Matt Barnes Must Replace Carson Smith

With Carson Smith undergoing Tommy John surgery, the Red Sox lose a major piece to their bullpen this season. Smith, acquired in the off season, was expected to be a lock down option out of the bullpen, especially against elite right handed bats. With Smith done for the year, the Sox need somebody to step up as a replacement. Converted reliever Matt Barnes has looked strong this season and will be crucial to replacing Smith.

Barnes was once highly touted as a minor league starting pitcher. He struggled as aMatt Barnes starting pitcher at the major league level, resulting in the transition to the bullpen. Barnes seems to finally be adjusting to the new role after looking shaky and out of place last season. Barnes has pitched very well this season with a 2.82 ERA and is throwing his fastball around 70% of the time, sitting around a strong 96 mph for the most part.

Is Matt Barnes As Good As Carson Smith?

While Barnes has been pitching very well this year, he is not as good as Carson Smith, mainly due to Smith’s stronger off speed pitches. Smith also has more pitches at his disposal to keep hitters guessing. Barnes relies primarily on his curve ball as his secondary pitch. The bullpen role is best for Barnes as he is a guy who can come in for an inning and use his big time arm, throwing heat. If Barnes has his curve ball working and improves his third pitch, the change-up, he could eventually turn into an elite bullpen arm.

Losing Smith was a devastating blow to the Sox. Many fans did not get to know who Carson Smith was and should know that he was an elite arm out of the pen. Smith had 92 strikeouts in 70 innings last season with a 2.31 ERA for the Seattle Mariners. If Barnes can come near those numbers, the Sox will be very pleased. So far, Barnes looks like he is a changed pitcher and is relishing fewer innings pitched and letting loose with his heater.

Henry Owens Is Not Major League Ready

The hype Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Henry Owens received when making his major league debut last season at Yankee Stadium was not fair to him and very unwarranted. Still young at 23 years old, Owens’ ceiling is that of a number four starter, more likely a number five. Many may be curious as to why this is and how he’s been getting hit so hard thus far in his major league career. Owens is not good enough to start at this level, at least not yet.

Henry Owens: Another Left Handed Pitching Specialist?

Left handed pitchers are seen as a more valuable commodity in baseball. The reason forHenry Owens this is because being left handed is more of a rarity than being right handed. Most major league players are righty and having a left handed pitcher to throw out there is a nice change of pace. A pitch coming from a lefty is seen differently by a hitter than one coming from a righty. This is especially true when a left handed pitcher faces a left handed batter. With all of this in mind, some may think Owens has an advantage over other major league hopeful starting pitchers. He does have an edge on right handed pitchers with big league hopes because of this and is likely to be given a more extended look at this level. However, up to this point in his career, Owens has been nothing but a let down.

Last year, Owens had a 4.57 ERA in 63 innings, his first taste of the big leagues. That is a small sample size to judge a starting pitcher off of. Adding this season’s totals to that, he still only has 72.1 innings under his belt. Typically I am not one to judge a pitcher with such a small sample size but Owens has shown me enough to point out why he cannot succeed right now and what he must do to make it work at this level.

Owens relies primarily on his plus change-up in order to set up his fastball. His fastball is easily hit, throwing 88-92 mph and leaving the pitch in spots where major league hitters will destroy it. Owens change-up has been said to be his strong pitch and at times it shows. The only problem with his change-up is that he cannot locate it. Because of this, hitting his fastball is that much easier.

I’ve always compared him to a cheap man’s Francisco Liriano if he reaches his potential. Both pitchers struggle with command and work with similar pitchers. The main two differences between the two is that Liriano throws harder and incorporates a slider as a third pitch rather than the curve ball that Owens has added. Also, left handed batters fear Liriano, something that they don’t with Owens. Left handed hitters hit .293 against Owens last season. This season has been no different as they are hitting .300 off of him. The lefty on lefty match up typically favors left handed pitchers but Owens hasn’t figured that out.

Henry Owens: What does Owens have to do to improve?

Owens has been painful to watch as a major league pitcher. While I do not see him being anything more than a fourth starter, he could get better if he works on and improves a couple things quickly. He must figure out a third pitch to incorporate. He has added a curve ball but is very hesitant to throw it. A pitcher cannot survive throwing just two pitches, unless one is a knuckleball. He also must command his pitches much better than he does right now. If one cannot locate, they will not last long at this level. Hopefully Owens figures it out. I am definitely rooting for him but don’t hold your breath waiting for this guy to live up to the hype he was wrongly given, it will never happen.

All Eyes on Jon Lester

Jon Lester

The Sox need a return to form from Lester if they are to compete this season and beyond

First the AC joint, now the neck: it seems like Clay Buchholz’s shoulders are feeling the weight of the Red Sox season. But in April, he at least had help. Looking like his old self, Jon Lester started the year 3-0 with a 1.73 ERA and 23 K’s over 26 innings.  It’s been downhill from there. Lester didn’t allow more than five hits in any of his first four starts; he’s allowed five hits or fewer only twice since.  After imploding in Tampa on Tuesday, his ERA had risen to 4.12.

During his peak years, Lester had exceptional command within the strike zone, which led to lots of strikeouts and weak contact. But his HR/9 rate and opponent average, indicators of strike-zone command, spiked to 1.10 and .269 last year, both career worsts. Compounding Lester’s loss of fastball command were a drop in velocity and the loss of his nasty cutter. These explain Lester’s lack of strikeouts; he whiffed only 7.28 per 9 last year. If Jon Lester’s recent struggles represent a regression to his 2012 form, he could be in trouble.

What did Lester do so well at the beginning of the season? His cutter returned, his velocity stabilized, and most importantly, he commanded his fastball. He walked only four batters over 26 innings to begin the season, and didn’t give up a homer. Opponents hit Lester at .198 over his first four starts. But since then, his walk, HR rate and opponent average have climbed. Why? Lester’s velocity has remained relatively consistent and his cutter has been there for him. This leaves us with a classic culprit: fastball command. His dismal start in Tampa (4.2 IP, 8 H, 7 BB, 3HR) was exemplary of this: Lester couldn’t find the zone with his sinker and got killed on stray fastballs. Unlike last year, it’s not a drop in velocity or the lack of a cutter that’s hurting him, and this is cause for optimism. Fastball command comes and goes, but Juan Nieves’ success with Lester in April suggests that he should be able to get the lefty going. Lester’s two best starts since April, a one-hit shutout of the Jays and seven innings of 2-run ball at the Trop, have both been games in which he could spot his fastball. Interestingly, in both starts, Lester averaged 91.9 MPH on his fastball, tied for his second slowest average fastball of the year. It’s possible that Lester needs to sacrifice speed for control. The bottom line is that his recent struggles have been caused by fastball command, something that he should be able to regain.