A team long on starting options but short on lefty handed relievers, Boston decided to take another of their starting pitchers and ship him out, this time sending Anthony Ranaudo to the Texas Rangers. In return, the Red Sox acquired Robbie Ross Jr., a 25 year old left handed pitcher.
Ranaudo made his Major League debut this past season with seven starts down the stretch and did not look to crack the Red Sox 2015 rotation. The only sure thing in the Sox pen that's left handed is Craig Breslow with Drake Britton and Tommy Layne the only other left handed relievers on the 40 man. Boston is betting Ross can get back to his previous form when he was used as a reliever only, and getting out of Arlington will certainly help. Let's take a deep look into Ranaudo before getting to Ross and a look at the deal as a whole.
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Anthony Ranaudo really came on the baseball map in 2009 as he led LSU to a CWS title as a sophomore and positioned himself to be one of the top college pitchers selected in 2010. Elbow injuries and ineffectiveness led to him falling to the supplemental first round and Boston selecting him with the 39th overall pick. Pure domination of the Cape Cod league led to him getting a $2.55M signing bonus the day of the deadline. He debuted the following year, splitting his time between the two A ball levels. A strained groin and shoulder inflammation limited him to just nine starts in 2012 with AA Portland with terrible results.
A return engagement with AA Portland started of the 2013 season for Ranaudo. All 6'7 of him logged him 109.2 innings with the Sea Dogs with a 2.96 ERA, a 3.63 FIP, and 1.09 WHIP while issuing 40 free passes (9.1%), striking out 106 (24%), and allowing 80 hits and nine home runs. He enjoyed the benefits of a .250 BABIP and 76.1% strand rate while limiting Eastern League hitters to a .204/.280/.333 line. Ranaudo got a post trade deadline promotion to AAA Pawtucket where he threw 30.1 more innings of 2.97 ERA ball with 21 strike outs (16.7%) to just seven walks (5.6%). He only let one ball leave the yard while allowing 32 hits with a 1.29 WHIP, a 2.94 FIP, and .320 BABIP to go with a 74.5% strand rate. Over the course of the entire season, he tossed 140 innings and limited the opposition to a .219/.287/.337 triple slash. Right handed hitters stepped into the box 358 times and only managed to hit .220/.277/.336 with 71 punch outs to 24 walks with nine of the 10 home runs surrendered. In 210 PA's against opposite handed hitter, Ranaudo only allowed them to hit .217/.303/.337 with 23 walks and 56 strike outs. He got balls on the ground at a slightly below a league average clip of 41.2%, but induced infield flies at a 10.7% rate, and line drives at a 14.3% rate, both much better than league average. He also showed slight fly ball tendencies with a 0.92 GO:AO ratio.
After a successful first crack at the AAA level, he broke camp back in Pawtucket where he made a total of 24 starts throughout the year, made his MLB debut in August, and finished the year in the Red Sox rotation. While a member of the PawSox, the 24 year old right hander threw 138 innings with a 2.61 ERA, a 3.86 FIP, and 1.20 WHIP with a .264 BABIP and 79.4% strand rate. Ranaudo punched out 111 (19.5%) while walking 54 (9.5%) with 112 hits allowed, nine homers, and a 14-4 record. As a member of the Red Sox rotation, he threw 39.1 more innings with a 4.81 ERA, an ugly 6.89 FIP, and 1.40 WHIP. He surrendered 16 walks (9.4%) to only 15 strike outs (8.8%) with 39 hits allowed, including a ridiculous 10 home runs. The proclivity towards the long ball combined with his extremely low .225 BABIP and a very high 82.9% strand rate skews his FIP in a very unfavorable direction. While International League hitters mustered just a .222/.293/.352 triple slash and nine home runs off the Jersey native across 568 plate appearances, MLB hitters tagged him with a .260/.324/.540 line including seven bomb shots in just 170 plate appearances. Following suit with his 2013 season, Ranaudo was better against left handed hitters (.229/.325/.387), but walked 45 (12.3%) with 67 strike outs (18.3%). Right handed hitters technically hit better at .234/.286/.393, but Ranaudo was able to limit the walks better (25 BB, 6.7%) while still striking out 59 (15.9%). The batted ball profile skews heavily to the fly ball side, posting a 36.4% GB rate in AAA and 35.4% rate in the MLB. He did a great job inducing infield flies (12.6% in AAA, five points better than league average), and he also posted line drive rates below league average at 17.9% in AAA and just 18.3% in MLB. His GO:AO ratio reached new lows at 0.64 and 0.59 in AAA and the majors, respectively.
He's lost a few ticks on his fastball in the last few years, now sitting in the low 90's and topping out around 96 mph. There isn't much movement on it, and its straight as an arrow when he elevates it. His saving grace with the heater is he fills the zone with them, just not always quality strikes. He threw it 66% of the time in his brief MLB trial and it averaged 91.6 mph. The money pitch is a nice 12-6 curve in the high 70's that looks like a plus pitch when you take into account he can throw it where he wants and can use as a put-away pitch. It was his main secondary, being used 20.8% of the time, and averaged 77.5 mph. He's got two more below average offspeed pitches with a low 80's change up that he hangs over the plate too much, and a mid 80's slider/cutter he just began developing. His 6'7, 230 pound frame could withstand the rigors of 200+ innings, but he's still trying to be more consistent with his mechanics, which is a challenge for guys his size. The only pitch he has shown good command of has been the curve, but if it steps forward for any of his other three offerings he could project as a solid back end starter with a #3 ceiling.
The biggest thing Ranaudo can do next year is improve command of his fastball. Keeping it out of the upper quadrants will be key, especially moving to the hitters haven out in Arlington where fly balls can turn to home runs very easily. His extreme fly ball tendencies give me pause with that home park, but maybe there's something Texas sees that can help him avoid Marco Estrada-esque home run totals. Despite the modest scouting reports, Ranaudo has taken home the Pitcher of the Year honors for the Eastern and International Leagues in the previous two seasons. I think he battles for the #5 spot in the rotation during spring training and wins it.
Robbie Ross has spent the last three years with Texas, the first two seasons exclusively out of the bullpen with fantastic results after starting throughout the minors. Due to the extensive injuries that blew through the organization, Texas had to try and use Ross as a starting pitcher again. Once spring training ended, he found himself in the Rangers starting rotation, making nine starts before being demoted to the pen, then AAA to get stretched back out. He posted decent numbers with AAA Round Rock, making nine starts and three relief appearances spanning 60.1 innings with a 4.33 ERA and 4.73 FIP while striking out 43 (16.9%) and walking 16 (6.3%). He made a handful of spot starts down the stretch, and finished the year with 12 MLB starts, 15 relief appearances, and a downright ugly 6.20 ERA and a 4.74 FIP. Ross threw 78,1 innings for the parent club, striking out 51 (14%) with 30 walks (8.2%), a .351 BABIP, and 58.9% strand rate that really hurt his overall line. He threw a total of 138.2 innings throughout the year, his highest total since 2011 (his last season in the minors before becoming a full time reliever), with an opponents triple slash of .305/.367/.446 with 16 home runs and 45 extra base hits. A 56.3% ground ball rate in AAA and 50.8% rate with Texas, paired with a 2.23 GO:AO ratio with Round Rock and 1.66 GO:AO ratio with Texas show his proficiency in getting the ball on the ground.
Boston is certainly hoping he returns to his 2012-2013 form when he posted a 2.62 ERA, a 3.29 FIP, and 163 ERA+ over 127.1 innings with a 19.7% strike out rate and 7.9% walk rate. In his 2012 debut, he didn't show any platoon split with both sides coming in with an OPS around .620, but a sharp one developed in 2013 as he held right handed hitters to a .523 OPS and left handed hitters tagged him with a .950 OPS. The split went the other way last season with a .768 OPS against lefties and .834 OPS against right handers. Some good luck on balls in play could improve those numbers, and with the ridiculous average he had to deal with last year, you could expect some regression to normal levels.
I think this is a fair swap as you really have to be hesitant of an extreme fly ball pitcher moving to the Rangers and that ballpark. If Ranaudo can't keep the ball down, he's going to have issues that would likely be remedied by a move to the pen where his modest fastball could play into the mid 90's. Ross had already established himself as a solid bullpen piece before this past season, and he could get back to that with a more defined role, more favorable results on balls in play and a better strand rate. This could all change though if Ranaudo's slider develops faster than expected and he can stay away from the top of the zone.