The Boston Red Sox are in need of something every World Series winning team has.
The Red Sox want to win a World Series, but they seem to be automatically one piece short right now? Why?
Because they don’t have an ace. Look at every team that has won a World Series since the turn of the century (2001-present). All of them at the very least had a solid number one starter or a budding ace, while a decent number of teams had a legitimate ace at the top of their rotation.
I could go through all the teams, but in recent years the worst number one starter for a World Series team was Max Fried for the Braves, who I would consider a budding ace. Then you take a look at the other previous teams that won a World Series and you get names like Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg (plus Patrick Corbin), Chris Sale, Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel, Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta (plus Kyle Hendricks), and even the 2015 Royals team had someone who was considered an ace, as they traded for Johnny Cueto midseason.
So how do the Red Sox get an ace for the 2023 season and beyond? One answer would be to get Chris Sale healthy, but there are more questions than answers when discussing Chris Sale and his potential impact on the Red Sox moving forward. Another answer could be signing a free agent to a deal, but the only true ace on the market would be Jacob deGrom, and my guess is the Mets give him all the money in the world.
They could sign a Rodon or Bassitt and hope they develop into a legitimate ace, but either of them would come at a hefty cost in free agency. They could trade for a starter, but even trading for a borderline ace is going to cost a lot, and I don’t think the Sox are in a position to deal from their farm system in a big move quite yet. So that leaves just one option.
If the Red Sox win a World Series in 2023, they might not have that true ace, but they will have a budding ace. That budding ace will be Brayan Bello. Even if the Sox don’t win a World Series next year, I think Bello can be at the front of the Red Sox rotation. The Red Sox haven’t had a homegrown pitching prospect turn into something close to special as a starter since Jon Lester, but Brayan Bello is the guy to break the Red Sox’s curse of not being able to develop starting pitching.
Why is Brayan Bello the guy to turn around the Red Sox fortunes when it comes to developing starting pitchers? There are a few reasons, but let’s start with what makes Bello special. His stuff.
Brayan Bello’s changeup might be the best pitch in the entire organization. Heck, his changeup might be one of the best changeups in all of baseball, right up there with guys like Devin Williams, Sandy Alcantara, and Shane McClanahan. Here are the stats against changeups from all 4 of these pitchers:
Pitcher A: .175 xBA (expected batting average), .239 xSLG (expected slugging percentage), .209 xwOBA (expected weighted on base average) 30.3% Hard Hit Rate
Pitcher B: .154 xBA, .207 xSLG, .238 xwOBA, 14.8% Hard Hit Rate
Pitcher C: .184 xBA, .238 xSLG, .201 xwOBA, 25.8% Hard Hit Rate
Pitcher D: .171 xBA, .212 xSLG, .218 xwOBA, 22.5% Hard Hit Rate
Without me even saying which pitcher each of these changeups belong to, you can see that all four are elite changeups. And Bello is in that group. In that group, Pitcher B has the best xBA, xSLG, and Hard Hit Rate. Pitcher A is Sandy Alcantara, Pitcher C is Shane McClanahan, and Pitcher D is Devin Williams.
That’s right, Pitcher B is Brayan Bello.
When you compare Bello’s changeup to the changeups of teammates Garrett Whitlock and Michael Wacha, Bello’s changeup grades out as the best. If we look at the same stats as we did with Bello, Alcantara, McClanahan, and Williams, it shows just how good Bello’s changeup is compared to his teammates that Red Sox fans see so often.
Brayan Bello: .154 xBA, .207 xSLG, .238 xwOBA, 14.8 Hard Hit Rate
Michael Wacha: .172 xBA, .254 xSLG, .238 xwOBA, 21.1% Hard Hit Rate
Garrett Whitlock: .208 xBA, .308 xSLG, .244 xwOBA, 29.1 % Hard Hit Rate
Bello’s changeup reigns supreme, and his other pitches will only get better as he continues to develop. When he is on, his sinker is hard to hit as well, and it has some crazy characteristics.
Bello’s sinker has been compared with Luis Castillo’s. However, Bello’s might be even more freakish. Both Castillo and Bello throw a four-seamer, sinker, changeup, and slider. So they have a similar pitch mix, but the percentages aren’t exactly the same because Castillo’s fastball is his elite pitch, whereas the changeup is the standout pitch for Bello. But Castillo is a good comparison for Bello when it comes to pitch movement, especially when it comes to the sinker. Here’s how their sinkers match up:
Luis Castillo: 96.8 MPH, 23.3 inches of drop, 17.8 inches of break
Brayan Bello: 96.2 MPH, 25.7 inches of drop, 17.2 inches of break
So Bello’s changeup is elite in results, and he has similar characteristics in his sinker to a proven ace in Luis Castillo. But there’s one thing I haven’t mentioned that is super important to look at when talking about Brayan Bello in his short time in the majors so far. That one thing is that he might be the unluckiest pitcher in the history of baseball.
When you go onto a site like Baseball Reference and see Bello’s 5.10 ERA, it doesn’t look good. But that doesn’t tell anywhere near the full story. In Bello’s last 5 starts he has a 2.84 ERA. If you just take out his first two starts, he has a 3.93 ERA in 8 appearances (6 starts). Even a 3.93 ERA looks a lot better than a 5.10 ERA. But the story still isn’t done.
Hitters facing Brayan Bello are hitting .298, but their expected batting average (xBA) is .236. Hitters have a .395 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) against him. What does that mean? Hitters are essentially getting four hits for every ten balls they put in play. A big reason for that has been bad luck. The league average BABIP is normally around .300. Hitters are also batting .329 on ground balls against Bello.
When you start to look at some slightly more advanced stats, Bello looks even better. I’m not going to bore you with advanced stats, but I’ll leave you with one stat that is in Bello’s favor. That stat is his fielding independent pitching (FIP), which sits at a lofty 2.76. As a starter, his FIP is 2.71. That ranks 11th in the MLB for starters who have at least 30 innings pitched as a starter. The only guy ahead of Bello with less than 100 innings is Jacob deGrom, who is first.
- Jacob deGrom (1.45 FIP)
- Spencer Strider (1.83)
- Carlos Rodon (2.27)
- Kevin Gausman (2.41)
- Shohei Ohtani (2.50)
- Max Scherzer (2.53)
- Shane McClanahan (2.60)
- Aaron Nola (2.62)
- Justin Verlander (2.64)
- Clayton Kershaw (2.66)
- BRAYAN BELLO (2.71)
- Shane Bieber (2.78)
There are Cy Young winners and Cy Young candidates in that group. Bello is right there with them, and he is only going to get better. Eventually, he can grow into the Red Sox ace. I believe that the final piece to Bello becoming an ace will be the Red Sox catchers.
Catching will play a big role in Brayan Bello’s continued development. Bello has pitched to three different catchers at the MLB level, Christian Vazquez, Reese McGuire, and Connor Wong (who he also pitched to in Triple-A). Here’s how Bello fared with each catcher behind the plate:
Christian Vazquez: 4 G, 16.1 IP, 8.82 ERA, Hitters slashed .371/.470/.557/.1.027 (BA/OBP/SLG/OPS) with a .456 BABIP
Reese McGuire: 4 G, 15.2 IP, 2.87 ERA, Hitters slashed .262/.313/.279/.592 with a .348 BABIP
Connor Wong: 2 G, 10.1 IP, 2.61 ERA, Hitters slashed .231/.318/.231/.549 with a .346 BABIP
Bello has taken a step forward with McGuire and Wong behind the plate. This is not me saying Vazquez is a bad catcher or anything like that. There has probably been significant progression from Bello since Vazquez last caught him. But to have two catchers that Bello seems comfortable with is so important. Adam Wainwright might be a good pitcher without Yadier Molina, but he is great with Molina. McGuire and Wong are both solid defensive catchers, which can be a big boost for a young pitcher.
The last thing to mention is that every Red Sox fan should have faith in Brayan Bello continuing to get better because of his work ethic. Bello has clearly shown that he wants to improve, and he has taken big leaps every single year since signing with the Sox in 2018. He does occasionally struggle with some things, such as inconsistent command and getting through the lineup the second and third time. Those are things that almost every young pitcher, if not all young pitchers, struggle with at times.
The sky’s the limit for Bello, who at just 23 years old, has been one of the few bright spots for the Red Sox in 2022.