Thornton Off to Thorny Start

Thornton

Thornton’s early struggles have me worried.

The Red Sox could have used another lefty in the pen along with Andrew Miller.  When Miller went down for the year the front office needed to add a southpaw.  The Sox lamented the idea of trading a prospect for a veteran reliever, but their hand was forced.  Why the hesitation pre-Miller injury?

Let’s review the tape.

Eric Gagne, 2007

In 2007 Gagne was elite with the Texas Rangers.  In 34 innings he gave up only eight earned runs.  When he came to Red Sox near the end of the trade deadline fans rejoiced.  Unfortunately, the cheers soured as quickly as Gagne’s career did in Boston.  In twenty games he gave up fourteen earned runs.  His ERA ballooned from 2.16 to 3.81.  The prospect traded to the Rangers? David Murphy, who has averaged a .278/.340/.444 line and double digit jacks every year since the trade.

Mark Melancon, 2012

Melancon was solid for the Astros in 2011, saving twenty games.  He was brutal for the Sox in 2012.  He served it up every time he went out finishing with a 6.20 ERA in 45 innings.  We gave up middle infielder Jed Lowrie.  Lowrie is now on the A’s and hitting a cool .283.

Andrew Bailey, 2011

This shouldn’t be hard to remember.  The former rookie of the year did not pitch his first year for the Sox.  He came back this year only to struggle and ruin his shoulder. Yep, you guessed it, out for the year.  Who did we give up? Josh Reddick, who hit 35 bombs his first full season with the A’s.

You can’t judge a guy by past player’s performances, but there is no denying the Sox terrible track record of trading for relief.  Let’s hope Thornton can break the mold.

A Load of Bull: The Bullpen Needs to Step it Up

Bullpen

If only Andrew Miller’s command were as good as his beard

When Ben Cherington added Joel Hanrahan and Koji Uehara to the bullpen this offseason, it looked like he’d created a real strength for the team. Those two arms solidified a stable that already included Andrew Bailey, Junichi Tazawa, Andrew Miller and Craig Breslow. The Sox pen was on track to be one of the best in the AL.

The Sox bullpen really should be good. Given the talent it’s stocked with, the pitching expertise of Juan Nieves and John Farrell, and the team-first attitude that’s helped bullpens in Baltimore and Tampa Bay, the Sox pen looks on paper to be an immovable object. Some of the numbers testify that it has been as much; Sox relievers have a 3.19 ERA, certainly a strong number. But the passable statistics belie a bullpen that has blinked in tough situations.

It’s impossible to talk about the bullpen’s struggles without noting the Sox’ 9th inning implosion. Joel Hanrahan doesn’t even deserve discussion, and although Andrew Bailey initially looked to be a decent replacement, he hit a snag when he blew a save against Tampa Bay and didn’t manage to recover before losing his job this past weekend. The absolute futility of Bailey’s pitching was pretty amazing, with the three-walk performance in Tampa and the instantaneous collapse in Detroit standing out. There’s nothing physically wrong with him, as far as we know. He just hasn’t been able to take the heat, folding completely under the pressure of a normal save situation.

Bailey isn’t the only one who hasn’t pitched the way he should. The Sox bullpen as a whole has underperformed its talent, with a pedestrian 11-10 record (the Yankees bullpen is 12-7). That’s ten times that the pen has let a game get away, not counting blown saves or games they couldn’t keep close. Take the infamous Nava-drop game in Detroit; yes, they were on the wrong end of a blown call, but instead of responding with confidence, they let the game slip away.

Closers aside, the pen has actually been pretty solid, but it could be much better. The continuing struggles in high-leverage situations, where good bullpens thrive, are a mystery. Many great closers struggle in non-save situations: they need to feed on the pressure. Sox relievers have been doing the opposite, letting the pressure eat them alive. For a good ‘pen, that’s a load of bull.

Bailing on Bailey

Bailey

I’m sick of this Bailey bro.  He was hurt all last season which  might not have been so bad. At least he couldn’t blow saves on the DL.  And another thing, Josh Reddick, the dude we traded for Bailey, raked last year. How many home runs did he hit you ask? 32.  He hit 32 home runs.  Bailey didn’t even pitch that many innings last season.  Plus Reddick’s beard is way cooler than Bailey’s peach fuzz. Seriously look at this beard:

josh-reddick

It’s mesmerizing. Where were we? Oh god that beard it’s so–Right Bailey! It’s at the point where the 7th and 8th are cake with Koji and Tazawa, but once Bailey enters, I feel like I am back at my first middle school dance: nervous and sweating from weird places.

To be fair, Bailey was sort of thrust into the role.  When Hanrahan unexpectedly hit the 60 day DL Bailey went from set up man to closer over night.  But this isn’t a role Bailey should be unused to.  When he was Rookie of the Year with Oakland he was the closer–as a rookie–it doesn’t get more sudden than that.

Bailey is officially out with three blown saves in his last five chances, and a 4.03 ERA on the year.  So, where do the Sox go from here?

Tazawa is likely first in line, as he’s gotten other chances this season.  Koji could be in the mix as well, but he’s been so dominant as the set up man, Farrell would like to keep him there.

Ortiz Returns, Nava Blasts Way into History

ortiz

Our F’n City indeed!

Big Papi captured the feelings of Boston with his perfect pre-game speech.  Even the FCC couldn’t hate on it:

Ortiz expressed his feelings in the biggest of settings at Fenway and the crowd erupted in agreement.  He was not only returning to Boston, he was making his 2013 debut.  Papi looked comfortable at the plate with a sharp single to right field in the fourth then an RBI single up the middle to tie the game in the sixth.

Players rarely out-clutch Papi, but Daniel Nava did just that with a three run blast in “a fantastic finish to a great day” as Farrell put it in his post-game conference.

The Royals were close to spoiling the emotional return, leading 2-1 in the eighth.  Until Nava’s dinger found Koji Uehara’s glove in the bullpen that jumped for joy after catching it.  The Sox have walked off twice this year, but this Nava round-tripper was easily the most important hit of the young season. And this won’t be the last clutch hit of the season, but no hit will approach the epic of this majestic moonshot; as if the Sox could use any more momentum after back-to-back series sweeps against the Rays and Indians, respectively.

The Sox got off to this torrid start without the heart of their lineup in Ortiz. Now that Papi is back I would not want to face the Sox.  There are other hot teams in the MLB right now like the Braves and Rockies, but they melt in comparison to the Sox right now.

However, the Sox are not without their flaws.  Andrew Bailey didn’t make things easy in a nail-biter ninth, giving up a solo shot to Lorenzo Cain who was hitting everything in sight today.  Bailey then gave up a single and a walk before inducing a grounder to Stephen Drew to end it.  You got the feeling that Bailey wasn’t too sure where the ball was heading after he let it fly, but he hit his spots when he truly needed to eking out the save.  It was shaky, but after Nava’s heroics Bailey had no choice but come through.

That being said it will be interesting to see what happens once Hanrahan returns.  Farrell hasn’t guaranteed Hanrahan’s role will be waiting for him once he returns, “I don’t think we’re sitting here today ready to make that claim”.  The Goateed Gasser signed a one year deal for $7.04 mil and signed with the intention of closing.  But early year struggles, most notably a blown save against the O’s then a hamstring injury, may have Farrell looking elsewhere in the bullpen.  The pen was considered a strength for the Sox entering the season and was shut down early on.  But after these recent ninth inning inconsistencies questions are lingering.  Hanrahan should get a chance to regain his role, but expect a short leash from Farrell.  This team is about winning and is not worried about roles (excluding the 9.5 mil for Drew).

If Bailey and Hanrahan can’t lock things down (this is highly hypothetical) I love Koji Uehara.  He gets pumped up and is capable of slamming the door.  His split is straight nasty, just ask Nick Swisher

Enough of this speculation, it’s tiring me out. I’m just going to bathe in the glory of this win.