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Data Journalism: I’m sorry Boston, but the Sox can’t have it all

Photo courtesy of Cliff McBride/Getty Images

I’ll just come out and say it — the Red Sox will not have four 15-game winners in 2017.

Do I think the reigning AL East champs will staff a pitching rotation with the ability to do so? Sure. But, we don’t live in a perfect world, and four out of five pitchers earning victories in at least half of their starts isn’t all that common.

Just how common is it though?

In major league baseball’s 114 year history, it’s only been done 11 previous times. Out of those 11 occurrences, the onset of the new century has only seen two — the 2001 Seattle Mariners and the 2003 New York Yankees.

To be fair though, since 1985… three other staffs have accomplished the feat.

1986 New York Mets: Ron Darling (15-6), Dwight Gooden (17-6), Sid Fernandez (16-6), Bob Ojeda (18-5)

1993 Atlanta Braves: Greg Maddux (20-10), Tom Glavine (22-6), Steve Avery (18-6), John Smoltz (15-11)

1998 Atlanta Braves: Greg Maddux (18-9), Tom Glavine (20-6), Denny Neagle (16-11), Kevin Millwood (17-8), John Smoltz (17-3)

Yup, you read that right. The Braves had five 15-game winners in 1998! In their heyday, they staffed easily one of the best rotations in all of baseball. It’s a wonder that they only took home one world series title in the 90’s.

Sadly, the New York Yankees do exist and they surely robbed Atlanta of most of their glory.

But, with that being said, there is a sliver of optimism for the Sox considering nearly half of the 11 occurrences took place in the last 30 years. So, there is hope that it will happen once more before the end of the decade.

That hope will fall short though and I’ll tell you why:

First, I don’t think any argument needs to be made on whether newly acquired Chris Sale will win 15 games. Coming off a 17-win season with the White Sox and his fifth consecutive All-Star appearance, he’s almost a lock to win 15 games. It’s mystifying to me that he’s yet to even win a Cy Young — imagine that.

Of any pitcher in the last 100 years, he’s dominated the rival Yankees probably more than anyone.

screen-shot-2017-02-21-at-1-51-34-pm

The statistic above is tough to judge mainly because of its sample size, and it only tells so much due to the fact that the current Yankee roster has only accounted for 73 career plate appearances vs. Sale — according to baseballreference.com.

That’s not to say that it’s a meaningless stat, which it definitely isn’t, but it’s something to keep in your peripheral vision.

Additional support for Sale and even worse for AL East opponents, the Orioles were one of the worst left-handed hitting teams in 2016. I’ll put it frankly, there’s left-handed pitching, and then there’s Chris frikin Sale.

Also an added plus, Sale has made at least 26 starts in each of the past five seasons — indicating his ability to stay healthy. The left-handed ace is going to dominate the AL East in 2017 and as an Orioles fan, I can hardly wait to take it in.

Next up, left-handed ace David Price.

Almost on the same level as Sale, Price terrifies me to no end. In his nine seasons in the league, he’s eclipsed 15 wins on five different occasions and is frequently among the leaders in strikeouts each season.

The main thing holding Price back and really, the only thing, is his inability to stay healthy.

Whether it’s overworking or early career deterioration, he’s made less than 23 starts four of the past six seasons. Plain and simple, it’s extremely tough to rack up at least 15 wins in a season if you don’t make at least 30 starts. Unless you’re going out there every five days and mowing the competition down — a la Jake Arrieta in 2015 — or if your team’s bullpen is amongst one of the best.

I’m not saying Price won’t stay healthy for a full 162 game season, but it’s difficult to fathom that he won’t miss at least a handful of starts.

Most likely the third man in Boston’s rotation and looking to repeat his unreal 2016 season, is Rick Porcello.

The 28-year-old right-hander came into his own in 2016 and rattled off 22 wins, taking home the AL Cy Young award. He posted the best ERA of his career (3.15), the most strikeouts (189), and won at least 15 games for the second time in three seasons.

screen-shot-2017-02-21-at-3-45-59-pm
Courtesy of baseball-reference.com

Unfortunately, in this scenario… it’s tough to make a strong case for Porcello. Prior to his monumental 2016 season, he won at least 15 games in just one other season — 2014.

Helping his case though is the fact that in eight career seasons, he’s posted double digit wins in all but one. He’s never started less than 27 games in a season, and he’s never posted an ERA above 5.00.

I sincerely hope Porcello wins more than 15 games in 2017. I’m a stickler when it comes to consistency and only a few things irritate more than watching a pitcher put up a 20-win season, only to flounder the following year. At best, I’ll label Porcello as a “maybe” to win 15 games.

Rounding out the starting rotation: Steven Wright and Eduardo Rodriguez.

I’ll start with the knuckleballer. In four major league seasons, Wright has never won more than 13 games — which came in 2016. It’s incredibly tough to compare Wright to successful knuckleballers because one, he’s only made 35 career starts. And, two, his only full major league season came last year.

Further adding to the doubt, Wright is recovering from a shoulder injury heading into the 2017 season. His odds aren’t promising but I do think he’ll win 15 games somewhere down the road. I just feel that guaranteeing such a season in 2017 is premature.

Closing things out is left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez. The 23-year-old has a promising career ahead of him but in only 41 career starts, he’s just 13-13.

screen-shot-2017-02-21-at-3-18-06-pm
Courtesy of baseball-reference.com

He will undoubtedly win at least 15 games many times in his career, but coming off a season of battling injuries, a 15-win season in 2017 is quite the leap.

To conclude, I guarantee Sale will win 15 games in 2017. I’m not sure who between Price and Porcello, but one of them will join the club. The numbers just don’t back up Wright and Rodriguez and at most, I’ll crown the Red Sox with three 15-game winners.

Here’s to further discussion.

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