Mazz: Time for Red Sox Pitchers to Get Back to Basics

Oct 27, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Boston Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez talks with pitching coach Dana LeVangie in the sixth inning in Game 4 of the 2018 World Series at Dodger Stadium. (Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports)
Oct 27, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Boston Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez talks with pitching coach Dana LeVangie in the sixth inning in Game 4 of the 2018 World Series at Dodger Stadium. (Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports)

By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub

And so now, it’s on to the Yankees. But before you put too much emphasis on a two-game series in April, let’s get real. The Red Sox have bigger problems.

Like throwing strikes, for example.

Don’t look now, Red Sox fans, but half of April is in the books and we’re still waiting for the Red Sox to notice that the 2019 major league season has actually, you know, started. Red Sox starting pitchers rank last in the American League in ERA, WHIP and home runs allowed (meaning they have served the most), and yet that isn’t the problem that should concern you most.

Instead, it’s this one: walks, specifically by the vaunted starting rotation, which has issued the most in baseball.

(Source: MLB.com)

So here’s the question: why?

A possible answer: the Sox are throwing too much junk. And if they're not, well, they're certainly not throwing it well enough, so maybe it's time to alter the plan.

Look, fastball usage in baseball has been on the decline. We all know why. Hitters “hunt” fastballs, as Sox manager Alex Cora likes to say, so pitchers are now throwing off-speed, especially early in counts, more than ever before. The Red Sox seem as guilty of this as anyone, at least according to FanGraphs, which reveals that the Red Sox starting rotation in in the bottom half of major league teams in fastball percentage.

(Source: fangraphs.com)

Call me a traditionalist – and to a degree, I am – but here’s a simple question: if you’re walking a ton of guys and putting yourself in bad situations, why would you keep pitching backwards? Maybe it’s because the Sox de-emphasized the start of the season, brought their pitchers along slowly, don’t have arm strength just yet. Or maybe the slow spring actually prevented Sox pitchers from getting the necessary feel for their off-speed pitches, which means Sox starters are throwing softer and with less break, movement, command.

In the team’s defense, the Sox ranked near the bottom of major league teams last year in fastball usage, too. They won 108 games and then steamrolled the competition in October en route to a world title. But the weather in April and October always made those times of year the property of the pitchers, and the 2019 Red Sox clearly weren’t ready for the start on the season on a variety of levels.

So we’ll tell you what, boys: let’s get back to basics. Don’t overthink it. Throw fastballs in to start. Get ahead in the count. Then mix in your breaking stuff according to the hitter and situation.

Whatever the outcome, it can’t be worse than what you’re doing right now.

You can hear Tony Massarotti weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.