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Who is Robbie Ross Jr?

Anthony Ranaudo was a promising fan-favorite down in Pawtucket. Given the current situation with the Red Sox pitching staff, it seems unusual to trade such a promising pitcher; especially for another young, relatively unproven pitcher. So who is Robbie Ross? Why did the Red Sox feel that he is more valuable than Ranaudo? And just as important, why did the Rangers believe that he wasn’t?

The Bad:

Robbie Ross had a 2014 that made Clay Buchholz’ campaign seem like it wasn‘t a big deal. “That seems a little harsh,” you might say. You’d be wrong. Ross started 12 games for the Rangers last year. He went 1-6 with a 5.70 ERA. Being bounced back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen, from AAA to the Majors, he found no consistency and combined his atrocious starting numbers with some equally abysmal relief work. All in all, he finished 2014 with a 6.20 ERA, a 1.7 WHIP and his worst career numbers in K/9, BB/9, HR/9, FIP and God only know how many other categories. That pretty much answers the final question from the previous paragraph. He had a lousy 2014.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Good:

So why do the Sox want him? Let’s look at his work before that. In 2012 and 2013 he was solely a reliever. He had a role carved out on a good-but-not-great team. His numbers from those two years? In 2012 and 2013 respectively, he had a 2.22 and 3.03 ERA. Not too bad. He had a 1.2 and a 1.31 WHIP. Also respectable. He went 10-2 as a reliever in those years (he also went 2-0 as a reliever in 2014 for the record). Want some more good numbers?

Here are some of his stats as a reliever from 2012 and 2013. We’ll compare them to the league average. I’m going to go rapid fire here so I don’t bore you. Home-run percentage: RR-1.1, 1.5 Ave-2.5. Wow. Percentage of hits for extra bases: RR-26, 25 Ave-33. Ground outs to air outs: RR-2.27, 1.53 Ave-1.11. Notice what I notice? He’s a very good ground ball pitcher. He doesn’t get strikeouts, but man does he induce grounders. Even in his horrific 2014 campaign, he still induced 1.19 ground balls per fly ball. The league average is .83.

What does this mean?

Well for one, he’s not really a liability. If he comes into a game with runners on 1st and 2nd with one out, he’s far more likely to get a double play than give up an RBI hit, or even a sac fly. This fits the mold that the Red Sox have been going with. Wade Miley and Clay Buchholz are on the high end of average for ground ball ratio. Rick Porcello, Justin Masterson and Joe Kelly are all way above average in that category. Robbie Ross fits right in.

Cherington’s apparent plan? Upgrade the defense with the surprisingly-agile Pablo Sandoval, get Xander Bogaerts back to a place where he feels comfortable, get Dustin Pedroia healthy, and then get a bunch of pitchers that will keep them active. Without a doubt, the Sox have positioned themselves to be a tough team to hit against, even without a strikeout guy or an “ace.” Would you want to play a four game set against a team where every starter keeps it on the ground and the first few guys out of the pen are even better at it? It will become disheartening very quickly.

What does all of this mean for the 2015 season? We can expect to see tons of double plays and a scarce number of home runs. The potent lineup should have little trouble backing up these ground-ballers with one extra-base hit after another. Robbie Ross Jr is a relatively small, though perfectly fitting piece of a much larger puzzle, and it should be a blast to watch.

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