Although it’s still very early in the season, the Boston Red Sox should always be looking for ways to improve their roster. That being said, it would be smart if they started to consider trading starting pitcher Felix Doubront.
On a team that has gone 20-10 out of the gate, the 25-year-old left-handed Doubront has been a weak link.
Although he is 3-1 in five starts, he has a 5.67 ERA and an unsightly 1.70 WHIP.
Questioning whether or not the Red Sox should explore trading the southpaw isn’t a kneejerk reaction to a poor outing, but rather it is about assessing his long-term prognosis and the possibility that the team may have better options.
Last year was Doubront’s first full-season in Boston’s starting rotation. He went 11-10 with a 4.86 ERA in 29 starts, but he struggled down the stretch, with just a 1-5 record and 6.04 ERA in his final nine starts.
A sign of a promising young player is their ability to be hungry and improve with each passing season. That has not happened for Doubront.
Boston manager John Farrell and pitching coach Juan Nieves also worked with the pitchers this spring in order to pick up their pace between pitches. They believe doing so reduces the pitcher’s likelihood of thinking too much, plus it gives the added benefit of possibly keeping hitters off-balance.
According to FanGraphs.com, Boston’s returning starters—Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and John Lackey—have all shaved between 1.4 and 2.6 seconds off their pace between pitches from the previous year (2011 in Lackey’s case). However, Doubront’s 2013 pace between pitches of 23.5 seconds is nearly identical to last year’s mark of 23.9.
Doubront’s struggles with rising pitch counts have impacted his ability to pitch deep into games. FanGraphs.com shows that he averaged 17.8 pitches per inning last year and has seen that rise to 18.8 this season. As a result, he has never thrown more than seven innings in a game, and he has only reached that mark three times in his 37 career starts.
He is averaging 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings so far this season, which is higher than his 9.1 K/9 career average. Despite such gaudy numbers, his stuff has not been the same. The 90.3 mph that FanGraphs.com shows him averaging on his fastball is 2.5 mph lower than last year and represents a career-low.
Doubront doesn’t have an explanation for his drop in velocity either, telling WEEI’s Rob Bradford, “It’s weird, man. It’s nothing that’s bothering me. It’s so weird. I can’t explain it. I just keep throwing, and we’ll see.”
Farrell also expressed his concern about the velocity dip. He told MLB.com’s Ian Brown, “Little bit of concern… When he tries to get his better velocity, that’s when he starts to lose command.”
There is no evidence that Doubront is injured, so one has to wonder if his mechanics or his conditioning is out of whack.
His inability to make adjustments and improve upon areas requiring growth should be concerning to the Red Sox. There is no doubting his promise as a pitcher, but would Boston be better off just trading him?
Trading pitching, especially left-handed pitching, can be a risky proposition given its premium in the game.
The Red Sox do have the luxury of having a top pitching prospect—right-hander Allen Webster—lurking in the minors, awaiting a spot in their starting rotation.
The 23-year-old has electric stuff and was impressive during a spot start with the big league club on April 21. Although using him as a replacement for Doubront would place high expectations on the rookie, Webster would still offer significantly higher upside.
Admittedly, trading Doubront right now would mean dealing him while his value is at its lowest. But with 12 major league teams currently holding cumulative staff ERAs of 4.00 and above, it’s a near certainty that there would be substantial interest.
The Red Sox have been rumored to be interested in shoring up their catcher position, and Doubront could be the perfect bait. He’d also be the starting point in any trade talks that could help the team address any other area of need.
The important thing to remember is that Boston doesn’t have to trade Doubront. They should only do so if they have become too frustrated by his effort and production, or if they think it could help the team.
Regardless, it’s a question they should seriously ponder.
Statistics via Baseball-Reference (except where noted)