The First Trip Around the Red Sox Rotation was a Delightful Surprise


Baseball is such a beautifully stupid game! It’s filled with black swan events and wild contradictions. Chaos often rules the day, and the grueling grind of a 162 game season is sometimes the only stabilizing force keeping the highly improbable at bay.

Enter the 2024 Red Sox rotation of Brayan Bello, Nick Pivetta, Kutter Crawford, Garrett Whitlock and Tanner Houck. You may remember this group from last year’s wildly mediocre pitching staff, and since the Red Sox didn’t bother to add any arms to the rotation that are ready to pitch this year, not a single one of the guys they have in this role now is new to the roster.

If society deems the definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, then the Red Sox were insane to bring back the same cast of characters and expect things to get better on the mound. Well, except for two things:

1) Baseball is the most insane sport we have out there. Sometimes teams try roughly the same thing and actually do get completely different results. Take the 2013 San Francisco Giants for instance. They had mostly the same roster as the groups that won the World Series in 2012 and 2014, and yet they finished ten games under .500 at 76-86. Oh, and this all happened while the Red Sox were doing the exact opposite (sucking in 2012 and 2014 and winning the World Series in 2013). Granted, the Red Sox did have very different rosters than the Giants core through this window, but now we’re getting off track.

2) While the Red Sox did bring back the same class of students from last year hoping for better test scores, they also changed the teacher. So it’s at least possible that Andrew Bailey is a pitching whisperer and/or Dave Bush was a total and complete fraud.

On that note, we’re one trip through the rotation, and our very own Pod On Lansdowne guys have some numbers for ya:

This is incredible! Four earned runs in five starts is one thing, but 37 strike outs to one walk? That’s straight up voodoo magic. And it gets even better when you focus on that one domain.

Dusting off the old sample size normalization numbers from Fangraphs, we’re reminded that strike out rate and walk rate normalize faster than virtually anything else in baseball. Faster than home run rate, faster than batting average, faster than slugging percentage, faster than line drive rates, and much faster than batting averages on balls in play. This isn’t to say you should buy in based on one trip around the merry-go-round, but it is to say that if you only have one trip around the merry-go-round to go off, a 37-to-1 strike out to walk ratio being the engine for the rotation’s success is about as good of a sign as you can possibly have.

On another note, there’s something else that’s just so completely paradoxical and beautifully stupid about the rotation getting off to this start, and it’s the trade of Chris Sale. If you pull up the all time strike out to walk ratio leaders for starting pitchers in MLB history, you will find Chris Sale’s name second on that list (he used to be No. 1 before the last couple of years where he dropped off). In any case, wouldn’t it just be so baseball for the Red Sox to trade away one of the all time historically great strike out to walk guys and end up with a top notch strike out to walk ratio rotation? Now that would be the weird and stupid sport that I love!

Of course, there’s also a good chance this is just the latest in a long line of small sample size fool’s gold, where baseball uses small sample size pixie dust to make the impossible come to life, only to crush your soul and turn it all back into a pumpkin a short while later. The rotation not only has to prove this bounce is real, but they also have to get through the majority of the season healthy because the pitching depth on this roster remains single ply toilet paper thin. There will be crap everywhere if these guys fall apart.

Heck, you don’t have to go back any further than last year to find an example of a full squad that looked great out of the gate and then tanked in the Pittsburgh Pirates. They had the best record in the entire National League at the end of April, and they went the way of the Mary Celeste by mid summer, falling to last place and 13 games under .500 by July 18th.

In any case, the Red Sox just had maybe their most encouraging trip around the rotation in years, and it makes the second trip around they’re embarking on now a whole heck of a lot more interesting. They just posted three Game Scores of 70 or higher (Pivetta, Crawford and Houck starts) after the starters only did it 13 times in 162 games last year. They also just posted four Game Scores of 65 or higher, something they only did in 23 games last season.

It’s still way, way too early to know if any of this is real. But the fact that it’s even a question means that for at least a little while, the Red Sox are already more compelling than many expected.



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