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.

Red Sox Bullpen Has Become A Mess

To begin the season, Boston’s starting pitching was the team’s biggest weak link. Now, the starters have begun to settle down. Chris Sale allowed two runs yesterday and struck out 10 through five frames. Rick Porcello is coming off his best start (5.2 innings, 2 earned runs). After allowing 11 earned runs in his first two starts, Eduardo Rodriguez has permitted just 5 earned runs in his past two. Hector Velázquez has started three games since April 7 and has done a nice job in his role as a spot-start pitcher. And David Price has been the club’s best starter through four starts: 3.75 ERA,1.04 WHIP, 30 k’s in 24 innings. The Red Sox bullpen, however, after having started the season on a strong note, has reverted to become a complete liability.

In yesterday’s day-night double header against the Tigers, in game 1’s top of the 5thRed Sox Bullpen inning, Chris Sale escaped a jam. Runners were on first and third with Detroit’s best hitter (Niko Goodrum – .838 OPS) at the plate. Sale struck him out looking to keep the game tied at two. Heath Hembree then relieved Sale in the 6th, and allowed a solo home run to Detroit’s Ronny Rodriguez (career .645 OPS). The Red Sox were now suddenly playing from behind.

Two innings later, with the score tied 3-3, Colten Brewer was called on to pitch. He eventually escaped the inning on a double play, but not before he allowed 3 runs to cross the plate. Going into the bottom of the 8th, with six outs left for Boston, Detroit had taken a 6-3 lead. The Red Sox ended up losing 7-4.

Game 2

In the night cap, the first reliever out of the ‘pen was Marcus Walden. He came on in the top of the 4th inning, with the bases loaded and one out. He did not deliver and, consequently, surrendered a bases-clearing double to Brandon Dixon (career .636 OPS). The Tigers took a 3-0 lead.

In the next inning, manager Alex Cora called on southpaw Darwinzon Hernandez. It was his major league debut after being (temporarily) recalled earlier that day as Boston’s 26th player for the double header. He threw 50 pitches in 2.1 innings, allowed four hits, one walk, and struck out four.

With one out in the top of the 7th, with the Tigers still leading 3-0, Hernandez was replaced by Travis Lakins, making his ML debut. Lakins was recalled between games for reliever Bobby Poyner, who, in two appearances, owns a 18.00 ERA for the Red Sox. Lakins pitched 2.2 innings. He threw 34 pitches and allowed 1 earned run.

The Red Sox bullpen has become a mess

David Dombrowski’s Red Sox bullpen experiment is starting to become embarrassing. In an interview with NESN correspondent Tom Caron on April 11, Dombrowski was quoted saying, “Overall, we’re very happy with them (bullpen) and they have good stuff and we think they’ll continue to pitch well for us.” We now find ourselves just two weeks removed from that conversation. Things have changed.

Poyner and Erasmo Ramirez have both been summoned from Triple-A. They each pitched poorly and Ramirez was designated for assignment after being signed to a minor-league contract in the offseason. Heath Hembree, Tyler Thornburg, and Colten Brewer all have earned-run-averages (ERA) above 5.50. Brewer’s sits at a disgusting 8.31.

Matt Barnes started the season superbly with just one earned run in his first 7 appearances. In his last two games, though, he has a blown win, a blown save, and has allowed two home runs in late-game situations.

Ryan Brasier, Brandon Workman, and Marcus Walden have all been terrific, with ERA’s of 1.59, 2.61, and 2.38, respectively. But, Walden was optioned to Triple-A by Dombrowski on April 15 after allowing earned runs in back-to-back appearances against the belittled Orioles. He was recalled on April 20.

How does Boston’s bullpen stack up?

In comparison to all other American League teams, Dombrowski’s bullpen has the fifth highest ERA (4.87). The bullpen has allowed the fourth-most hits and second-most runs, earned runs, and home runs. What’s most eye-opening is that Red Sox bullpen relievers have allowed 30 more runs than Houston Astros relievers this season.

Cemented starter Nathan Eovaldi underwent surgery yesterday on his elbow and will not pick up a baseball for six weeks. The club is now stuck with four starters. There is a chance that a fifth starter arrises before Eovaldi comes back, but that scenario seems unlikely. Hector Velázquez will continue to be a spot-starting option, especially with Brian Johnson still on the shelf. Perhaps Darwinzon Hernandez gets called back up and becomes a spot-starter? Nonetheless, the Red Sox bullpen will be subject to a heavy workload.

Dombrowski has reached into his pockets and has spent $335 million dollars on Sale, Eovaldi, and Xander Bogaerts since December. This is the Boston Red Sox. Hence, no one is going to scrutinize the front office for going all in. How do they do that? Cough up some more dough for Craig Kimbrel or Dallas Keuchel, who surprisingly still remain on the free agent market. Kimbrel would add stability to the ‘pen and Keuchel could eat up innings as a fifth starter. Keep Keuchel as a starter the rest of the way, and, when Eovaldi is ready to return, have him stay in the pen.

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.

The Case for Matt Barnes, 2019 Closer

If we’ve learned anything about how Red Sox President of Baseball Ops Dave Dombrowski, it is that when he says he is going or not going to make a particular move, that tends to be true. On numerous occasions this off-season, Dombrowski has been quoted as saying that “major moves will be unlikely” when addressing the bullpen. With Craig Kimbrel riding the free agency pine, the franchise turns to the arms that it already has. This is the case for Matt Barnes, 2019 closer.

Barnes has shown steady improvement each season

When Barnes was taken in the first round of the MLB June Draft in 2011, the Matt Barnes, 2019 closerConnecticut was taken out of UConn as a starting pitcher. Given his pitch arsenal and powerful four seam fastball, it made more sense to the organization that Barnes move to the bullpen to help the major league squad.

Initially, upon entering the big leagues, Barnes became slightly walk prone, and has posted particularly troublesome home/road splits thus far in his career. But the numbers do not lie. Barnes has shown consistent improvement across the board in each of his three full major league seasons.

If Matt Barnes, 2019 closer is going to be a legitimate thing, then he will need to continue that upward trend he has been on. Let’s take a look at Barnes’ 2016-2018 seasons to get a feel for how he has improved:

2016: 62 G, 66.2 IP, 4.05 ERA, 62 H, 71 K, 3.72 FIP

2017: 72 G, 69.2 IP, 3.88 ERA, 57 H, 83 K, 3.33 FIP

2018: 62 G, 61.2 IP, 3.65 ERA, 47 H, 96 K, 2.71 FIP

While these numbers might not show exponential increases, the statistics prove that Barnes has risen to the occasion. Barnes even finished among the top five in SO/9.0IP among American League relievers. And remember, Barnes’ role in 2018 increased to higher leverage situations, such as the 8th inning, in most games. More often than not, he delivered.

Barnes fared well against both righties and lefties in 2018

An advantage to Barnes’ case is how well he did against hitters from both sides of the plate. He held hitters, collectively, to an OPS under .650, and most outstandingly, held right-handed hitters to a lowly .191 average. The sample size is larger against righties, and the numbers are better still. A hurler that can reverse splits and still maintain dominance is on the path to success.

Barnes performed even better in the 2018 postseason

While the big righty featured stuff above league average last season, it was the playoffs where he really shined. Through 10.1 innings, Barnes allowed just one run and struck out ten batters, all in high leverage situations against three of the best lineups baseball has to offer. Barnes bounced around anywhere from the fifth through the ninth inning, and found success at each stop. A pitcher with the moxie to fit into different roles makes the Matt Barnes, 2019 closer decision an easy one.

There are no guarantees that Cora sticks with a traditional ninth inning closer this season. There is a good chance Barnes and fellow postseason standout Ryan Brasier switch roles on a match up basis. One night Barnes might get the call, and Brasier the other. After three years of gradual improvement, one thing is clear- if Barnes gets that call, he is going to answer.

Red Sox Post All-Star Break Review

The Boston Red Sox entered the All-Star break at 68-30. That was the best record in Major League Baseball, and they’ve kept a firm grasp on that honor. Back on July 2nd, Rick Porcello and the Sox took down the Washington Nationals 4-3. You may remember Porcello driving a shot into the gap and clearing the bases off a pitch from reigning NL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer to put Boston ahead. They went on to win the next nine contests. In the series opener against the Blue Jays, you may remember Mookie Betts’ at-bat heard around the world when he launched a grand slam over the Green Monster on the 13th pitch he saw. If you haven’t seen it, you should.

Boston’s next loss came eleven days later, on Friday the 13th no less, in their second All Star breakgame against the Blue Jays. The bad luck didn’t last long, however. The following game, the Sox and Jays headed to extra innings knotted at 2 when Xander Bogaerts stepped to the plate with the bases loaded. One run was all Boston needed, but Bogaerts went ahead and sent one over the fence in dead center instead, walking the game off in glorious fashion. It was Boston’s first walk-off grand slam since the year 2000.

Just a year after not hitting a single grand slam, the Sox, with nine at the break, are in striking distance of the franchise record for grand slams in a season (11), and the MLB record (14). The Red Sox concluded the first half winning 12 of their last 13 contests and 17 of their last 20. Now, as Boston’s dominant pace continues, let’s take a look back on the first half for the winningest team in Major League Baseball.

Starting Pitching

For the first time in Red Sox history, Boston entered the break with four pitchers with ten or more wins. Porcello and Eduardo Rodriguez have eleven, while Chris Sale and David Price, each with ten, are just behind.

Rodriguez continues to progress in Boston, with his 11-3 record, 3.44 ERA, and 110 strikeouts on pace to be career-highs. He was just placed on the ten-day disabled list with a right ankle sprain and is still sidelined to this day. While Porcello hasn’t returned to his Cy Young form from two years ago, he remains a respectable arm in the middle of the rotation. However, Porcello looked like Cy Young himself in his recent start against the Yankees, where he tossed a complete, one-hit gem of a game that aided the Sox in their relentless sweep of New York, comfortably in second place in the AL East.

Price continues to be a wild card with his injury hiccups and apparent inability to pitch against the Yankees. At 10-6 with an ERA north of four, there is certainly room for improvement from Boston’s 217-million-dollar southpaw. While we’re on the subject, Price looked to find some sort of groove against the Yankees in their last series. He wasn’t dominant, but it was a significant step in the right direction. Steven Wright and Drew Pomeranz will likely return to health soon after the break, and the claim for the fifth rotation spot is something to keep an eye on. Meanwhile, Sale, with an AL-best 2.23 ERA and MLB-best 188 strikeouts, is throwing as well as anyone in the MLB and is a front-runner for the American League Cy Young. I’ve paid my respects to him already.

Relief Pitching

In a word, unimpressive. We all know about Carson Smith by now. Joe Kelly has enjoyed a successful year as Boston’s setup man, but his ERA had ballooned to 4.31 recently after a stretch of shaky outings. Heath Hembree and Brian Johnson haven’t been anything special, and Tyler Thornburg had only appeared in four games. Craig Kimbrel had 30 saves at the break and continues to look like one of the best closers in baseball. But unfortunately, he can’t do it all.

Offense

The main reason for the best first half in franchise history? This right here. Mookie Betts led Major League Baseball with a .359 batting average and is gunning for MVP honors. J.D. Martinez, who batted .328, is third, and his 29 home runs and 80 runs batted in led the league at the break. The influence of Martinez on this lineup has been nothing short of incredible. He continues to make his case for one of the best free agent acquisitions the Red Sox have ever made. Expect his name right next to Mookie’s on the MVP ballot.

At the turning point in the season, Xander Bogaerts had already surpassed his 2017 home run total and matched his RBI total. Mitch Moreland played his way to his first career All-Star game in his second season in Beantown. Andrew Benintendi was flat out robbed of an All-Star appearance. He is on pace for career-highs in batting average, stolen bases, home runs, doubles, and RBI. The struggles of Jackie Bradley Jr. subsided as the first half wound down and he looks to have found some sort of groove at the plate. Newly acquired Steve Pearce is fitting in nicely so far. Through nine games, he’s batting .458 and is another cog in the stacked Red Sox lineup. Oh, and he absolutely torched the Yankees in the series sweep, hitting four dingers and driving in eight runs.

Review of the Red Sox After the All-Star Break

The Red Sox entered the break with a 4.5 game lead on the Yankees in the AL East, and it has skyrocketed since then. Betts, Martinez, Moreland, Sale, and Kimbrel all secured a trip to the All-Star Game. The Sox were the only team in the American League with multiple starters in the All-Star Game (Betts, Martinez).

Looking back, the Red Sox started the year 17-2 on their way to the best start in franchise history. And they hit the All-Star break after going 17-3 over their last 20. The Boston Red Sox are statistically the best team in Major League Baseball. If their historic first half is any indication, this ballclub will be a force to be reckoned with come October.

Red Sox Dominated 2018 All-Star Lineup

Five members of the Boston Red Sox played in the 2018 American League All-Star team this week. Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, Mitch Moreland, Chris Sale, and Craig Kimbrel represented Boston. As the Red Sox dominated the All-Star lineup this year, they got a taste of what they’ll be up against if and when they reach the World Series this season.

These Red Sox players brought a lot of history to Nationals Park this year. Chrisred sox dominate Sale started the All-Star game marking only the third time in history that a pitcher has started three straight All-Star games. The other two are Robin Roberts, and Lefty Gomez. Mookie Betts was named leadoff hitter for the American League team. Sale and Craig Kimbrel, Boston’s premier closer, now both have seven All-Star appearances. Surprisingly enough, this was only J.D. Martinez’s second All-Star game. He hit 45 home runs last year but didn’t make an All-Star appearance. SO what does all this mean? To Red Sox Nation, it’s a sign of what’s to come this fall. These All-Stars, a few of who are carrying Hall of Fame-worthy numbers, will carry the Red Sox to the post-season this year.

Red Sox Dominated All-Star Line-Up, And Possibly the National League Come October

The All-Star game itself saw its fair share of home runs. Aaron Judge, Mike Trout, Alex Bregman, George Springer, and Jean Segura hit homers for the American League. Wilson Contreras, Christian Yelich, Scooter Gennett, Joey Votto, and Trevor Story hit home runs of their own for the National League. Overall there were ten home runs hit in this year’s All-Star game, breaking the 1971 record by four. This year’s All-Star game also saw 25 strikeouts. The American League went on to win their sixth straight All-Star game 8-6 in 10 innings.

The Red Sox have the best record in baseball right now. They’re 68-30 at the All-Star break. That’s slightly better than the World Series-defending champs Houston Astros. With four of their pitchers (Sale, Price, Rodriguez, and Porcello) projected to win 17 or more games this season, it’s clear the Red Sox have the pitching and the hitting to make it to the Fall Classic.