Clay Buchholz Continues Disappointing Season For Boston Red Sox

Clay Buchholz got roughed up in losing his latest start for the Red Sox. Stop us if that sounds familiar. It has been the same old story for Buchholz in 2014; sub-par start after sub-par start with a trip to the Disabled List mixed in. Unsurprisingly, Buchholz got rocked again on Wednesday against the Angels at Fenway Park, giving up 6 runs, 7 hits and 2 walks in 6 innings of work. It’s not just about performance for Buchholz at this point (or lack thereof), but about how he gives up runs. Buchholz was actually cruising through the first four innings against LAA, until he promptly loaded the bases and walked in a run. We have all been saying the same thing for some time now, but with the focus for the Red Sox becoming evaluating 2015 pieces, Buchholz’s days as a starter for the Red Sox should be numbered.

Needless to say Buchholz has been awful in 2014. The ERA (5.94), the WHIP (1.55), BABIP (.337), and Average Against (.291) are stratospheric, leading to much of Buchholz’s misery on the mound. While the peripheral numbers still suggest that he has been the victim of unfortunate luck (the aforementioned BABIP, 62.9% strand rate) and could be pitching more effectively (4.36 FIP, 4.18 xFIP), it is becoming clear that Buchholz is pitching to his poor surface numbers. Watching a start makes most of Buchholz’s problems pretty apparent. Location has been a serious problem, particularly leaving pitches up in the strikezone. The following two graphs illustrate the vertical location of Buchholz’s “out pitch,” the changeup, in 2014 to illustrate his location issues.

Vertical location of Buchholz's changeup from 4/5/14 to 5/26/14

Vertical location of Buchholz's changeup from 6/25/14 to 8/3/14

Another issue Buchholz seems to have is with his own perception. Following his shellacking at the hands of the Angels, Buchholz apparently “felt good with just about every pitch.” This has actually been another recurring theme with Buchholz throughout the course of the year; no matter the outcome, he always seems to “feel good” during every start. The problem is that he has had very little to actually feel good about. These quotes reveal several potential issues with Buchholz. One is that he has no competitive drive, and that he accepts losing and underperforming as long as he “feels good” during his starts. Another is that the Red Sox believe that his ego is so fragile that he needs to be given a silver lining out of every single start, again regardless of outcome. Either scenario is unacceptable from a pitcher that is supposed to be at the top of a rotation. With every seeming denial of reality, Buchholz is looking less like the ace he could potentially be, and more like the back-end starter he currently is.

The Red Sox need to start being honest with their assessment of Buchholz. The team’s stated goal is to use the rest of 2014 to evaluate their pieces for 2015, and they should start sticking to their guns. At this point they have seen all of the numbers, all of the starts, and they now know what they have in Buchholz. There really is no point in having Buchholz continue to take starts away from younger pitchers like Anthony Ranaudo and Matt Barnes who deserve a look in the big leagues. The Red Sox would be better served sending Buchholz to the bullpen, both to try and regain some of his previous form, as well as to open up a rotation spot for a younger pitcher that could help next season. At this point, the excuses are getting tired, and there is no reason to keep sending Buchholz out at the expense of the team’s development.

Joe Kelly Makes Solid Red Sox Debut, Red Sox Defeat Cardinals 2-1

There was much anticipation before Joe Kelly’s debut with the Red Sox in St. Louis, in that he was facing both his former team and one of his best friends. St. Louis’s starter, Shelby Miller, was Kelly’s best man at his wedding and the two are reportedly very close, adding an interesting wrinkle to the second of three contests between last October’s World Series opponents. Kelly also received several standing ovations from the grateful crowd at Busch Stadium. Brandon Workman will oppose Adam Wainwright in St. Louis tonight to decide the winner of the three game series. Some more notes from last night’s 2-1 Red Sox win:

  • Joe Kelly made a solid start against his former team. Kelly’s final line on the night came out to 7 IP 3 H 1 ER 4 BB 2 K, while throwing 53 of 97 pitches for strikes. Kelly seemed to struggle with his command early on, as evidenced by the four walks, but he seemed to settle in as the game went on. Those command issues could certainly be reasonably explained by some jitters against facing his old team in their ballpark for the first time. The two strikeouts were also a bit low, especially since Kelly shows plus stuff most times, but he is not a pitcher that lives and dies with the strikeout. Kelly has a career K/9 mark of just 5.97, but his career 52.2% groundball rate (56.6% this season) suggests that he can still be effective without missing many bats, as evidenced by his start last night.
  • Xander Bogaerts had himself a pretty good night on both sides of the ball. Bogaerts made a nice diving play to help get Kelly out of a first-and-third jam and end the second inning, showing much greater comfort and skill at shortstop than he had at third base. Since the trade of Stephen Drew to the Yankees, Bogaerts has been much better defensively, which in turn has seemed to give him a much-needed confidence boost. Bogaerts also drove in both of the Red Sox’ runs in the game; the first on a two-out double to score Daniel Nava in the fourth inning, then he lifted a sacrifice fly to score Yoenis Cespedes and give the Red Sox the lead in the top of the ninth. A surge by Bogaerts would be a huge boost to the Red Sox lineup, as well as set him up for a breakout season in 2015.
  • Even though he wasn’t in the starting lineup, David Ortiz still left his mark on the game when he pinch-hit for Nava with runners at second and third and no outs in the top of the ninth. The Cardinals elected to intentionally walk Ortiz (who was promptly pinch-run for by Jackie Bradley Jr.) and pitch to Bogaerts instead. Looks like they learned their lesson last October about pitching to David Ortiz with runners in scoring position.
  • The Red Sox bullpen was excellent in support of Kelly’s strong start. Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara combined for two shutout innings in relief, with Uehara recording his 23rd save in the process.

Grading the Trade That Sent Red Sox Ace John Lackey to the Cardinals

According to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, the St. Louis Cardinals have acquired starting pitcher John Lackey (along with pitching prospect Corey Littrell and cash considerations) from the Boston Red Sox for pitcher Joe Kelly and outfielder Allen Craig.

Who do you think got the better deal? What grades would you give each team?

Watch as B/R’s Lead MLB Columnist Scott Miller grades the trade for both teams involved.

Grading the Jon Lester-Yoenis Cespedes Blockbuster Trade for Both Teams

The MLB trade deadline is only hours away, and the first blockbuster deal of this season has been agreed upon.

As first reported by Alex Speier of WEEI 93.7 FM in Boston, the Oakland Athletics have traded Cuban slugger Yoenis Cespedesand a competitive balance pick to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for starting pitcher Jon Lester, outfielder Jonny Gomes and cash considerations. Who do you think got the better deal? What grades would you give to each team?

Watch as B/R’s Lead MLB Columnist Scott Miller grades the trade for both teams involved.

Red Sox Trade Jon Lester for A’s Yoenis Cespedes

After weeks of speculation, debate, and anticipation, the Red Sox finally moved Jon Lester in a trade that will reshape the current major league roster. On the morning of the 2014 non-waiver trade deadline, the Sox shipped Lester (along with Jonny Gomes and cash) to Oakland in exchange for two-time reigningHome Run Derby Champion (and outfield cannon holder) Yoenis Cespedes and a 2015 Competitive Balance Round B draft pick. While it is sad to see a player such as Jon Lester go, the return for him is substantial, as is the chance that the Red Sox could make a run at bringing Lester back in free agency following the season.

This trade represents a slight surprise to most fans due to the fact that all trade talk involving Lester up to this point suggested that the Red Sox were seeking several high-level prospects for Lester, as opposed to established major leaguers. In hindsight, a return such as this should have been expected, since it would be hard for any opposing general manager to justify trading multiple high-impact prospects for two months of Lester’s services. But in getting Cespedes, Ben Cherington filled one of the Red Sox’ most glaring needs: an outfield bat that can hit in the middle of the lineup. The Red Sox’ offensive struggles have been well documented in 2014, and the outfield has been a key contributor (or non-contributor). To this point in 2014, Cespedes brings a .256/.303/.464 triple-slash, good for a .332 wOBA and 113 wRC+. While these numbers on their surface may make Cespedes seem like a relatively unimpressive player, other stats such as his .208 ISO and .278 BABIP suggest that there is room for improvement in his game. This is all to say nothing of the effect playing all of your home games at the Coliseum can have on one’s offensive numbers. When taking into context Cespedes’s career numbers (in addition to the fact that he will not turn 29 until October), it is not unreasonable to think that he could put up a line closer to his rookie season in 2012 (.292/.356/.505) with a full season’s worth of home games at Fenway Park.

The deal also makes a great deal of sense from the Red Sox’ standpoint. Since the Red Sox were not going to be able to work out a new contract with Lester before the offseason anyway, it is prudent for them to get a valuable piece back before they make another attempt to sign him long-term. They helped their own cause in trading him to Oakland because the A’s operate on one of the lowest payroll budgets in the game and there is no chance they would enter the free agent bidding for Lester. This way, the team can go into free agency with Lester in essentially the same exact position they would have been in had they kept him, where they will most likely have to pay close to full market value. Needless to say it would be a major haul if Lester ended up coming back to Boston. But even if Lester were to sign elsewhere, the Red Sox would still come out with a power-hitting outfielder who could potentially be signed long-term despite being eligible for free agency following the 2015 season. By that time, the Red Sox will have most of their largest contracts off of the books (Stephen Drew, John Lackey, Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Edward Mujica, and possibly Koji Uehara will each have their contracts expire by the end of the 2015 seaosn) and will likely have many young players assuming prominent roles while making close to league minimum. This will free up a great deal of money to be spent on top of their game players such as Cespedes. In addition, the draft pick the Red Sox receive from the A’s will give them similar value to the one they would have gotten had Lester stayed and rejected a qualifying offer after the season.

Lester was a fan favorite in Boston and it is tough to see him wear another uniform after all he has accomplished with the Red Sox. We wish him luck in Oakland, but by no means is the door closed on a potential return to Boston. This could very well not be the last time we see Jon Lester wearing white in Fenway, just the last time for now.

The Pros & Cons of the Boston Red Sox Trading for Cole Hamels

There have been rumors this week that the Red Sox are thinking about making a trade for Phillies starting pitcher Cole Hamels to protect themselves against a potential loss of Jon Lester on the free agent market. While some might be excited that the Red Sox are willing to go that far to stay in contention and build a strong rotation, there should be more that question the logic behind such a trade. Given the current circumstances the team finds itself in, there is absolutely no reason to trade for Cole Hamels.

What would the Red Sox actually be getting in Cole Hamels? The easy answer is a very good starting pitcher. In 17 starts to this point in 2014, Hamels has put up 9.05 K/9 and 2.99 BB/9 with a 48.5% Groundball rate, 78.1% strand rate, 2.83 ERA and 3.14 FIP. Hamels also has a pretty impressive postseason record: in 81.2 innings across 13 playoff starts, Hamels sports a 3.09 ERA with 77 strikeouts, just 21 walks, a 1.05 WHIP and .218 average against. There could be some concern that Hamels’s numbers might look a little better because he has spent his whole career in the National League, but that is counteracted by the fact that his home ballpark (Citizens Bank Park) is widely considered to be one of the better hitters’ parks in the game. So there is a lot to like about Hamels as a player, and any team would do well to have him at the top of their rotation. The problem this causes for the Red Sox is that the better the player, the better the return required in a trade for him.

Now this is where logic starts to exit the building in these rumors. The reports referenced above agree that it would take at least three top prospects to convince the Phillies to move Hamels, and rightly so. However, Hamels is also signed to a long, expensive contract that pays him $24 million a year AAV. The Red Sox have what is considered one of the deepest, most high-impact farm systems in baseball, so losing three top prospects might not hurt them as much as it would other teams, but three top prospects is a steep price to pay for any player, never mind that they are already earning one of the highest salaries at their position. Money is also not a problem for the Red Sox, as they are one of the highest-revenue teams in baseball and have as much payroll flexibility as any team in the game. However, current circumstances leave them in a position where they would not have to give in on both fronts.

The Cole Hamels trade is being billed as a potential Plan B for Jon Lester’s possible defection, however there is no reason why it should come to that point. If the choice is between paying Jon Lester or to letting him walk and trading for Cole Hamels, there should be no second thoughts; pay Jon Lester. For one thing, Lester is actually a better pitcher than Hamels (not to mention he has pitched his whole career in Boston, so he is a proven success here), and for another he has gone on the record as saying he would be willing to take a discount to stay in Boston. You could probably get Lester signed for a deal resembling the one Hamels signed, right around $24 million/season and be able to bring back your homegrown ace without touching your farm system. Instead, the choice would be to have to pay the same premium price on Hamels’s deal, while also giving up prime assets from the farm system. The Red Sox have to face the reality of their situation at this point. They are going to have to pay a steep price (in $$) to keep Lester, but there is absolutely no reason they should pay heavily in both dollars and prospects to acquire Hamels.

Jenny Dell & Will Middlebrooks to Get Married

Congratulations to NESN host and former Red Sox sideline reporter Jenny Dell on her engagement to current Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks. The pair’s relationship became public knowledge early in the year and they have been capturing Red Sox Nation’s collective attention ever since. While she no longer works on the field during live Red Sox broadcasts, Dell remains a fan favorite throughout Red Sox Nation due to her light-hearted, fun, and open personality. Middlebrooks has been through a roller coaster season, with injury after injury completely derailing his chance for a breakout year. He is currently rehabbing in Pawtucket with the hope of a quick recovery and a successful return to Fenway Park. Red Sox Nation wishes them nothing but health and happiness in the years to come.