Kevin Gausman

Four potentially undervalued pitchers Red Sox could target this offseason

Four potentially undervalued pitchers Red Sox could target this offseason

It's time for the Red Sox to start thinking like a small-market team, because burning money in the name of their rotation could have dire consequences that stretch well into the 2020s.

With Chris Sale, David Price, and Nathan Eovaldi set to earn $80 million annually through 2022 despite being major injury risks, the Red Sox will need to bargain hunt to fill the rest of their rotation. So where might they turn?

The key will be finding undervalued assets. One way to identify them is to look for pitchers with the biggest disparity between their ERA and FIP.

The latter — fielding independent pitching — is an ERA-like number derived from the events a pitcher can directly control: walks, strikeouts, home runs, and hit by pitches, the idea being that everything else is in the hands of the defense. FIP has its flaws, because it operates on the assumption that a pitcher can't impact balls in play, which means hurlers aren't credited for the majority of their outs, but it can still be a useful tool.

A wide spread between a pitcher's ERA and FIP can suggest bad luck or bad defense that mask some underlying strengths. The Red Sox, interestingly enough, looked a lot better as a staff via FIP than ERA, led by Chris Sale (4.40 ERA vs. 3.39 FIP), David Price (4.28 vs. 3.62), and even Rick Porcello (5.52 vs. 4.76).

Their staff ERA of 4.70 surpassed their 4.28 FIP by the widest margin of any team in baseball. Defensive metrics are notoriously spotty, but Fangraphs ranked Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts dead last at his position in defensive runs saved, saying he cost the Red Sox 19 runs. Similarly, center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. (minus-2) and third baseman Rafael Devers (minus-13) were considered negatives, too. Bogaerts and Devers aren't going anywhere, but Bradley, a defending Gold Glover, is likely to be traded this winter. The Red Sox could also upgrade their defense at second base.

In any event, we're drifting a little far afield. The point is finding opposing pitchers who significantly underperformed their FIP, which could make them targets this winter. Here are four names to remember.

1. Joe Musgrove, RHP, Pirates

A first-round pick of the Blue Jays in 2011, Musgrove was traded to the Astros a year later before joining Pittsburgh as the centerpiece in the 2018 Gerrit Cole blockbuster. He made a career-high 31 starts this year, going 11-12 with a 4.44 ERA that masked a 3.82 FIP.

Those relatively middling numbers still established the 26-year-old as Pittsburgh's most effective starter, and he remains under team control through 2022.

With the Pirates in what feels like an eternal rebuild, it's hard to imagine they'd consider any player untouchable. Musgrove could make for an intriguing target.

2. Kevin Gausman, RHP, Reds

Gausman is a non-tender candidate, since he's set to make at least $10 million in his final year of arbitration. Chosen fourth overall in the 2012 draft by the Orioles, Gausman was once considered a top-10 prospect.

He has yet to live up to that hype, but he's better than the numbers suggested last year between Atlanta, where he posted a 6.19 ERA (and 4.20 FIP) in 16 starts, and Cincinnati, where he found use as a reliever (4.03 ERA, 3.17 FIP). Gausman struck out a career-high 10 batters per nine innings and is still only 28, so perhaps a flyer is in order, particularly if other teams are viewing him as a reliever and the Red Sox give him an opportunity to start.

3. Spencer Turnbull, RHP, Tigers

How does the AL's loss leader sound? Pitching for a woeful team, Turnbull went just 3-17 with a 4.61 ERA in 30 starts. His 3.99 FIP suggests better stuff than results, however, and he doesn't become a free agent until 2025.

Turnbull throws 95-97 and is considered a piece of Detroit's future, but it never hurts to ask. The 27-year-old went winless in his final 18 starts and is a late bloomer who was still pitching in Double A at age 25.

4. Pablo Lopez, RHP, Marlins

The rookie went 5-8 with a 5.09 ERA in 21 starts, but his 4.28 FIP and low walk rates (2.2 per nine innings) suggest some promise. The 23-year-old hails from Venezuela and can't become a free agent until 2025. He features a low-90s fastball and changeup, and the Marlins like his competitiveness. Being the Marlins means they're in perpetual fire-sale mode, however, and Lopez is worth a look.

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Orioles catcher excited 'to get the hell out of Boston'

Orioles catcher excited 'to get the hell out of Boston'

There’s still one more game to go for the Orioles in Boston in this series. Catcher Caleb Joseph has had enough.

Joseph flipped his lid Wednesday when home-plate umpire Sam Holbrook tossed his pitcher, Kevin Gausman, in the second inning because of a curveball that didn’t curve and instead caught Xander Bogaerts in the lower back.

Joseph thought the ejection was ridiculous, which it was. But the sideshow that's been attached to this Orioles-Red Sox series has gone over the top, in his mind.

"I think the video shows I was probably the most shocked person in the stadium. I could not believe that he ejected,” Joseph said. “I am not trying to bury Sam here, but we're so ready for this thing to be over. We're so ready — I am the most excited person to get the hell out of Boston. I mean, let's get on with it and get out of here. Let's get out of here and play ball. That's all we want to do in here is play ball. 

“I hope it dies down, but who knows. When the decisions are in the hands of the umpires, you don't know. These teams are good. And to pitch, you have to pitch to certain parts of the plate. Period. And you have to establish certain pitches. It's freezing outside. The balls are slick, guys are trying to make pitches. Certain guys stand certain places on the plate. You have to execute pitches. What if a guy is on the plate standing on the white chalk and his elbows are leaning over and it's a strike and you throw it near his elbow. Is it an automatic ejection?”

Joseph suggested collaboration between the umpires, as is seen in other instances. But ejections aren’t exactly the kind of thing umpires have a history of undoing.

“There's too much gray area right now,” Joseph said of what his pitchers can and can’t do. “It prohibits us playing the game. It prohibits pitchers doing what they are trying to do to get outs. We don't have the Chris Sale who throws 97 and strikes out the world. We have guys who use their pitches in certain locations to get guys out. We have Gold Glove caliber defense, period. They have to go in there and make certain pitches and a curveball got away from a guy and he got ejected. It's malarkey. It's freaking BS.”

Bogaerts said he thought it was possible that because the pitch was straight at him the whole time, Holbrook couldn’t see that it was a breaking ball rather than a fastball. Sox manager John Farrell said he was surprised by the ejection.

Holbrook held steady after the game, though.

“Just given the situation and the tension between the two clubs and all the stuff that’s gone over the past few weeks, we’re all on high alert with anything,” Holbrook told a pool reporter, Ken Powtak of the Associated Press. “I know that the ball was a curveball, but it hit him square in the back and just making a split decision at that point right there, there needs to be an end to this stuff, and I felt like an ejection was the right thing to do at that time, and that’s what we did. Thankfully, we didn’t have any more problems the rest of the game.” 

Gausman called the ejection “bush league,” and noted that if he’s going to get tossed for a breaking ball hitting someone in the back, a warning should have been issued before the game. Gausman pointed out the injustice of Chris Sale not being tossed for a high-90s fastball that went behind Manny Machado on Tuesday.

Of course, one was, in a sense. The commissioner, Rob Manfred, spoke to both Farrell and O’s manager Buck Showalter on the phone.

Red Sox beat Orioles, 4-2, amid flurry of ejections

Red Sox beat Orioles, 4-2, amid flurry of ejections

Hours after Major League Baseball held a conference call to tell the Red Sox and Orioles to stop their festering feud, Baltimore starter Kevin Gausman was ejected in the second inning for hitting a batter and Boston went on to win 4-2 Wednesday night.

Orioles center fielder Adam Jones was later tossed, too, soon after being upset by a called strike. On Monday night, the All-Star was the target of racial slurs at Fenway Park, prompting apologies from the Red Sox, the mayor of Boston and the governor of Massachusetts.

Gausman was tossed by plate umpire Sam Holbrook after what appeared to be a curveball hit Xander Bogaerts. Catcher Caleb Josephslammed his mask on the plate and manager Buck Showalter bolted from the dugout to argue. Gausman looked puzzled, at first, and then hollered.

Before the game, the teams talked to MLB chief baseball officer Joe Torre, with Red Sox manager John Farrell saying the message was "Enough is enough" after Boston pitchers recently threw at Orioles star Manny Machado. On April 21, Machado made a late slide that injured Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia.

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