Leandre: Matt Barnes is Better Than You Give Him Credit For

Year in and year out, Matt Barnes puts up numbers that would make him one of the top 25 or so relievers in baseball. In the same breath, year in and year out, Red Sox fans ridicule him to the point where he’s fast becoming one of the most irrationally disliked athletes in Boston.

The 2019 season was one to forget for the majority of the Red Sox roster. While Barnes probably wishes he performed better than he did, he was still incredibly successful in his own right, especially when you figure in the fact that he was pitching without a concrete role until Alex Cora made Brandon Workman the team’s official closer in late July.

Overall, Barnes posted a 3.78 ERA, 3.28 FIP, and 3.25 SIERA across 64.1 innings. However, the right-hander entered his June 2 appearance at Yankee Stadium with a 1.99 ERA, a 1.49 xFIP, and a strikeout rate of 45.6 percent.

So, what happened?

For starters, Barnes went into that aforementioned outing with 23 appearances already through the team’s first 59 games. Considering he was used almost exclusively in high-leverage spots, his arm was probably feeling an added amount of stress than the normal 22.2-inning sample would for a pitcher. Nonetheless, Alex Cora went to him 15 times in June alone, which was one behind Jairo Diaz of Colorado for the most appearances that month.

Barnes got unlucky a lot of the time so that 9.69 ERA is a bit deceiving; it is 6.48 runs higher than what his FIP suggests it should’ve been. His hard-hit rate was just 18.8 percent, which was the lowest mark of any month in 2019 for the curveball-dominant reliever, yet June was his worst month in terms of results.

What should this tell you?

Barnes is one of the top two relievers in the Red Sox bullpen and his 3.77/3.04/3.07 triple-slash between 2017 and 2018 indicates he’s been dependent for a while now. There’s no real telling as to why June seems to be the month that bit Barnes so hard last season, but that’s the unfair nature of baseball. You can get away with a lot, but it always seems to be your best days that get squandered by bad luck.

As previously mentioned, Barnes’s numbers were good in 2019, though he did take a step back from his promising 2018 campaign––as did many Red Sox players. But how did he stack up against his peers last year?

According to Baseball Savant, 242 pitchers qualified in 2019. Among those 242, Barnes ranked third in expected opponent’s slugging (.309), 12th in expected batting average (.197), and tied for 27th in both xwOBA and xERA (.276 and 3.31). When you shrink the necessary sample size down to a minimum of 250 batters faced, Barnes ranked fifth among 279 pitchers in strikeout rate (38.6 percent).

His curveball was also lethal in 2019, as he ranked 19th out 119 (min. 200 curveballs) with a 1.13 FIP. He also ranked 10th in that same sample with a 0.51 xFIP, which is pretty astonishing considering he ranks in the 20th percentile for curve spin.

Barnes was roughly a top-15 reliever in 2019 yet gets ridiculed by Red Sox fans for one reason or another. Based on what the numbers tell you, that seems pretty unfair to the soon-to-be 30-year-old.

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