De La Rosa Becoming Solid Piece for Red Sox

The Red Sox’ unfortunate position in the standings has afforded the team to get a look at their young, homegrown players in an effort to get a read on who can help the team aim to contend in 2015. The team got another good look in their 2-0 sweep-clinching loss to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, when Rubby De La Rosa turned in one of his strongest starts of the season. While De La Rosa’s initial line (6.2 innings, 8 hits, 2 earned runs, three walks and eight strikeouts) might not be terribly inspiring, most of the damage against him was done in the first two innings. This included a bases-loaded jam that De La Rosa was able to escape without harm and settle in to stifle the Angels offense into the seventh inning. Since his promotion earlier in the season, De La Rosa has made a strong case for himself to be in the Red Sox starting rotation at the beginning of the 2015 season.

De La Rosa is finally starting to show why he was such a highly thought-of prospect in the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system. De La Rosa spent the offseason working with former Red Sox ace Pedro Martinezon his craft, and all of his hard work has paid off to this point in 2014. De La Rosa has put up 6.69 K/9, 3.35 BB/9, with a .272 average against, 79.7% strand rate, 3.69 ERA and 4.02 xFIP in 78 innings with the big club. The strikeout numbers are down slightly from his career average (career 7.41 K/9), but otherwise that is a solid line across the board, especially for a rookie starter in the American League. Those numbers are right in line with a solid number three starter on a contending rotation.

Another encouraging sign from De La Rosa’s most recent start against the Angels (which Pedro likely had a part in developing) was his ability to make adjustments throughout the start. There was a bit of a rough patch early in the game where the Angels got some good scoring chances, but De La Rosa was able to make the adjustment and settle in through the rest of his start. He made another key adjustment in the seventh, despite not finishing the inning. While dealing with another Angels scoring threat, De La Rosa was able to ramp his fastball up to 97 mph in order to get a key strikeout and limit the threat. This ability to adapt is key to developing into a solid major league starter.

The Red Sox have wisely chosen to use the remainder of the 2014 season to evaluate their roster options for 2015, when the team plans on being competitive. To this point, De La Rosa has taken advantage of the opportunity to show the team he deserves a permanent rotation spot going forward. He has shown the plus stuff, as well as the ability to adjust mid-way through a start. These are things that prove that De La Rosa possesses the ability to improve upon his current numbers, which would be a welcome addition to an unproven pitching staff. Not much is clear for the Red Sox’ 2015 season, but it is clear that Rubby De La Rosa deserves to be in the starting rotation.

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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.