Photo credit: Kelly O'Connor

Photo credit: Kelly O’Connor

Juan Nieves was widely considered the Red Sox scapegoat after the team relived him of pitching coach duties on May 7th. Under the watch of the third year coach, the Red Sox starters began the year as the leagues bottom feeders in almost every statistical category. Still, the blame for the team’s slow start was not shouldered by the players, and instead handed off to the highly regarded pitching guru, Nieves.

Enter Carl Willis, who has spent time in the league as both a pitcher and a coach. Farrell and Willis forged a friendship during their time in the Cleveland Indians organization in the early 2000’s. Under Willis’ tutelage in Cleveland, pitcher’s Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia came into their own and both won Cy Young Awards in 2007 and 2008 respectively. After a 7 year stay with the Indians, Willis assumed the pitching coach duties in Seattle, where he mentor his third Cy Young winner in Felix Hernandez. Following a two year hiatus from the game, Willis was named the pitching coach of the Columbus Clippers at the start of the 2015 season.

After a brief stay with the Clippers, the Red Sox selected Willis to be the new voice of the pitching staff, two days following Nieves’ departure. Since taking over at the helm, the Red Sox pitching staff has performed at a much higher level than they were under Nieves. In his first 10 games as pitching coach, Red Sox starters hold an ERA just over 2.oo, which is among the league’s best. As a result of Willis’ more aggressive pitching philosophy, Red Sox hurlers have averaged just two walks a game and have educed nearly 50% of ground balls. Perhaps subsequently, Boston holds the highest left on base percentage in the MLB over the past week, stranding nearly 90% of base runners.

But just like all of the blame for the rotation’s struggles could not be placed on Juan Nieves, all of the staff’s current success can not be given to Carl Willis. While it is true that the Red Sox have been pitching better, one could argue that they are just finally figuring things out. Through the month of April, Red Sox starter’s fielding independent pitching (FIP) stats were, at most, 4 runs higher than their earned run average. Indications that a pitcher like Clay Buchholz was getting shafted was not just shown in his ERA/FIP deviation, but also in his .404 opponents BABIP.

Whether it is Willis’ philosophy clicking with the pitching staff, the Red Sox starters finally figuring things out, or some combination of both, things are looking up for the staff. Carl Willis might not be able to turn Joe Kelly into a Cy Young Award winner, but he seems to have the ear of the rotation; something that Juan Nieves may have lost.

  • So far this season, Xander Bogaerts is answering the questions regarding his defense that have surrounded him since entering professional baseball. The 21-year old has long been considered a candidate to move off of his native shortstop and play third base or the outfield. However, Bogaerts appears to have made defensive strides during the offseason, and looks like a more polished defender. (Red Sox finally getting a shortstop in Xander Bogaerts)
  • The Red Sox starters have been better of late, but Boston could look to further stabilize their rotation with a trade. With the Oakland Athletics reeling, Boston could look to a starter like veteran southpaw Scott Kazmir to provide some help. In turn, the A’s could look to Red Sox prospect Deven Marrero to fill the void left by the departure of Addison Russell. (Could the Red Sox trade Deven Marrero for Scott Kazmir?)
  • Struggling first baseman Mike Napoli made the most of being stuck in a plane for 6 hours with a plethora of baseball talent at his disposal. During the team’s flight from Seattle to Boston, Napoli confided in Dustin Pedroia to help him try to turn around his early season struggles. Together, the two watched film of Napoli’s swing and broke down what was ailing the first baseman’s mighty cut. (Plane ride that might have saved Mike Napoli’s season)
  • Tweet of the day: Bullet: Dodged