Red Sox closers: Will the current strategy work long term?

Despite the bullpen being a bright spot for the Red Sox, fans are still calling for an impact arm. Red Sox closers have been effective, but Craig Kimbrel is not walking through that door. Perhaps a look at the numbers will ease concerns over the relief effort.

A change in the way the Red Sox handle the later innings

Instead of playing along with the standard MLB approach (having one man handle the Red Sox closersninth inning), the Red Sox brass have gone by committee this year. While Ryan Brasier has largely handled the closing duties, other relievers such as Matt Barnes have occasionally entered the final frame. Alex Cora has used Barnes in high leverage spots based on when the meat of the lineup is due up.

Barnes and Brasier have both found relative success in their roles

In 13 appearances, Barnes boasts the AL’s highest strikeout rate (50 percent) with three walks and a 2.08 ERA. Out of those 13 spots, five have come in the ninth, four in the eighth, once in the seventh, and he has pitched in both the seventh and eighth a pair of times. Barnes has had a steady rise over the years, and it has culminated into the impressive season he has put together so far.

However, Red Sox closers have combined to amass three blown saves through 11 chances. In comparison to the last three seasons with Kimbrel, that is a troubling trend. The team has already struggled to bring leads into the later innings. But the individual numbers suggest the Sox will be just fine.

Braiser has handled the bulk of the save opportunities, securing the game in six of eight tries. Despite his 2.57 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 14 innings, the calls to make a change were loud after he allowed a walk-off home run to Nick Delmonico (hitting about .150 at the time) against the White Sox on Thursday night.

Brasier has been a lot better than he’s earned credit for

An article by Alex Speier of The Boston Globe analyzed the work of Brasier between this season and last. HIs findings showed that the journeyman is still about as effective as he was in 2018. Although, he has allowed three homes runs through his 14 innings so far. That is one more than he allowed through 33.2 innings of work last season. Speier points out that there is not any direct reason for concern, as Brasier’s strikeout and walk percentages remain in tact. He is still generating lots of swings and misses with his fastball/slider/splitter makeup.

While fans might be uneasy about the plan’s long term success, Cora has put the team in a good position. There’s no analytical evidence that either Barnes or Brasier are in danger of coming undone. As long as they keep posting numbers like these, the Red Sox are in good hands.

Not Saying The Red Sox Need Pedroia, But Maybe?

The early struggles of the 2019 Red Sox derive from multiple departments. Starting at the top, Mookie Betts is 6-for-27 in the batters box, which is equates to a .222 batting average. That’s a problem. The team’s pitchers have allowed a total of 16 home runs in just six games. That tops the American League. The team’s poorest output, offensively speaking, has come from center field and second base. Jackie Bradley Jr., in 23 PAs, has a .174 on-base (OBP) and the combination of Eduardo Nunez and Brock Holt looks like this: 23 PAs, 2 hits, an OBP of .130, 2 steals, and 2 strikeouts. I’m not saying the Red Sox need Pedroia back, and I am not saying they don’t. But perhaps his admittance to the 25-man roster could do some good for this team.

Fact: The Red Sox did not need Dustin Pedroia last year to win the World Series.Red Sox need Pedroia

The team occupied Eduardo Nunez, Ian Kinsler, and Brock Holt at the keystone in 2018. Nunez reached base at a .289 clip and Kinsler’s .294 clip was in 143 PAs for the Sox. Holt, on the contrary, posted a .362 clip in 367 PAs.

Pedey played in just 3 games last season and in 2017, he logged 463 PAs in 105 games. He tallied 201 hits in 2016. It was just the second time in his lengthy career that he eclipsed the 200-hit mark.

Now at age 35, he’s on the outside looking in. His recovery from knee surgery has been a long, grueling process. His contract with the Red Sox expires in 2021. It has seemed that all along, he has been to do whatever needs to be done in order to get back to a playing role with this team.

According to Alex Cora, via Ian Browne of MLB.com, Pedroia is set to begin a minor league rehab assignment tomorrow with Low-A Greenville. He is expected to play in back-to-back games Thursday and Friday, have a day off on Saturday, and then play a full nine innings on Sunday.

So, how would Pedroia’s return be helpful? Some may actually view it as a distraction. The thinking is that the team needs to focus on winning games and not become distracted and emotional over the return of the “little leader.”

Pedroia is a true leader

While some may think that way, I believe that the opposing perspective is true. The one constant that has always remained with Pedroia is his leadership. When healthy, he is the first player in the clubhouse. He is all business. I’m not saying the Red Sox need Pedroia and his counsel, but that type of attitude could reflect well on Red Sox players at this juncture. Other than last season, Pedroia is a two-time World Series champion. He won a WS with Alex Cora as his teammate in ’07.

Pedroia is also recognized as a leader while playing the field. Besides being a four-time Gold Glove winner, Pedey helps his pitchers in other ways too. In 2016, while David Price was struggling on the mound during his first season in Boston, Pedroia helped point out issues he was seeing in Price’s arm mechanics.

In addition, Pedroia’s entry could break up some staleness in the Red Sox fielding depth chart. Brock Holt, who is known primarily as a utility man, could start to platoon more all around the diamond, instead of backing up Nunez at second. He could give players like Andrew Benintendi and Bradley Jr. breaks in the outfield on certain days. The same could be said about Nunez, whose must comfortable fielding position is said to be third base. I’m not saying the Red Sox need Pedroia, but more fielding flexibility could help loosen things up.

In 13 seasons, Pedroia owns an on-base percentage of .366. In some thinking, Pedroia could be this season’s version of 2018’s Kinsler, who owns a .339 career OBP along with two gold gloves, including one last year. Pedroia and Kinsler were teammates at Arizona State University in 2002 before Kinsler transferred to University of Missouri in ’03. Both Pedroia and Kinsler are four-time All-Stars as well. I’m not saying the Red Sox need Pedroia, but maybe he could be this team’s missing link.

Shockingly Poor Start For The Red Sox

Not what you expected to happen, right? The Sox played four meaningful games in March, one last night, and now it’s April 2nd. The team lost 3 of 4 in Seattle and were shut out last night in Oakland. To say the least, 2019 has been a shockingly poor start for the Red Sox.

The starting pitching has been horrific. Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi, Eduardo Rodriguez,shockingly poor start Rick Porcello, and David Price have now all pitched. The results are ugly: 26 earned runs and eleven home runs allowed in 21 innings. The bullpen has not been much better. The club’s eight relievers have all been used, and in 20 innings, have surrendered 20 hits, 7 earned runs, 4 home runs, and eight walks. Matt Barnes has collected the team’s lone save.

In regards to hitting, reigning MVP Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi, who bat one-and-two in the lineup, both have on-base percentages (OBP) of .250. Only Mitch Moreland, Xander Bogaerts, and J.D. Martinez own an on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) over .800. In comparison to other teams, Boston ranks in the top-5 in all hitting categories, but in the bottom-5 in most pitching ranks.

Now that we know all of that, we must address the key question, which is: what is going on with the Red Sox and why have they come out “flat” after winning the World Series last year?

Pitching is the problem

The starting pitching, besides Price’s performance last night, have not given the offense a chance to get going. 7 runs were allowed in the first 3 innings of game-1, 3 runs through two innings in game-2, 2 runs in the first inning of game-3, and 9 runs through 3 innings of game-4.

In 2018, the Red Sox were the only team that qualified for the postseason to have four hitters (with at least 500 plate appearances) record an OPS of at least .830: Betts, Benintendi, Martinez, and Bogaerts. First baseman Steve Pearce, who played in just 50 regular season games with the team down the stretch, recorded a .901 OPS. One could attribute Betts’s .598 OPS, Benintendi’s .375 OPS, and Pearce’s absence (calf injury) to the poor start for the Red Sox.

Also in 2018, Boston was the only team (postseason eligible) to have a player save more than 40 games with a WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) less than 1.00. That player? Craig Kimbrel – he is not back with the club this year. Kimbrel’s presence in the bullpen could factor in nicely moving forward and take some pressure off relievers.

Poor attitude

One factor to the shockingly poor start for the Red Sox that cannot be measured by statistics is their attitude. Their leader, manager Alex Cora, was asked during postgame if there was any concern following the team’s loss last night.

“Not really. It’s five games. When you go through stretches like this, it (stinks) that it’s early in the season, but yeah, we have to pick it up.”

Cora’s nonchalant demeanor is not changing the way the team is approaching games. The top of the lineup needs to get going. Cora announced today on MLB Network that Betts will move back to the leadoff spot. The starting pitching now starts its second turn. So far this season, Sox pitchers have allowed the most runs in the American League. They rank second-to-last in earned run average (ERA) and batting average against (BAA). In addition, Boston is the only AL team to not record a quality start.

Tonight’s first pitch is at 10:07 PM/ET. We’ll see if things start to change this evening in what has been a shockingly poor start for the Red Sox.

Red Sox Players’ WBC Performances

The 2017 World Baseball Classic was one that will go down in history. The combination ofWBC Performances flare for dramatics, swag, and genuinely good baseball will make sure of that. The best players in the world getting to represent their country is always a special event. For the fans, their favorite players from their favorite teams don a new jersey. Following Team USA’s exciting victory over Puerto Rico, it officially became time for Red Sox baseball. The team has been playing in spring training games and tuning the roster up for Opening Day. The participants who are also Red Sox players missed time with the team to play for their home country. Let’s see what their WBC performances consisted of.

Xander Bogaerts’ WBC Performance

The Netherlands were a team that did not have much big league talent. Regardless, the team made a push in the tournament to reach the semifinal. They were defeated by Puerto RIco by a score of 4-3 in 11 innings. The team’s best hitter was a man named Wladimir Balentine, who hit a whopping .615 in the tournament. Xander Bogaerts ultimately went 5-22 (.227) in 17 games, scored 5 runs, and drove in 2 runs. He has always been a “put the ball in play” type of hitter, and managed to only strike out once all tourney long. Bogey had a OBP of .419.

Red Sox Players’ WBC Performances

Fernando Abad threw 2 & 1/3 innings for the DOminican Republic in the WBC. He got a win for one of the most exciting teams in the tournament. Abad was 1-0, had an ERA of 0.00, stuck out 1 while walking 1, and gave up 2 hits. We’ll have to wait and see if he finds a spot back in the Red Sox bullpen this year.

It certainly would have been interesting to see what Hanley Ramirez could have done in the WBC for the Dominican Republic. Ramirez decided to not partake in the event due to a lingering shoulder soreness. He plans on returning to playing the field for Boston by the end of spring training.

The same goes for Eduardo Rodriguez. E-Rod has been pitching for the Red Sox during spring training, and was on the Venezuelan roster as one of the pitchers they could pick up later in the tournament. The team requested Rodriguez, but he denied the request. The Red Sox will continue to monitor Rodriguez’s situation with his knee, as well as simply watch the young man progress.

No Red Sox players emerged as heroes in the World Baseball Classic like some thought they would. The leadership and determination of Xander Bogaerts had to have played a role in the Netherlands semifinal run. Fernando Abad pitched in one game, while Hanley Ramirez and Eduardo Rodriguez simply did not partake. Now that the WBC is over, it is time for Red Sox baseball.