Are there still holes in the Red Sox bullpen?

Andre Khatchaturian makes his Fire Brand debut and pins Hacksaw Jim Duggan in a squash match while pondering the Red Sox bullpen.

Red Sox Nation cheered in jubilation when Ben Cherington acquired Jake Peavy in a heist calculated more efficiently than Walter White’s methylamine robbery in Breaking Bad. That said, the team’s inability to bring in a reliever is a cause for concern.

There is no doubt that the acquisition of Peavy during the trade deadline helped the Red Sox bolster their rotation, especially with Clay Buchholz sidelined and Jon Lester, Felix Doubront, and Ryan Dempster holding onto a crutch called tremendous run support (the trio all rank in the top 19 in run support).

And while the Red Sox pitching has improved by light years from last year when they ranked fourth to last in terms of runs allowed and quality starts percentage, the team still could have used an extra arm or two in the bullpen to solidify their pitching staff as the team heads into the last two months of play.

First off, the Red Sox have thrown the most pitches in Major League Baseball this year. Right behind them on that list are four atrocious pitching staffs in the Angels, Astros, Padres, and Blue Jays. The Astros, Blue Jays, and Angels have allowed the most runs per game this year and the Padres aren’t far behind at seventh. The Red Sox, however, are in the middle of the pack in terms of runs allowed per game at 4.11 and unlike the other four teams mentioned, will probably be playing in October.

So how are the Red Sox so successful this year despite throwing so many pitches – a sign of trouble for most teams?

Despite having to earn their outs by throwing many pitches (the Sox are also fourth in terms of pitches per plate appearance), they’ve been bailed out by MLB’s second best offense (5.00 runs/game), incredible wins in dramatic fashion (12 walk off wins), and most importantly, MLB’s best BAA when runners are on base (.233). For whatever reason, Red Sox pitchers work best from the stretch. They may allow plenty of base runners (tied for 8th highest WHIP), but they’re pretty good at getting out of the jam.

At first glance, this sounds great. No matter how many people are on base or what the situation is, the Red Sox shouldn’t panic because they’ll get out of the jam. But allowing base runners isn’t a habit any team wants to fall into when they play elite teams like Detroit and Oakland in the postseason. Those are teams that will make you pay with runners on base.

The Houdini act is only temporary. The entire Red Sox pitching staff has somehow morphed into Daisuke Matsuzaka from a few years ago, when he would load up the bases on numerous occasions and magically get out of a dangerous situation unscathed. That worked for Daisuke for a while, but it eventually backfired on him toward the tail end of his career.

The Red Sox know that this isn’t sustainable. This is why they went after Peavy. However, it’s not enough. They also needed to bring in an efficient arm for the bullpen. They have the third oldest pitching staff in baseball at 30.1 years of age and throwing the most pitches in baseball does not bode well for older, taxed arms.

Also, don’t let the low ERAs from guys like Koji Uehara and Craig Breslow fool you. They’ve had their ups, but they have also allowed many inherited runners to score (this hurts the previous pitcher’s ERA, not the pitcher who inherited the runners). In fact, as a team, the Red Sox bullpen has allowed 35% of all inherited runners to score – the fourth highest percentage in Major League Baseball. The only Red Sox relievers who have pitched at least 20 innings to have an inherited score percentage below the league average are Junichi Tazawa, Andrew Miller, and Andrew Bailey and the latter two are currently on the disabled list.

The Red Sox still have a chance to acquire a reliever until August 31st if they make a trade and the player they acquire clears waivers. It would be in their best interests to make a minor move for a relief pitcher who can get quick outs.

It’ll also be interesting to see how the Red Sox pitching staff performs in terms of getting quick outs and easy innings. Quick at-bats and fewer base runners will do wonders for this aging pitching staff and will propel the Red Sox from just another playoff team to a World Series contender. The offense is there. All they need to do now is polish the pitching from now until October.

Categories: Andrew Bailey Andrew Miller Clay Buchholz Craig Breslow Daisuke Matsuzaka Felix Doubront Jake Peavy Jon Lester Junichi Tazawa Koji Uehara Ryan Dempster

About Andre Khatchaturian

View all posts by Andre Khatchaturian
Born in the sunbaked valleys of Southern California, Andre Khatchaturian grew up idolizing Mo Vaughn and as a result, became one of the members of Red Sox Nation West. Andre would later graduate from the University of Southern California with a degree in Mathematical Economics. Wanting to pursue his passions, Andre became involved in sports analytics and has immersed himself in independent quantitative sports research since graduation. This led to his hiring at ESPN in the Stats & Information Group at Bristol, CT where he will be working part-time this year as he works on his Masters degree in Broadcast Journalism from Boston University. He was a proud attendee of Game 5 of the 2008 ALCS and wonders why this game has slowly become one of the forgotten gems in Red Sox history. Follow him on Twitter @AndreKhatch.

6 Responses to “Are there still holes in the Red Sox bullpen?” Subscribe

  1. Chip August 4, 2013 at 7:34 PM #

    Good first article, Andre!  Welcome to the team.

  2. Carts13 August 4, 2013 at 7:44 PM #

    Not a bad first article but I have to pull you up no one point. Doubront is holding on to a ‘crutch called run support’? So it’s nothing to do with the 15straight games of 3 earned runs or less? Maybe that’s what is doing it for him. Look, I think we all feel like he is pitching a little above his true level right now but the sample size is big enough now to give credit where it’s due. I think you would do well to remove him from being grouped with Demps and Lester

    • Andre Khatchaturian August 5, 2013 at 5:08 AM #

      @Carts13 Max Scherzer has the most run support in the league. He also has a 2.85 ERA. Just because his ERA is great it doesn’t mean he’s not being aided by good run support. There’s a reason why he has only one loss. Same could be said for Doubront to a lighter extent.

  3. Tim P August 5, 2013 at 12:44 PM #

    One reason the Red Sox staff has thrown more pitches compared to other temas is that the team has played more games.  One benefit of playing more games is that down the stretch the team has more days off, especially in September.  As a result, the team will be better able to use its best relievers in high leverage situations because of their best releivers resting on days off.  The team is also getting Morales and perhaps Bucholz, back from injury this month.  With the roster expanding on Sept. 1, the team will also have plenty of arms for low leverage September innings.  I’d certainly like to see the team acquire another good reliever, but I don’t want to see the team trade a higher ceiling prospect for one and I don’t want to acquire one who isn’t better than current internal options.

  4. VJ in Stuttgart August 6, 2013 at 12:25 PM #

    I think your first article is good. But you could have added the extra “arms” from the farm. Workman, Webster, and De La Rosa are just a few that could be of help as we hit September. They have contributed already in spot start/relief. Just a thought.

  5. BillyReo August 7, 2013 at 3:46 AM #

    Putting Koji Uehara in the same boat as Craig Breslow tells me you don’t watch many Red Sox games. In fact, since Koji was installed as the Red Sox closer on June 26th, he’s only faced inherited runners once (the awful 9-7 loss to the Angels on July 6th, in which he was rushed into an imploding situation, having not properly warmed up, as the game seemed well in hand with a 7-3 ninth-inning lead), and did indeed allow two of them to score. Otherwise, he has surrendered a run (a solo homer by Jose Bautista who was red-hot at the time on June 30th) only once in 19 appearances. Koji’s ERA was 2.03 when he took over as closer, and is now 1.40.