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Astros Pitchers and Other Red Sox Thoughts

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In this week’s BSOT Weekly Column to be Named Later, I take a look ahead to the upcoming weekend series with the World Champion Houston Astros and their stable of starting pitchers, explore the value of the Red Sox signing of Mitch Moreland, the apparent bounce back of Jackie Bradley Jr., and two disturbing number trends in Major League Baseball.

Astros Preview

The tried and true adage in baseball is good pitching stops good hitting.  That adage will be put to the test when the Red Sox visit the Astros for a four game set over the weekend. 

Houston’s starting staff has been filthy in 2018.  The Houston pitching staff ranks first in all of major league baseball with a 2.58 ERA and leads baseball with 10.25 strikeouts per 9 innings.  The Astro starters have been even more impressive, leading baseball in ERA (2.44) and K/9 (10.36).

This weekend, the Red Sox are scheduled to face Lance McCullers (6-3, 3.98) on Thursday, and then things get even worse.  Garret Cole (5-1, 2.05) is scheduled to pitch Friday, with Justin Verlander (7-2, 1.11) getting the start on Saturday and Charlie Morton (7-0, 2.04) taking the ball in the series finale on Sunday.

Verlander, Morton and Cole rank first, fourth and fifth, respectively, in ERA for starters with greater than 50 innings pitched in 2018.  If the Red Sox hope to compete for the AL pennant in 2018, they will need to at least split the series with the Astros to show they are true contenders.

Mitch Moreland vs. Eric Hosmer

There has been much written and discussed concerning the Red Sox choice to pursue signing J.D. Martinez rather than trading for Gioncarlo Stanton during the off-season.  While the numbers so far favor Martinez and the Red Sox, there was one other off season signing made by the Red Sox that has gotten much less fanfare, the resigning of Mitch Moreland rather than free agent Eric Hosmer.

Hosmer was one of the big name free agents on the market after the 2017 season.  The former Kansas City All-Star was a key part of their 2015 World Championship team, and is also a four time gold glove winning first baseman.  Hosmer posted back to back 25 home run seasons in 2016 and 2017, and in his 8 year career he has a slash line of .282/.439/.781.  Good numbers, but hardly the offensive force the Red Sox sorely needed.

Hosmer chose to sign a lucrative 8 year - $144 M contract with the San Diego Padres.  The Red Sox decided to bring back Moreland on a 2 year - $13 M deal, choosing value over the splashy free agent signing.  Heading into June, Moreland has so far proven to be the steal of the off-season.

Player comparison through Memorial Day.

Moreland’s production has also allowed the Red Sox to part ways with Hanley Ramirez, alleviating them of the potential vested option in Ramirez’s contract that would have put the Sox on the hook for $22 M next season.  At $6.5 M, Moreland is the biggest bargain in baseball.

Jackie Bradley Jr.

After being totally over-matched on fastballs up and in the series at Fenway vs. Baltimore in mid-May, Bradley has apparently made some adjustments to his swing and appears to have worked out some of the issues that have plagued him at the plate since the start of the season.  In the past week, Bradley has not tried to pull the ball and is beginning to hit the ball to left field.  Over that same span, Bradley has batted .300 and logged six hits over six games, with two doubles and a triple.

Bradley is still striking out at a rate of once every four at bats, but he has been driving the ball with authority of late when making contact.  If he can find some consistently at the plate, while playing his usual stellar defense in center, the Red Sox are a far better team with Bradley in the starting lineup.

Fenway Attendance

One of the more striking images of the first two months of the Red Sox season is the vast number of empty seats seen in Fenway Park.  Attendance figures have generally been on the decline in the MLB for the past several years, however, entire sections of empty seats have never been a common sight in Fenway.

The cold, damp spring has no doubt played a role in keeping fans out of the ballpark.  Early season attendance is traditionally lower due to the weather and kids still being in school, so that alone is not an excuse.

Despite the best start for the Red Sox since Babe Ruth was in the starting rotation, average attendance at Fenway is down 5% from last season.  Overall, major league attendance is down nearly 7% from 2017.  This is a disturbing trend, and one that bears watching as the season progresses.  The loss of gate revenue could influence the Red Sox decisions to acquire salary at the trade deadline.

Pitchers with Single Digit Numbers

Another relatively new and equally disturbing occurrence in recent years in the MLB is the number of pitchers sporting single digit uniform numbers.  There are currently seven pitchers in the major leagues with single digit numbers, two in the American League East (Tampa Bay’s Blake Snell and Toronto’s Marcus Strohman).

Something about a pitcher with a single digit number just doesn’t look right.  In Little League or even High School, but not in the majors.

Follow Bill on Twitter @BTravers_BSoT.  

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