We know the Sox pitchers have been (ahem) less than sparkling. After salvaging a win in Toronto, the staff has a .266 batting average against, ranked 24th in baseball; a .337 OBP against, ranked 24th in baseball; and a .426 slugging pct. against, worst in the American League and 27th in baseball.
There is no way to sugarcoat these numbers, and it shows the task that new pitching coach Carl Willis has in front of him. Of course, the good news for him is that the staff’s performance (hopefully) can’t get much worse, so he is bound to look good.
With the bases empty, the Sox staff has an OPS against of .754, 27th in baseball and with runners on, the OPS against is .772, tied for 21st in baseball. With runners in scoring position, their OPS is .847, the 26th best in baseball.
With numbers like these, the problems are systemic. There is no one type of pitch that is solely causing the damage. For example, the Sox OPS against on fastballs is .800, 22nd worst in baseball. On sliders, it’s .700, which sounds so much better, until you find that that ranks 27th in baseball. On curves, it’s .659; again, better sounding until you find it’s 25th in the majors.
At this point, the ability to throw a particular pitch is based on physical skills that leave limited room for improvement. For example, Wade Miley averages 90.9 miles per hour on his fastball, and it’s very unlikely that there is anything that Willis can legally do that will enable Miley to get to the 96.1 that Joe Kelly averages on his fastball.
However, there is an area that Willis can make a significant difference with this staff.
Here’s the “sitch”
Situational pitching is more than pitching with runners on base or runners in scoring position. There are situations within each at bat.
In a conversation, I had a couple of years ago with Rick Peterson, the Director of Pitching Development for the Baltimore Orioles, he explained to me that after the first pitch, the most important pitch of an at bat comes at 1-1. Then he told me to compare the numbers, which I did and which I will do for you now.
MLB 1-1 pitches
Red Sox 1-1 pitches (482 pitches – 102 PA)
On balls put in play, on the 1-1 pitch, the Sox are weaker than the rest of the overall league.
MLB 1-2 pitches
Sox 1-2 pitches (431 pitches – 163 PA)
Sox pitchers are dominant and better than the rest of the majors when they are pitching 1-2.
MLB 2-1 pitches
The numbers here prove Peterson’s point. The OPS on balls in play on a 2-1 pitch as opposed to a 1-2 pitch more than doubles and the slugging rises a ridiculous 261 points.
Sox 2-1 pitches (267 pitches – 62 PA)
Red Sox pitchers have thrown the sixth-most 2-1 pitches in the majors and they are getting creamed on the pitch. The difference in BA between a 1-2 pitch and a 2-1 pitch is 250 points and the slugging is 282 points. The Sox get an “F” on this pitch.
This is where the work lies for Carl Willis. Each pitcher must focus on staying ahead of the batter in each at bat because the differences in success or failure are significant.
Sox pitchers in pitcher’s counts
Sox pitchers in batter’s counts
Willis must get the staff to focus immediately and there are some members of the staff who can serve as terrific examples, both positively and negatively.
Clay Buchholz 1-2 pitches
Clay Buchholz – After 2-1 pitches
Rick Porcello 1-2 pitches
Rick Porcello – After 2-1 pitches
Wade Miley 1-2 pitches
Wade Miley – After 2-1 pitches
Joe Kelly 1-2 pitches
Joe Kelly – After 2-1 pitches
Justin Masterson 1-2 pitches
Justin Masterson – After 2-1 pitches
Junichi Tazawa 1-2 pitches
Junichi Tazawa – After 2-1 pitches
Alexi Ogando 1-2 pitches
Alexi Ogando – After 2-1 pitches
Craig Breslow 1-2 pitches
Craig Breslow – After 2-1 pitches
Koji Uehara 1-2 pitches
Koji Uehara – After 2-1 pitches
Watch the games
Watch the 1-1 count and watch how frequently the Sox pitchers get into trouble by falling behind or getting whacked and then watch Carl Willis age in front of our eyes.