Remember the immediate few days following the Chris Sale trade, when the media started talking about the Red Sox having a super rotation? I guess it made sense at the time, adding someone as accomplished as Sale to two former Cy Young winners (David Price, Rick Porcello). Still, the rotation never felt like it would be overly dominant. Even our former Cy Young winners had question marks entering the year.
The rotation now has even more questions here in September, with the playoffs just a month away. Who knows if Price is coming back (if he does the Sox should consider using him as a reliever), Porcello isn’t close to anything we saw from him last year, and Eduardo Rodriguez is the definition of blah. At this point there’s a real chance Doug Fister makes a playoff start for the team this year. I would strongly prefer that didn’t take place in an elimination game, which likely means we need Drew Pomeranz to step up, pitch game two of the ALDS, and give the Sox a chance to win.
At his worst Pomeranz is one of the least enjoyable starters I've ever watched pitch in a Red Sox uniform. It's late career, Dice-K-esque. He takes his time between pitches, nibbles around the strike zone corners when up in the count, and is the king of throwing 50+ pitches by the end of the third. This is why I never thought we'd be here...discussing Pomeranz as potentially our second best option come October. But here we are and the numbers back him up. In 20 starts since May 20th "Dwew" has a 2.78 ERA with 115 strikeouts in 113 1/3 innings. When looking at his stats during this stretch and comparing them to his career numbers the one that jumps out is home runs allowed per nine. Pomeranz has done a much better job in this department this year, after struggling mightily with it a season ago.
So how has Dwew turned himself back into Drew? One theory is that he's simply executing his pitches better. Pomeranz is so dependent on his curveball that he's not the type of guy who can "find ways to win" when "not having his best stuff". Pomeranz only throws a curve, cutter, and fastball, so if his main weapon isn't working he becomes predictable (and very hittable). It's why many thought he would perform better as a reliever. His breakthrough with the Padres last year came from two adjustments, though. One was throwing the curve more often (it's his best pitch so why not)? The second was learning the cutter, which is a perfect compliment to the curve to go after righties with.
When everything is clicking Pomeranz uses a tough-to-hit curve that can be thrown both for strikes and to generate swings and misses. He then uses a fastball with high spin rate to attack up in the zone and induce pop ups. Lastly he uses his cutter to come inside on righties and to pitch away to lefties. Pomeranz is naturally forced to nibble and get guys to hit his pitches. This leads to him walking more guys than you'd like, but they're not as big of a deal since he averages over a strikeout per inning (walks are never a good thing, but they're more manageable if a pitcher can get swings and misses).
The early, high pitch counts mean Pomeranz is never going deep into games. It's not ideal but it's less of an issue in the playoffs, when bullpens can (and should) enter the game early. The question then becomes who in the Sox pen besides Craig Kimbrel do we trust? Ultimately Pomeranz just needs to go out and do for the team what he has done all year: pitch well enough to give the offense a chance to win the game. Game 1 of the ALDS is probably going to pit Chris Sale against Justin Verlander or Corey Kluber. Should we lose the fate of the season turns to a guy we called "Dwew" for the first half of the year. That's not something I expected to happen when we were supposed to have a super rotation, but Pomeranz is the best we got right now. Let's fucking have it.