Could the Red Sox Overcome the Possible Loss of David Price?

The Red Sox are fearing they could lose Price for the 2017 season. If Price did miss the year, how might the rotation shape up without him?

In the past few days, the focus on David Price has been on his feet and the two-step they perform as he comes set in his windup. Now, the attention of every Red Sox fan, player and front office member has shifted to his left arm.

Just two weeks ago, top-prospect Alex Reyes became the first casualty of a young baseball season. With any luck, Price won't become the second. But after he began to experience forearm soreness during a simulated game on Tuesday, the Red Sox are taking no chances.

The five-time All Star and former Cy Young winner will travel to the NFL Combine to get a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews, the grim reaper who hides in shadowy corners of pitchers’ darkest nightmares, his scythe ready to slice into the most valuable and volatile commodity in sports: a pitcher’s elbow.

Forearm soreness isn’t new for Price during spring training. Farrell said it’s something he’s gone through when ramping up to a full season’s workload in the past, but that this pain “has a little more intensity.”

Look no further than Jeff Passan, whose New York Times Bestselling book “The Arm” delved into the disarray and disaster inside pitching elbows and the epidemic of Tommy John surgeries, to get a sense of just how bad this could be.

Should Price receive the worst news and have to miss the season, where does this leave the American League-favorite Red Sox and their prized rotation?

Sales Pitch

Not many teams have the luxury of (potentially) losing a Cy Young winner, and still having two more Cy Young-caliber starters in their holster. In addition to Chris Sale -- who has made five consecutive All Star appearances and not finished worse than sixth in AL Cy Young voting in any of those seasons -- the Red Sox also have the 2016 Cy Young winner Rick Porcello.

Only 11 pitchers have thrown more than 1,000 innings over the last five season as Sale has during his starting career. The only two with a better ERA than Sale’s 3.04 are Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner. His 26.2 fWAR in that span ranks fourth among starting pitchers, just behind Price, Max Scherzer and Kershaw.

The addition of Sale already appears crucial for the Red Sox with looming fears that Price could be a candidate for Tommy John. What does the rest of the rotation look like?

Steven Wright experienced shoulder pain for the last two months of last season, which upon further review was bursitis teamed with rotator cuff irritation. The knuckle-baller pitched effectively in 24 starts after making just 11 in the first three years of his major league career.

Drew Pomeranz experienced forearm soreness of his own last season after moving from San Diego to Boston. But the 28-year-old has pitched remarkably well in his last three seasons, posting a 127 ERA+.

And should Price miss the season, or at least significant time, Eduardo Rodriguez may sneak in as the fifth starter. Rodriguez pitched well in 21 starts as a rookie in 2015, posting an ERA and FIP under 4.00 with a 112 ERA+. Last season was not as encouraging a performance, when he pitched 107 innings of 4.71 ERA ball while striking out 100 and walking 40.

Were the Red Sox to lose Price without having acquired Sale, the team's rotation would likely have been below average. Now with him, it’s possible that they can still post better than league-average numbers. What would those look like?

Rotation as a Whole

Here are what the projections, per our models, currently look like for the five players mentioned above who would likely make up the starting five if Price misses the season.

Player Innings ERA WHIP
Chris Sale 216 3.39 1.08
Rick Porcello 196 3.83 1.15
Drew Pomeranz 147 3.74 1.24
Eduardo Rodriguez 142 4.13 1.30
Steven Wright 103 4.18 1.31

Using those ERA and WHIP figures, the five Red Sox pitchers would post a 3.79 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. Keep in mind that Wright, Rodriguez and Pomeranz are all projected to throw between 140 and 147 innings, and if Price misses the season, their workloads would probably increase. The implications of that being that their ERAs and WHIPs, which are typically below those of Porcello and Sale, will be weighted more heavily with increased innings totals.

Still, those increases should leave the team well within the margins as an above-average rotation. That rotational ERA would have to raise a full half-run -- from about 3.79 to 4.30 -- to approach the 2016 league average for starters, which was 4.34.

Let’s break that down even further. Using our starting pitching projections, I narrowed down each team to their projected rotation using the five starters with the highest innings projections this season. For the purposes of this worst-case scenario exercise, Price is removed from the Red Sox rotation and replaced by Rodriguez. Using our “nF” pitcher scores, or nERD scores, we can tally the projected effectiveness of each starting rotation. (A pitcher's nF score represents the number of runs prevented by comparison to a league-average pitcher per game.)

RankAbove-Average RotationsnF
1Chicago Cubs31.06
2Washington Nationals19.32
3San Francisco Giants15.02
4Cleveland Indians14.64
5New York Mets14.13
6Toronto Blue Jays8.46
7Los Angeles Dodgers4.98
8Houston Astros3.82
9Boston Red Sox2.92
10Tampa Bay Rays2.47
11Detroit Tigers2.45
12Seattle Mariners2.46
13Philadelphia Phillies1.97
14St. Louis Cardinals1.95
15New York Yankees1.38

Even without Price, the Red Sox rotation, by these calculations, will not only be above average, but they'll be a top-third rotation in the league. They slot in ninth with a 2.92 nF score. The average rotation’s nF score is projected to be 0.34.

For context, with a healthy Price, the Red Sox rotation was projected for a 19.13 nF, good for third in the league behind only those of the Nationals and Cubs. So Price is definitely a big loss, but it's not a crippling blow.

Chris Sale, numberFire’s sixth-ranked starting pitcher, and Price, our 12th-ranked starter, are one of four sets of teammates to rank within the top 12 of our projections. The others are Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg in Washington, Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto in San Francisco, and Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta with the Cubs.

2017 Outlook

While initial concerns emanating from Red Sox camp in Fort Myers, Florida, are serious, a David Price-less rotation is by no means a disaster. It’s nowhere near ideal for the Sox to lose their second-best starting pitcher, and they may drop from their perch as American League favorites if this is in fact a significant injury for Price.

But the rotation, at least, will still be among the better starting groups in the league.