To say Tyler Thornburg has been a disappointment for the Boston Red Sox would be a dramatic understatement. Thornburg initially arrived in Boston in exchange for a heavy trade package headlined by Travis Shaw and Mauricio Dubon. This trade backfired for the Red Sox, as Thornburg missed all of 2017 and pitched just 24.0 innings to the tune of a 5.63 ERA and a 6.04 FIP in 2018. The Red Sox gave Thornburg one last chance in 2019, but can he make good on this final opportunity?
2019 Boston Red Sox Player Previews: Tyler Thornburg
A lot of the blame for Thornburg’s 2018 can be placed on his 2017 injury. Thornburg was hit hard by thoracic outlet syndrome, ending his 2017 season before it began. This injury takes a while to come back from, and the righty clearly wasn’t himself in 2018. His control was erratic, his strikeout rate was the lowest since 2013, and he simply left too many hittable pitches over the plate.
That said, there are reasons for optimism, even if they’re few and far between. For one, Thornburg’s fastball velocity was right around where it normally is. According to Fangraphs, Thornburg finished 2018 with an average fastball velocity of 92.9 miles per hour. By comparison, his average fastball velocity over his career is 93.0 miles per hour. This suggests that Thornburg is still capable of being a good pitcher and last years’ rough number were due to rust more than diminished ability.
Additionally, it’s not like Thornburg was a disaster every time he hit the mound. Surprisingly enough, Thornburg didn’t allow an earned run in 17 of his 25 appearances. This rate, while not fantastic, isn’t actually that bad. However, when it rained, it poured, as most of Thornburg’s bad outings were truly horrific. That said, Thornburg’s 17 scoreless appearances should give the Red Sox enough to be cautiously optimistic about Thornburg entering 2019.
Thornburg’s biggest goal needs to be getting back on the mound, staying there, and then finding his 2016 form. The Red Sox gave up a kings’ ransom to get Thornburg back in 2016, and it’s easy to forget just how good he was. Thornburg finished 2016 with a 2.15 ERA and a 2.83 FIP while striking out 12.09 batters per nine innings. He’ll never be good enough to justify the trade, but the Red Sox can still hope to get something out of him.
The Red Sox bullpen is in something of disarray right now. Craig Kimbrel is still available on the open market, but guys like David Robertson, Adam Ottavino, and Kelvin Herrera are already signed. Additionally, the Red Sox already lost Joe Kelly to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The bullpen needs somebody to step up, and Thornburg is in perfect position to be that guy. Thornburg signed a one-year non-guaranteed deal prior to arbitration, so he’s very much fighting for a job. If he can’t make the team out of spring training, it could spell the end for him major league career.
Steamer Projections believes that Tyler Thornburg will remain healthy for the duration of 2019. The projection website has him pitching 55 innings, which would be the second-highest total of his career. However, they’re not expecting the good Tyler Thornburg to return. Steamer expects Thornburg to finish the 2018 season with a 4.81 ERA and a 4.82 FIP. These numbers are pretty bad for a reliever, meaning that Steamer doesn’t think that the 2016 Tyler Thornburg can come back.
Expecting 2016 Thornburg is a stretch, but the righty should be able to beat these projections. Thornburg had a lot working against him in 2018, as he clearly struggled with rust after missing a year and a half of game action. However, he was still good in a surprising amount of his outings and should only get better with a full, healthy off-season. He may not be the closer this year, but look for Thornburg to play a consistent role on this team and finish the year with an ERA in the mid- to high-3’s.
Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com (Feb. 19, 2018 – Source: Elsa/Getty Images North America))
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