Boston Red Sox: Best starting rotation in Major League Baseball?

With a trio of aces leading the way, the Boston Red Sox could potentially have the best starting rotation in Major League Baseball.

A starting rotation that already boasted the reigning Cy Young winner paired with a former recipient whose career resume earned him a record-breaking contract last winter got even better when the Boston Red Sox traded for Chris Sale last week.

Boston now boasts a trio of aces that has made their rotation the envy of the baseball world, but are they the best collection of starters in the majors?

Based on what we saw from this group in 2016, they may very well be. According to FanGraphs, the New York Mets had this year’s best starting rotation with a collective 18.3 WAR, while the Toronto Blue Jays had the best American League staff at 15.3 WAR. Boston had the league’s next best rotation, coming in at 13.9 WAR. There was still a sizable gap between them and Toronto, but the Red Sox rotation still had the seventh highest WAR in the majors.

That’s right, an offensive powerhouse that led the majors by a mile in runs scored also had the second best pitching staff in the AL. Now they’ve added a pitcher that has finished in the top six in Cy Young voting in each of the last five years.

Sale and Rick Porcello tied for the league lead with 5.2 fWAR this year. As much as critics want to harp on David Price for what they consider to be a down season, he pitched better than his 3.99 ERA would suggest. Price led the league in innings while piling up strikeouts, which FanGraphs found valuable enough to rate him seventh in the league at 4.5 WAR. These three pitchers combined for 14.9 WAR, which is higher than Boston’s entire rotation this year and nearly equaled the league leading total from the Blue Jays.

Now factor in All-Star Steven Wright (2.8 WAR) and the emerging Eduardo Rodriguez (1.2 WAR) and suddenly that total pops to 18.9 WAR, which would have been the best in baseball this season.

Can we count on the 2017 staff to be this good? Not necessarily. Maybe Porcello takes a slight step back from his breakout year or perhaps Sale struggles to adjust to the pressure of Boston. It’s possible, although it’s not as if either of those guys is suddenly going to see their production drop off a cliff.

We can expect Price to bounce back, considering he posted 6.0+ WAR seasons in each of the previous two years. Wright’s value would have been higher if he hadn’t missed the last two months of the season after John Farrell‘s boneheaded managerial decision to use him as a pinch-runner resulted in a shoulder injury. We’ve only see the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the 23-year old Rodrigeuz’ potential.

All of this is to say that this rotation has the potential to be even better than projections based on this year’s WAR totals.

Injuries are always a risk that can derail any team, but the Red Sox have other options to turn to if they need someone to fill in. Drew Pomeranz should be better this year after getting acclimated to the AL East, while starting the year in the bullpen will keep his innings in check to avoid the fatigue issues that may have accounted for his second half fade. If the Red Sox don’t trade Clay Buchholz, he’s shown that he can successfully jump from the bullpen back into the rotation.

Turning to either of those options certainly isn’t ideal, but teams rarely make it through an entire season with the same five-man rotation intact. At some point they’ll need another pitcher to fill in and the depth that the Red Sox have will prevent them from relying on guys like Roenis Elias, Sean O’Sullivan or Henry Owens. Those three combined for 10 starts this year, producing -0.4 WAR. Don’t forget about Joe Kelly, who should thrive in the bullpen but posted a -0.1 WAR over his six dreadful starts before the team finally wised up and converted him into a flame-throwing reliever. With seven viable starters at their disposal, the Red Sox are less likely to resort to these fringe-level pitchers.

Boston’s star-studded rotation may be top heavy, but there is depth on this roster and plenty of upside coming from the back end. A lot can happen between now and October, but at least on paper the Red Sox would seem to have a rotation that can rival any in the major leagues.

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