Pawtucket Red Sox v Charlotte Knights

This offseason has centered mostly around the improved defense and addition of John Lackey to our rotation.  The bullpen though has been largely left to small moves to patch up the back and look for solid years from the rest.  As it stands the pen returns Jonathon Papelbon, Daniel Bard, Hideki Okajima, Ramon Ramirez and Manny Delcarmen.  The starting rotation currently has 6 solid starters with Tim Wakefield as a long reliever and Boof Bonser as a long shot to squeeze in.  They have also added Brian Shouse, Edwin Moreno, Jorge Sosa, Scott Atchinson, Robert Manuel and Ramon A. Ramirez.

The team entered 2009 with 12 starting pitchers including 5 starters and 7 relievers.  Let’s assume they enter 2010 with the same numbers, but we’ll label the last reliever as on the bubble as he could be a minor league option.

Sure Things

Closer and setup are solid with Papelbon and Bard continuing were they left 2009.  We have had plenty of discussions about these two here, here, here and here.  While Bard still has some questions and his projections show he isn’t quite ready to be be a closer, but a solid setup man.  His CHONE projection calls for a 3.48 ERA and only a 2.09 K/BB.  I have some doubts about that K/BB and think he can be much better as does MARCEL and Bill James at 2.53 and 2.80 respectively.

Okajima and Delcarmen will also return to the pen this year, but both have some huge question marks making them not sure things to be locks for the full season.  Since coming to the Red Sox in 2007 Okajima has watched his numbers decline each season.  His K/BB has dropped from 3.71 to 2.61 and then to 2.52 last year.  According to Fangraphs his pitch selection is now fully a split finger and no changeups.  It seems to be the pitches he is struggling to be most effective with.

I did a bit of Pitch f/x earlier on Delcarmen and found more than a few reasons to look at Delcarmen as a dangerous option in 2010.  He needs to really prove his health in spring training or be pushed to the back of the pen.  I put him in sure thing as his name and reputation will keep him there and the team may look to showcase him for trade.

Last in this group has to be Wakefield as the team wants him around for long relief and emergency starter.  With Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka all missing time in the last year Wakefield should have no problem getting a few starts, but also plenty of innings in long relief.

The Back of the Pen

That right there is five pitchers leaving two spots to fill with the remaining options.  My first choice is Ramon Ramirez who could have been a sure thing, but still curious if he can keep up this low HR/FB%.  His other numbers are not pretty and a 2.84 ERA is not going to happen this year.  He’s got a spot, but expect an ERA more like his 3.48 ERA in the second half.

That leaves one spot and a lot of Triple-A invites for the remainder. Looking at the next three according to CHONE projections we have three pitchers near replacement level.

Player Age G GS Won Lost IP Hits BB SO HR HB Runs ER ERA R vs Rep
Fernando Cabrera 28 39 0 3 3 48 46 23 41 6 1 26 24 4.50 1
Randor Bierd 26 34 0 2 2 38 38 15 29 4 3 20 18 4.26 1
Dustin Richardson 26 48 0 3 3 47 45 26 41 6 2 26 24 4.60 1

The most interesting name in there to me is Dustin Richardson who as a lefty could fill the need for a left hander specialist.  His minor league numbers show a 10.73 K/9 against left handers, and a 9.08 against right handers.  His walk rate is similar against both as well.  I wouldn’t worry about the projected ERA of 4.60 if he was used only against lefties that should be better.

So who will be in the bullpen band this year come April and will it be better than last year?  I expect my projection should be a good guess with Richardson as the big question.  Last year the Red Sox relievers had a 3.80 ERA, which was eight in the league.  I think there will be some struggles to be that good again, but they won’t be a failing to the team either.