Arms Race: Red Sox Bullpen Ready to Go?

Photo Credit: AP Photo / Charles Krupa

Across the league, bullpens are the most volatile component to any team. They are also a very difficult thing to piece together and make a cohesive unit that can help win a championship.

The league has shifted its resources to this area trying to bring stability, but even with that it’s no sure bet – Dave Dombrowski knows this best. Most of the Detroit Tigers playoffs runs earlier this decade were brought down because of a bullpen, remember Joaquin Benoit? It was considered his weakness, but after a volatile first two years for the bullpen, it might be consistent without adding a piece, even with the loss of Addison Reed.

There’s a couple of guys coming back that will definitely shore up the bullpen – Carson Smith and Tyler Thornburg.

Carson Smith came back from the dead with vengeance this year. His first outing following Tommy John Surgery in 2015 was in the 18th inning of an extra inning game and he struck out Jose Bautista on a ferocious slider:

For all the talk of an answer to the Yankees, Stanton hits .220 off of sliders, and Judge hits .152. He will be a great asset to add to the late inning mix with Joe Kelly.

Thornburg is a different case and a wild card as he is coming off of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome – the same surgery that has derailed Matt Harvey’s career. Thornburg is a reliever, however, and should be able to bounce back and provide some consistency as well.

When healthy Thornburg was one of the top late-inning pitchers in the NL. In 2016, he appeared in 67 games, striking out 90 pitching, and posted a 2.15 ERA.

The Red Sox dealt a fan favorite in Travis Shaw to land the power arm from Milwaukee, any production would be a plus.

The Joe Kelly show will be in full effect in 2018 after a strong showing in the previous year. John Farrell had an affinity for Matt Barnes and his terrible late inning abilities, but Joe Kelly has the ability.

FanGraphs has a metric for “high leverage situations” which is considered pivotal and dramatic parts of any given game. In those situations, Joe Kelly had a .097 opponent batting average and only gave up 3 runs while stranding 66.7% of base runners in 9.2 innings pitched.

Analysts have used Kimbrel and Matt Barnes for comparisons here. Kimbrel gave up 6 runs with a .180 batting average against while stranding 97% of base runners in 22.2 innings pitched. Matt Barnes had a .306 average against and gave up 14 runs (13 earned) and left 44% of runners stranded across 13.1 IP.

Kelly is clearly a viable option for the 8th inning if we don’t see Thornburg return to his prior outputs.

Craig Kimbrel is set to begin as the Red Sox closer for the third consecutive season. After struggling in 2016, the All Star was electric last season. There are zero concerns in regards to his play, but will he get an extension before the end of the year?

The Red Sox bullpen is clearly stocked full of power arms, but it will be interesting to see how Cora manages his bullpen. John Farrell was constantly scrutinized for his choices at the back-end of a game. Hopefully, the times of seeing Barnes and Hembree in high leverage situations are gone.

Dombrowski would be wise to acquire a left handed option due to the inconsistency of Robby Scott, but this bullpen is built to succeed in 2018 – even without Addison Reed.

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About Chris Drosehn

Red Sox and baseball fan. Father, student, all around crazy person
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