Leandre: The Red Sox Bullpen Has a Good Foundationby Jordan Leandre October 14, 2019 0 comments
All year long, the biggest scapegoat for the Boston Red Sox struggles was their seemingly closer-less bullpen.
In their first season without Craig Kimbrel since 2015, Boston’s bullpen mirrored that of their starting lineup in their first year sans David Ortiz: Lots of ups and downs, but they certainly have a lot of key pieces within that group.
All in all, the Red Sox bullpen finished 2019 in a tie for first place in strikeout-rate (26.6 percent), eighth in FIP (4.14), and fifth in fWAR (5.5).
They also finished tied for the fourth-most blown saves in baseball with 28, while only converting 33 throughout the season as a whole. For reference, Craig Kimbrel’s average saves in a season with the Red Sox was 36, besting the entire 2019 Red Sox bullpen by three saves.
But saves and blown saves aren’t a strong way to assess the talent within the Red Sox bullpen, as the foundation seems to be set in stone for the next few years.
Here’s who you should be excited about in the future among relievers.
Matt Barnes: 3.28 FIP, 38.6 percent K-rate, 3.25 SIERA
— Nick Quaglia (@NickQuag) May 9, 2019
Matt Barnes took a slight step backward in 2019, after a very steady 2018. That being said, the 29-year-old flamethrower still showed why he is one of Alex Cora’s favorite high-leverage arms. While it’s easy to get lost in the 3.78 season ERA, or the 5.32 BB/9, people really under-appreciate Matt Barnes for what he truly is: One of baseball’s best strikeout artists (sixth-best K-rate among MLB relievers).
Darwinzon Hernandez: .156 xBA, .223 xSLG, 38.8 percent K-rate
Sox fans only got a taste of what Darwinzon Hernandez can bring to the party this season, as the Venezuela-born left-hander appeared in just 29 games (30.1 IP). But in that little dosage came a lot of results as the stocky lefty showed that he can bring the heat with the best of them. While his walk numbers were through the roof (7.71 BB/9), so were his strikeouts (16.91 K/9). He can absolutely bring it, and Red Sox fans should be excited about this kid as being a potential closer somewhere down the line.
Josh Taylor: 3.11 FIP, 3.22 SIERA, .283 xwOBA
It’s pretty mind-boggling how the Red Sox were able to acquire Taylor as the player to be named later in the trade that sent Deven Marrero to the Arizona Diamondbacks. But here we are, and the 26-year-old left-hander quickly became one of Alex Cora’s favorite arms in the bullpen. Striking out just about one-third of the batters he faced in 2019, while also walking just a tick over eight percent of that same sample size, Taylor did nothing but put up zeroes in most of his outings; especially after the All-Star Break when he posted a 2.40 ERA in 30 innings pitched.
Brandon Workman: 1.88 ERA, 2.46 FIP, 36.4 percent K-rate, 15/21 saves
It took almost seven years, but the Red Sox are starting to see why they viewed Workman as a second-round pick back in 2010. While it’s likely that they viewed him as a starting pitcher at the time, it’s hard to call that pick a bust when he turns into one of the game’s best relievers. On top of the stats listed above, Workman ranked 11th in expected batting average (.174), as well as second in expected slugging percentage (.234, 11 points behind teammate Darwinzon Hernandez for the league lead). While it remains to be seen whether Workman can sustain this success for more than a season, Red Sox fans should be excited about having him under team control for 2020.
But in the meantime, we can still marvel at his dandy of a curveball.
Brandon Workman, Filthy 81mph Knuckle Curve. 😷[h/t @BillKoch25 ] pic.twitter.com/y77R1YUBxu
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 25, 2019
Colten Brewer: 6.4-inch vertical movement on curveball, 5.3-inch horizontal movement on curveball
Colten Brewer’s success in 2019 was a success that eye-test numbers like ERA and WHIP couldn’t tell you. Brewer finished this season with a 4.12 ERA and an alarming 1.70 WHIP, but there still is a lot to be looking forward to with this right-handed arm. Much like Workman, Brewer is a curveball-dominant pitcher (90th percentile in curve spin) with team control until after his age-31 season. The Red Sox would be smart to get him working on his command issues because the break on his curveball is amongst the nastiest in the MLB.
— Nick Quaglia (@NickQuag) April 12, 2019
Heath Hembree*: 3.95 FIP, 29.4 percent K-rate, .175 xBA against the fastball
(*pre-injury suffered after his appearance on 6/10)
Rounding out this list is perhaps one of the more criminally underrated relievers in the Red Sox bullpen, whom the team has under control for two more seasons. It comes with the expectation of dominance that most people view Hembree as a subpar arm, but when you factor in that the 30-year-old’s job is to come in and escape whatever mess the previous pitcher created, or pitch the middle innings of the ballgame, you start to realize that this guy might not be so bad. He ranks in the 84th percentile in curve spin, as well as in the 89th percentile in fastball spin –– so the talent is there, it’s just a matter of whether or not the Red Sox can seize that bit of information and build it into on-field success.
Of course, the team is going to need to add depth pieces to that bullpen for that group to take off in 2020, but the fact of the matter is that the Boston Red Sox aren’t as far from an elite bullpen as you might think.