By clinching the division so early, afforded the Red Sox some luxuries most teams can’t afford. Players can receive some well deserved time off to rest up for October, auditions can be held for postseason roster spots, and some players can be shuffled around to see if they take well to another role.
Alex Cora took advantage of this and rested several key players like Andrew Benintendi. Brandon Workman was given the chance to pitch his way onto the postseason roster and did so. Steven Wright was thrown in the bullpen and has thrived. Towards the end of the season, however, Eduardo Rodriguez came out of the bullpen and seems sentenced to relief duty this postseason. The fourth spot in the rotation might not even be featured in the division series, but I believe this is a huge mistake.
With Wright’s role cemented in the bullpen, Rodriguez’s rotation spot goes to Nathan Eovaldi. Aside from his two-start stretch when the Sox first acquired him, he hasn’t done anything to show that he’s a better pitcher than Rodriguez. Both are inconsistent with similar arsenals but unlike Eovaldi, Rodriguez has projection. Rodriguez showed the ability to pitch dominantly across longer stretches of time as recently as July before he suffered the right ankle sprain that knocked him out until September 1st. Eovaldi has flashed the ability to tear through a lineup three times through but has an entire career that says his dominant performances are outliers.
My guess is that Alex Cora views Eovaldi as the safer choice of the two. The problem with that is that Eovaldi has just as much, if not more, downside risk than Rodriguez. For example, Eovaldi’s lack of walks shows up in other ways, namely his propensity to give up hard contact. A perfect example of this was his August 10th start against Baltimore, where he allowed 10 hits and 8 runs in 2.2 innings. Rodriguez is the more visibly high variance pitcher whose performance can vary from inning to inning. He is more likely to fall into trouble with his command, but that gives Cora a chance to minimize damage if Eddy doesn’t have it that night while possessing the upside to throw six or seven quality innings, something Eovaldi doesn’t have a knack for doing.
The high variance option may blow up in his face or throw seven shutout innings. In the postseason where a quick hook will be used, the downside risk is mitigated and the upside is aggravated. If Rodriguez blows up in the first inning, Joe Kelly or Brandon Workman could come in to finish the inning and give way to Wright or Eovaldi to eat innings.
E-Rod’s cumulative numbers since returning haven’t been pretty. Four starts, 18.2 innings, and a 5.79 ERA. But in two of those starts, he wrecked opposing offenses, 5.2 innings and 12 strikeouts in his return against the White Sox. Two starts later against Toronto, he threw 78 pitches through six innings of one-run ball and struck out seven without allowing a walk.
Beyond the upside of starting Rodriguez, there’s significant upside to Eovaldi coming out of the bullpen and throwing 100 MPH fastballs complemented with 97 MPH cutters, an arsenal that should play up in short bursts better than Rodriguez’s.
What I take away from this decision is that Eovaldi has pitched very well against the Yankees three times since coming to Boston and Eduardo’s last start against New York was a clunker. From a supposedly sabermetric minded manager, I would expect better logic and reasoning than mincing apart a small handful of innings when the larger profile suggests you should choose the high variance arm as opposed to the suggested “safe play”. There’s nothing safe about Eovaldi. Starting Rodriguez and putting Eovaldi in the bullpen is a win-win situation that makes the team better in October.