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.