Player Profiles 2020: Boston Red Sox Starting Pitchers

Nick Pollack analyzes the Boston Red Sox rotation for 2020 with in-depth player profiles.

Throughout the winter months of the offseason, the Pitcher List staff will be creating profiles for every fantasy-relevant player for 2020. Players will be broken up by team and role through starting pitchers, bullpen, lineup, and prospects. You can access every article as it comes out in our Player Profiles 2020 hub here.

Update: Removed David Price on February 10th.

Red Sox At A Glance

There are so many questions, it’s hard to find a place to start. Chris Sale tormented us in 2019 with his “hidden” elbow injury that we’re not quite sure he’s fully past entering the season. David Price was shut down as well with a wrist injury, though still has the skills to produce a Top 20 SP season, Eduardo Rodriguez has hinted at greatness, but hasn’t quite found consistency, Nathan Eovaldi is getting a true healthy spring and could touch upon 2018, and Martin Perez… could possibly be a Toby.

The big problem is the lack of depth. There’s little in the wings to make a major impact while Hector Velázquez and Brian Johnson will give some innings of questionable quality. A healthy rotation can do a lot, but it’s likely their lack of depth will show up at some point.

 

Chris SaleLocked Starter

Nickname: Stickman

 

2019 In Review

It was terrible and amazing and overall… weird. Sale was throwing with dramatically reduced velocity in April, even showcasing mechanics of a pitcher not trying his hardest. After a rocky first four starts where he allowed more ER than earning strikeouts, Sale was incredible for the next two months, posting a 2.44 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, and 40.5% strikeout rate. Absurd. His final nine starts were a step back with a 4.00+ ERA (but sub 3.00 SIERA!), eventually coming to a complete halt, sidelined with an elbow injury for the rest of the year.

Despite throwing just under 150 frames, Sale tallied 218 strikeouts and was still massively productive amid the clear velocity drop. Hopefully, healthy Sale will return and dominate like the good ole days.

 

Fastball (46% usage)

Sale’s four-seamer averaged 94/95 in previous seasons. 2019? Down to just 93 mph, and that doesn’t showcase the 90/91 we saw at the beginning of the season. It’s an excellent pitch when it’s velocity isn’t an issue⁠—even better than his slider!⁠—and it was still slightly above average in its worse form last year, returning a 12%+ SwStr rate and allowing just a .217 BAA. Incredible.

That four-seamer came with a sinker thrown across 20% of his heaters, which doesn’t fare quite as well. It’s used mostly early in counts as a different look and I hope Sale focuses purely on four-seamers. It’s a much better pitch.

 

Slider (38% usage)

We all know this pitch, and it’s still super filthy. Sale does an excellent job closing the door with its exaggerated movement, though he’s held a 40%+ O-Swing with it just once in his career. Its true benefit is staying inside the strike zone as batters simply struggle to square it up. Batters hold a career .093 ISO against it, while last year’s .198 BAA was the highest of his career. It’s a phenomenal pitch.

 

Changeup (15% usage)

This changeup is the only true Money Pitch in Sale’s repertoire and has been consistently over the past seven years. Expect a zone rate hovering at 50% with a 40% O-Swing and 100% reason to remember Sale is dope.

But seriously, Sale does get into a little trouble with this pitch every so often, with a .244 ISO allowed last year paired with a 126 wRC+. I’d expect those marks to come down in 2020 as he needs to do less with his changeup to mask the lower fastball velocity.

 

2020 Outlook

It all comes down to health. If Sale is casually pumping 95+ in April with range to the upper 90s, we could be in for a Top-3 season once again. It’s hard not to be concerned about Sale’s season longevity, especially in September, which may keep his price below his skill level. If we get 180+ innings of Sale, it’s going to be a wonderful season.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 3.80 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 33% K rate in 140 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 2.50 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 38% K rate in 200 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Chris Sale 2020 projection:

2.90 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 35% K rate in 160 IP

 

Eduardo RodriguezLocked Starter

Nickname: The Uni

 

2019 In Review

For a while in 2019, we were stuck in purgatory with Eduardo. His first 25 starts of the season produced a tepid 4.31 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, and 23% strikeout rate. That was roughly 70% of all starts made across the season. The final 30% is where we start to wonder what could be as The Uni put up a 2.53 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 29% strikeout rate.

Who is the real Eduardo? Was that a ride to buy into or is he destined to be a nomad, finding the occasional oasis but destined to endure the harsh desert?

 

Fastball (55% usage)

To understand Eduardo, you need to grasp this four-seamer. It’s a strong pitch that does a great job of earning whiffs⁠—11.6% SwStr!⁠—but it’s a bit… off. His command of it isn’t what you’d imagine, with a 53% zone rate and 24% O-Swing. It holds a high .302 BABIP for his career, with a peak .343 mark last season as Eduardo’s feel for the pitch varies on a given day. There are times he can elevate and steal strikes effectively with it to then set up his fantastic changeup, other days where he needs his cutter to get strikes for him, which is where everything falls apart.

In addition, even if ahead with fastballs, when Eduardo can’t put batters away with his changeup, he often elongates at-bats with this fastball, forcing him to elevate his pitch count faster than you’d hope.

If his cutter & slider took a step up, I’d imagine this fastball would improve as well. Currently, it has to do too much and it creates the volatility we see each season.

Rodriguez did incorporate a sinker a touch more last year, using it as a surprise strikeout offering to nip the inside-corner against right-handers and jam left-handers. It actually worked a decent amount of the time, but it still isn’t the “oh hey, I need a strike!” pitch Eduardo is searching for.

 

Changeup (24% usage)

For what it tries to do, this changeup is excellent. Its career 46% O-Swing and 19% SwStr were right in line with 2019’s numbers, but it didn’t get quite the results you’d expect. A .304 BABIP seems high for such a low zone-rate offering (22%!), detailing better contact than expected for so many changeups connected off the plate.

You’d imagine this would mostly end at-bats, but it was actually the contrary with just a 20% strikeout rate. Weird, right? You’d think this changeup would be a mix of strikeouts and outs in play given its extreme chase profile, yet it returned a below-average but not exceptional 85 wRC+.

Again, volatility. Some days batters don’t bite, possibly due to sequencing, his fastballs prior, or maybe just worse feel on a given outing. Regardless of the reason, it’s hard to embrace the pitch as a stellar offering that will push him into the elite across a full season.

 

Cutter (18% usage)

I really want this pitch to be good. It would fix everything. Unfortunately, it’s incredibly average and keeps us in this purgatory. Its .287 BAA and .333 BABIP seem somewhat right, featuring a 49% zone rate and mundane movement. Just a 7.6% SwStr rate shouldn’t excite many at all and it’s not a pitch that Rodriguez can confidently throw in any situation.

He needs that, badly. There will be days where it may step up its game, but this is not the #3 pitch Rodriguez wants it to be.

 

Slider (4% usage)

Every so often we see this slider mixed in, but it fails to get the strikes we want (just a 31% zone rate and 30% O-Swing) and has yet to ripen. Maybe one day.

 

2020 Outlook

Without his cutter taking a step forward, it’s difficult for me to buy into Eduardo, despite the fantastic run to end the year. A history of sub-140 inning seasons, a WHIP that has never dipped below 1.25, and constant struggles to make starts work have been on the pessimistic side of most Rodriguez rankings.

There’s a chance he puts it all together in the best case; we’ll see if that chance is worth the price.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 4.20 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 18% K rate in 130 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.50 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 27% K rate in 200 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Eduardo Rodriguez 2020 projection:

3.90 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 25% K rate in 160 IP

 

 

Nathan EovaldiLocked Starter

Nickname: Darwin

 

2019 In Review

Boy, 2019 was a disappointment. After posting his best season on record, Eovaldi faced injuries early that took him out after four starts, then returned as a reliever for eleven games before we saw any semblance of the man we fell for.

It was as lost of a season as you’ll find, and you have to wonder if a “reset button” will do the trick for Eovaldi as the Red Sox need him for plenty of innings in 2020. Will his fastball/cutter combination make the sweeping return to its 2018 rhythm?

 

Fastball (43% usage)

It’s all four-seamers here and we’re talking heat. The pitch has sat 97/98 for four straight seasons, and while he had figured out how to effectively elevate it in 2018, the pitch came closer down toward the heart of the plate last season. The result? A surge from a 65 wRC+ (awesome!) to 151 wRC+ (oh no!). The pitch was simply more hittable, partially due to its worse location, but also a product of his cutter failing to keep batters at bay.

With a fastball of this magnitude and an appreciation for the elevation, there’s still an opportunity for Eovaldi to reclaim his 2018 numbers. It’ll have to do more with his cutter than this four-seamer, though.

 

Cutter (23% usage)

2018 saw a major transition for Eovaldi as he introduced cutters as his main secondary offering up to a whopping 32%, though that mark came down nearly 10 points last season and I understand why—it was much worse. Seriously, nothing close to the same pitch. O-Swing? Dropped nearly 20 points from 34% to 16%. Zone rate down 10 points. SwStr down six points to paltry 3.4% clip. Batters sat comfortably and teed off for a .344 average, up from .252 the previous year.

It’s not what you want.

Maybe it was a worse tunnel with his four-seamer. Maybe tipping, maybe just not the same movement and break as before. Either way, everything hinges on this pitch returning to form. If Eovaldi isn’t getting the same poor swings and chases as he used to, it’s a clear cut early in the season.

But if this pitch is there, you just found yourself a strong starter for the price of free.

 

Curveball (17% usage)

With his cutter acting nothing like the pitch Eovaldi wanted it to be, this curveball suddenly became a major hit inside of the arsenal, ramping up from a sub-5% usage clip to the 17% you see above. It’s not a bad pitch—in fact, its 17.5% SwStr is well above average for a deuce—and while neither its O-Swing or zone rates hit the coveted 40% thresholds, it still did enough to act as a #3 pitch. Yes, not the #2 it needed to be with the cutter disappearing completely, but if he finds his cutter again, this curveball will do just fine.

 

Changeup (17% usage)

With the cutter becoming an unreliable weapon and his curveball failing to be a legit #2, this split-changeup took the role and ran with it effectively. It was a Money Pitch with its 46% O-Swing and 16% SwStr doing its best to fuel strikeouts, while a 41% zone rate kept Eovaldi afloat in games where nothing else could be trusted.

Still, it’s a split-changeup, which means that it had its days when it just simply wasn’t there for Eovaldi. It’s odd to rely so heavily on one pitch to make everything work, but if this splitter can be the third option to whip out for strikeouts and surprises early in counts, there’s plenty of hope for Eovaldi in 2020.

Just get that cutter working again. Please.

 

2020 Outlook

It all comes down to the cutter returning to form. There’s a chance Eovaldi can make it work with just four-seamers/curveballs/changeups, but odds are it’ll be a whole lot of volatility with batters lacing his heater constantly. If the cutter does return, though, there’s a lot of production to be had. Watch for it early in the season.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 4.75 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 20% K rate in 80 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.60 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 24% K rate in 180 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Nathan Eovaldi 2020 projection:

4.20 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 22% K rate in 150 IP

 

Martin PerezLocked Starter

Nickname: The Minister

 

2019 In Review

We had a few raised eyebrows early in 2019 with Perez featuring 94/95 mph velocity after years sitting in the 92/93 range, and it stuck around… for the first two and a half months. It helped propel Perez to a 2.95 ERA across his first 58 frames. However, as his secondary stuff began coming back down to Earth and his velocity took a step back, Perez faded from fantasy relevancy. By the end, his final 19 starts returned a 6.03 ERA with a 1.58 WHIP and 17% strikeout rate.

Now entering a harder division in the AL East, there’s not a whole lot of optimism surrounding the volume-focused southpaw.

 

Fastball (42% usage)

Perez favors sinkers over four-seamers and the former did decently well last season. Its extra velocity was helpful, though it made have come with worse command as it saw a reduction in O-Swing from six points in 2019, paired with a lower zone rate and the second-highest wRC+ of its career at a poor 127. There’s a chance Perez reclaims its feel without losing a step in velocity, though I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Meanwhile, Perez’s four-seamer is terrible. I use that term lightly, but it’s hard to find a pitch that performed as poorly last season. Across 469 thrown, Perez’s four-seamer returned a 213 wRC+ with a .375 BA and 1.168 OPS allowed. Yeah. No wonder he focused more on sinkers, keep doing that.

 

Cutter (31% usage)

Perez surprised us by axing his 84 mph slider and showing up in the spring with an 89 mph cutter that was surprisingly… great. It found the zone 47% of the time with a solid 36% O-Swing, kept batters at bay with a .629 OPS, and was the savior for stealing strikes when Perez didn’t want batters anywhere near his standard heaters.

It does come with an air of overperformance, though. Its .261 BABIP suggests room to decline, and the pitch was dramatically worse in his final 19 starts. I’d be cautious of the pitch coming close to its season-long 14 pVal again.

 

Changeup (22% usage)

With his cutter stealing strikes, Perez’s changeup is the closest he has to a true strikeout offering. On paper, it should work well with a 17% SwStr and 40% O-Swing last year. However, it returned just a 22% strikeout rate, with Perez needing more from the pitch than he got—understandably as he needed helping masking his heaters. If Perez can avoid using changeups earlier in counts, there is a touch of strikeout upside to be had here.

 

Curveball (5% usage)

This is your text-book “show me” curveball as Perez featured it early to steal a strike, with the rare two-strike steal of a backward K. It’s fine for what it is, but it’s far from an arsenal-defining pitch.

 

2020 Outlook

Things don’t look great. Increased velocity certainly put Perez back on the fantasy map to begin 2019, though it faded slightly as the year continued, and in concert with regression to an overperforming cutter, Perez crossed the finish line with a poor line on record.

There’s a chance he squeezes out relevance with a push to a 20% strikeout rate on the back of cutters and changeups, but with his below-average heaters (despite the increased velocity!), it’ll be a tough hill to climb.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 5.00+ ERA, 1.50+ WHIP, 14% K rate in 140 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 4.20 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 20% K rate in 180 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Martin Perez 2020 projection:

4.75 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 18% K rate in 160 IP

 

Hector Velázquez – Fringe Starter

Nickname: Hectorman

 

2020 Outlook

There’s isn’t a whole lot to be excited about regarding Velázquez. It’s a middling 91/92 from the right-side with a splitter that failed to eclipse a 12% SwStr rate last season and a slider that failed to hit any of the Money Pitch thresholds.

He’s sure to get a few more chances as a fill-in starter, but you’ll want nothing to do with that.

 

Brian JohnsonFringe Starter

Nickname: TNT

 

2020 Outlook

I’ll say this about Johnson: he has a big loopy curveball that can be fun to watch (and actually strike out batters on a good day!), but enduring his slider and fastball for the occasional precise hook is definitely not worth it. With plenty of injury concerns across their staff, it’s possible Johnson will get more time than he deserves in the Red Sox rotation this year, and Boston fans should not be thrilled about it.

 

Nickname explanations:

Chris SaleStickman. It was his players’ weekend nickname. It suits him.

Eduardo RodriguezThe Uni. Edu = education like a university.

Nathan EovaldiDarwin. His name sounds like “evolution”.

Martin PerezThe Minister. He’s an MP.

Hector Velázquez: Hectorman. Playing off the Sega Genesis “classic” Vectorman.

Brian JohnsonTNT. He has the same name as AC/DC’s singer, with TNT as one of their songs. Also, Johnson will blow up in your face if you trust him.

 

Photo by Tim Spyers/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm)

Nick Pollack

Founder of Pitcher List. Worked with MSG, Rotographs, CBS Sports, and Washington Post. Former pitching coach and Brandeis alum. Wants every pitcher to be dope.

  • Avatar BJ says:

    Those nicknames are reaching Nick

  • Avatar Sam says:

    Dombrowski was looking for pitchers – and they wouldn’t dig up the dough.
    This latest trade won’t help the pitching problem much and down we’ll go – to
    the assignment bus to nowhere…

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