Burke Badenhop stared down Cole Figueroa with the winning run in scoring position during a scoreless tie in the bottom of the ninth. The runner did not belong to Badenhop – it was inherited from the previous pitcher, Andrew Miller. The pitch came and Figueroa laced it to right center field as the Rays defeated the defending champions to hand them their eighth consecutive loss.
Even one of the biggest strengths for the Red Sox – their bullpen – had come to a tumbling fall during their long losing streak. At least for once.
Inheriting runners has been common for Boston Red Sox relievers this season, who had 81 inherited runners coming into Saturday afternoon’s tilt with the Rays. They have handled these moments extremely well, too, despite not being able to find wins these days. The Red Sox have allowed just 14 of a total of 81 inherited runners to score this season – the lowest rate in baseball at 17 percent.
Despite allowing the winning run on Friday night, Badenhop has only allowed four inherited runners to score this season. Badenhop has an inherited score percentage of just 19 percent, which is one of the best in the league.
The rest of their bullpen has followed suit when they inherit runners. The entire bullpen has an ERA of 2.97 and they’re doing a great job of damage control. Andrew Miller (12 inherited runners), Junichi Tazawa (8), and Craig Breslow (5) have yet to allow an inherited runner to score this season. Koji Uehara (6 inherited runners) has only allowed one).
But what does this all mean?
Apparently for the Red Sox, not much, at least in the regular season. Last year, they allowed 34 percent of inherited runners to score, the highest rate in the American League, but they still won the World Series. In fact, their bullpen opponent OPS was .710, which was ranked 12th in the American League in 2013.
What changed? The bullpen ERA dipped to 1.28 and the opponent OPS fell to .571 in October. Combined with timely hitting and great start pitching, the Red Sox were able to win the World Series. Their bullpen has carried their momentum into 2014, but the starting pitching has been inconsistent and the offense has been anemic.
Speaking of the starters, they seem to be doing well during the first time around a lineup. However, Red Sox starters have allowed 65 runs this season during the second time through opponent’s lineups. This is the highest total in the American League and it means that opposing hitters are adjusting to the starters and taking advantage of them.
The good news for the Red Sox is that they are doing pretty well in terms of the bullpen. Teams need a great bullpen in order to win the World Series. They’re doing a fantastic job getting out of jams and mitigating the damage the starters allowed to happen. If you want to find a deeper silver lining in the dark cloud called starting pitching, it should be noted that the Sox starters’ have a BABIP of .323, the third highest in the American League. Perhaps this will dip and regress to the mean in the long term.
Until that happens, the Red Sox bullpen is practically useless. What good is a bullpen if the team is constantly trailing? The Red Sox have the highest number of plate appearances in the American League when they’re trailing. This means they’re falling behind early and often. That’s on the starters. It also puts extra pressure on hitters, who may become less patient at the plate when trailing.
Fortunately, the bullpen has kept the Sox in games this season. However, because of the team’s inability to score at the same rate as last year and faulty starting pitching, the team continues to stumble in the AL East standings.