If the Red Sox Lose David Price…

Heading into spring training, it looked as though there were five clear favorites for division titles plus the prospect of an interesting battle in the American League West. As in any year, injuries were always likely to have some kind of influence on those various divisional races. Now, still at the beginning of March, it’s possible that such an injury has already occurred: according to Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe, Red Sox left-hander David Price is seeking a second opinion on his elbow from Dr. James Andrews. The phrase “second opinion” combined with “James Andrews” isn’t frequently associated with ideal outcomes, and the Red Sox “are not optimistic” about the situation, per Jeff Passan.

If Price does indeed undergo Tommy John surgery and misses the 2017 season, the big advantage possessed by the Red Sox over the rest of the division would diminish considerably. Looking at the projections that include Price, the Red Sox profile as one of the very best teams in baseball, according to our Depth Chart Projections.

FanGraphs Depth Charts Projected WAR
Team Bat Pit WAR
Dodgers 25.3 25.9 51.1
Cubs 27.4 22.5 49.9
Indians 24.4 23.3 47.7
Red Sox 23.8 22.7 46.5
Astros 26.7 19.7 46.4
Nationals 21.8 22.4 44.2
Giants 22.0 20.2 42.2
Blue Jays 23.9 17.2 41.1
Mets 17.1 22.6 39.6
Mariners 20.5 17.9 38.5
Yankees 18.8 19.2 37.9
Pirates 20.5 17.1 37.6
Angels 21.7 15.5 37.2
Cardinals 19.5 17.7 37.1
Orioles 20.8 15.7 36.5
Rangers 19.5 16.3 35.8
Rays 18.3 17.3 35.6

These are the top-17 teams by projected WAR — a group that includes all five AL East teams. Unsurprisingly, Jeff Sullivan noted just yesterday that the AL East looks to be the toughest division in baseball. David Price is currently projected for 4.7 WAR, seventh-highest total in baseball, although not highest on his team, as the Red Sox’ trade for Chris Sale would still leave the Red Sox with a clear ace and front-of-the-rotation starter. Entering the spring, Boston’s staff was heavy on the top and very light on depth. When Eno Sarris examined starting pitching depth recently, the Red Sox were near the bottom of the league.

The Boston rotation still features Chris Sale and Rick Porcello. Eduardo Rodriguez projects to be roughly league average, and Drew Pomeranz should be better than that in the innings he does pitch. That’s still a pretty good front four. At the fifth spot, Steven Wright is a pretty good guy to have, as well. Before the injury, our projections had him pitching throwing just under 100 innings at a league-average rate. That’s really good for a fifth starter. We can probably add another 50 or so innings to Wright’s totals and get half a win back of what the team might lose with Price. After that, though, it’s tough to mitigate the loss of Price.

Teams generally count on eight starters per year making significant contributions. Teams averaged around 10 starters total per season. After Wright, the Red Sox are looking at a combination of Roenis Elias, Brian Johnson, Henry Owens, and maybe a return to the rotation from Joe Kelly. Given Rodriguez’s youth (which might cause his innings total to be monitored )and Pomeranz’s injury risk, we can probably look for 100 innings from these starters without accounting for another major injury. Here’s what those players have done and what they are projected to do this season if called upon.

Red Sox Starting Pitching Depth
MLB IP Career ERA Career FIP Projected ERA Projected FIP
Henry Owens 85.0 5.19 5.00 4.98 5.15
Roenis Elias 286.2 4.21 4.33 4.69 4.71
Brian Johnson 4.1 8.31 4.52 4.77 4.82

Not a looker in the bunch. Owens had 21 strikeouts and 20 walks in 22 innings last season over five starts. The 24-year-old has had problems issuing walks throughout his professional career. Roenis Elias pitched decently for the Seattle Mariners in 2014 — not quite average but decently above replacement. In 2015, he was a little bit worse than that in fewer starts for Seattle, and last season, he walked more than 10% of hitters in Triple-A, only appearing in three MLB games. Brian Johnson pitched well in Triple-A during both 2014 and 2015, struggled to start 2016, missed time after admirably coming forward with anxiety issues, and did pitch a little better on his return, recording a 4.01 FIP and 2.90 ERA in 11 starts.

There’s also the Joe Kelly option. Kelly is currently tapped to be an above-average reliever for a solid Red Sox bullpen, but he has been a mediocre starter in the past. It’s not really clear that Kelly would provide more value to the Red Sox as a starter than in the bullpen. So where does that leave Boston?

They’re probably fine for right now. If they want to keep their current advantage on the division, they could double down with the White Sox and bring over Jose Quintana, but that doesn’t seem very likely, even with Dave Dombrowski at the helm. On the free-agent market, Colby Lewis hasn’t closed any doors and Doug Fister is very available. Either one of them should be able to provide innings better than the Red Sox’ current options after their top five. The Red Sox could also hold tight for a while, wait until they have an actual need, and then trade for an innings-eater on a lesser team.

Outside of the Quintana option, the Red Sox are staring at a four-win loss just as the calendar is flipping to March. Looking at the projections above and removing four wins from the Red Sox pitching staff means that league-wide, the Red Sox move closer to the middle. They’re still in pretty good shape, though, as the amended table from above indicates.

FanGraphs Depth Chart Projections Without David Price
Team Bat Pit WAR
Dodgers 25.3 25.9 51.1
Cubs 27.4 22.5 49.9
Indians 24.4 23.3 47.7
Astros 26.7 19.7 46.4
Nationals 21.8 22.4 44.2
Red Sox 23.8 18.7 42.5
Giants 22.0 20.2 42.2
Blue Jays 23.9 17.2 41.1
Mets 17.1 22.6 39.6
Mariners 20.5 17.9 38.5
Yankees 18.8 19.2 37.9
Pirates 20.5 17.1 37.6
Angels 21.7 15.5 37.2
Cardinals 19.5 17.7 37.1
Orioles 20.8 15.7 36.5
Rangers 19.5 16.3 35.8
Rays 18.3 17.3 35.6

The Red Sox are still one of the best teams in baseball, but their lack of pitching depth could prove troublesome later on the season. Here’s what the divisional race looks like for the Red Sox.

FanGraphs Depth Chart Projections Without David Price
Team Bat Pit WAR
Red Sox 23.8 18.7 42.5
Blue Jays 23.9 17.2 41.1
Yankees 18.8 19.2 37.9
Orioles 20.8 15.7 36.5
Rays 18.3 17.3 35.6

Where the Red Sox were once clear favorites, the division could now be a toss-up. Boston was projected for 93 wins before the Price news, seven games clear of the Toronto Blue Jays. Now, the teams will be within a few games of each other. The Red Sox were able to avoid the Wild Card last year and looked to be in great position to do so again this year. If the team lacks a healthy David Price, though, that task will be a whole lot tougher.

We hoped you liked reading If the Red Sox Lose David Price… by Craig Edwards!

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Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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Mike D
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Mike D

The biggest benefactors might be Cleveland or Houston if they were to face Boston in the playoffs, assuming these teams make it there.

Nasty Nate
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Nasty Nate

– insert joke about David Price playoff woes here –

thetoddfather
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thetoddfather

– insert an emotional overreaction to the joke with a SSS claim here –

LHPSU
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LHPSU

– insert irrelevant Clayton Kershaw downvote bait here –