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 Call-Up Matt Barnes, Makes Debut In Relief

Matt Barnes

It looks like Jackie Bradley Jr. is not the only Boston Red Sox first round pick from 2011 who will pay off.

On Monday, in an unsurprising move, the Red Sox called up pitcher Matt Barnes from AAA Pawtucket. Barnes, 24, posted a 3.95 ERA in 23 outings for the Paw Sox this year, 22 of which were starts.
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Adding Barnes to the 40-man roster protects him from being selected in the Rule V Draft this upcoming December.

The corresponding roster move transferred Hawaiian outfielder Shane Victorino to the 60-day DL.

On Tuesday, Barnes made his MLB debut, and it was one to remember. Tossing just his second career pro outing in relief, Barnes looked like a natural. Giving Boston three great innings— allowing three hits while punching out a pair of batters.

The most pleasant surprise of the outing was the cheddar so-to-speak. Known as a flamethrower who often hit 98 mph in his college career, Barnes has toned it down a notch as of late. In his most recent AAA outings, his fastball sat comfortable around 90-91 mph. On Tuesday however, Barnes consistently hit 95-96 mph on the radar gun and sat comfortably at 93 mph according to the PitchFx tool on Fangraphs. With this in mind, expect Barnes to bring on more velocity in his relief outings than he would as a starter.
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Despite putting up modest numbers for the Paw Sox, Barnes is a much better pitcher than his numbers indicate. At first, it appeared as though Barnes had met his match in AAA, but that could not be any further from the truth. Since the all-star break, in nine starts, his ERA in Pawtucket stands at 2.10. He has struck out 7.8 per nine innings and walking just 2.3 men.

Although Barnes is a starter by trade, he will be used out of the bullpen for the rest of this season. Boston is already using a six-man rotation as it is right now, so there would be no chance they bump it up to seven. Luckily for Barnes, with a solid performance here, he may have a good chance to break the roster as a reliever come 2015.
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In his pro career, Barnes has only made one other relief appearance. When he pitched in relief, Barnes hurled three scoreless frames on three hits while striking out two — almost identical to his outing in the big leagues. Now though, it is clear his first relief appearance was not be his last.

He last pitched on September 4th and gave the Paw Sox an impressive outing. Going seven strong, Barnes allowed no runs on three hits while punching-out six. He was scheduled to make another start in the playoffs, but obviously he will not be making that start now.
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Barnes will wear No. 68 for the Red Sox and is available to go whenever he is needed.