Red Sox Playing Time Battles: Pitchers by Brad Johnson February 22, 2016 We’ve started our annual Depth Chart Discussions, re-branded as Playing Time Battles for 2016. You can catch up on every team we’ve covered in the Playing Time Battles Summary post or following along using the Depth Chart Discussions tag. The Red Sox were supposed to be quite good in 2015. They failed for a number of reasons. Yes, the lineup underperformed, but the pitching staff was the most glaring issue. For as long as a year, it was glaringly obvious that the Sox would trade for Phillies ace Cole Hamels. They never ponied up the necessary prospects. The rotation posted a 4.39 ERA – seventh worst in the majors. The bullpen was comparably bad with a 4.24 ERA – fifth worst. In retrospect, they needed a lot more than Hamels. Boston hopes that regression and two very big offseason acquisitions stabilize both units. We’ll see, won’t we? Starting Pitchers There’s a lot of pressure on David Price to help carry the Red Sox back to the postseason. He’s backed up by Rick Porcello, Clay Buchholz, and Eduardo Rodriguez – all of whom are breakout candidates. The thing about possible breakout guys though, it usually means they haven’t been very good. If the top four remain healthy, there will be a deep battle for the final spot. The team traded Wade Miley for Roenis Elias and Carson Smith. Elias is a solid back of the rotation starter. However, Joe Kelly is currently the favorite to be the fifth starter. John Farrell has reportedly promised him the job. Others in the mix include prospects Henry Owens and Brian Johnson. Steven Wright is a distant also ran, but he’s also out of options. The knuckleballer doesn’t fit in the bullpen if Elias is in the long relief role. Let’s look at the case for the non-Wrights. Kelly has long teased fantasy value with a 96 mph fastball, above average ground ball rates, and occasional hot streaks. His is a sinker-heavy approach, and the pitch comes with a very high contact rate despite the velocity. He also throws a good change, improving slider, and show-me curve. Entering his age 28 season, he seemingly has the raw talent to be better than his performance to date. By contrast, Elias probably is what he is. A 92 mph fastball, sparsely used sinker, average change up, and plus curve comprise his repertoire. Unless his command takes a huge step forward, there’s nothing in his profile that speaks of better days ahead. In the rotation, expect about 7.50 K/9, 3.50 BB/9, and a 4.10 ERA. That’s quite serviceable from a fifth or sixth starter. Fantasy owners will be less enthused. Owens is a change up specialist in the classic Cole Hamels – Johan Santa Clause mold. A barely 90 mph fastball puts a cap on his ceiling. In his brief major league exposure, both his fastball and sinker were hammered. Neither pitch is deceptive enough to be used frequently, but there’s no other way to set up the change. Even his top offering didn’t perform well when contact was made. He also flashed an average slider and above average curve. He may need to turn to those pitches more often to succeed in the majors. In my opinion, the key to his becoming fantasy relevant is plus command. He needs to discover it. Speaking of command, Johnson is known for controlling the zone in the minors. The 25-year-old has posted great numbers in the minors, but I worry about his stuff. There isn’t enough PITCHf/x data to get a clean read. He threw just 88 mph in his lone start. He threw 36 fastballs, 36 curves, 14 sliders, and one change up. Junk ballers can succeed in the majors, but it’s an uphill battle. I doubt Johnson will ever have fantasy relevance. Relievers There isn’t a lot to talk about in the bullpen. Craig Kimbrel is the guy. After “the guy” is Koji Uehara. He’s still a fine closer quality reliever. The club bumped the splitter specialist to the eighth inning because he’s old and injury prone. The also acquired Smith in the Miley trade. He was impressive as a setup man for the Mariners. He lost the closer job when he had a chance to seize it. Junichi Tazawa is also a familiar, steady presence in the Red Sox bullpen. Robbie Ross is probably the last candidate for holds. The former Ranger is a steady reliever, but he fits firmly in the “middle relief” bucket. He won’t receive regular seventh inning opportunities without injuries. At least not unless the Sox are trailing.