing five runs the first time we got a look at him in a Boston uniform and pitching to a 11.42 ERA through his first six appearances. It wasn’t great! But since then, he’s actually been pretty solid. Over his last eight appearances, dating back to August 31, he’s pitched to a solid 3.00 ERA with 11 strikeouts and four walks over nine innings of work. Even looking at the whole season, he’s only been slightly below-average by FIP (107 FIP-), and a large part of that is home runs, which can be fluky in a small sample.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think Springs is pitching for any sort of important role next year. But he may be pitching for his spot on the roster. The Red Sox have a lot of decisions to make with players at the bottom of their 40-man this winter given their plethora of prospects who need to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft. Springs’s recent performance and his ability to get strikeouts at an above-average rate all year, I think, have him on the right side of the chopping block. That said, he’ll get at least a couple more appearances down the stretch here. If he implodes in one or is just regular bad multiple times this week, he could find himself on the open market at some point this winter.