By Terry Cushman – @cushmanMLB
A lot of Red Sox fans and pundits believe that the Red Sox bullpen is very formidable. Some just don’t know any better. Some are still drunk from the Chris Sale trade. And finally, some just implicitly believe that Dave Dombrowski is “wicked smaht.” We’ll get back to that down in a few moments.
For now, let’s go back a few years. In 2013 Ben Cherington acquired the third ranked N.L. closer from the Pittsburgh Pirates, Joel Hanrahan. Hanrahan was coming off an all-star season with 36 saves, a 2.72 ERA, and was immediately anointed the new closer for the Boston Red Sox. It seemed legit, and I remember being very excited as he was an obvious upgrade over Alfredo Aceves, the previous season’s closer. As the projected 8th inning reliever we had Andrew Bailey. Bailey was a two time all-star in Oakland, and proved to be very dominant. Rounding out the Red Sox bullpen was Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, and Craig Breslow. Talk about a stacked bullpen right? Well, by late spring, Hanrahan, Bailey, and Andrew Miller all had season ending injuries. Fortunately 38 year old Koji Uehara rattled off a season for the ages, and the rest of the bullpen fell in line. Generally bullpen’s that sustain those casualties so early don’t recover, but luckily ours did in 2013. Let’s look at this year’s bullpen.
Craig Kimbrel: No real injury concerns to speak of, but seemingly lacks the mental toughness to handle Boston. Doubled his career ERA in 2016, and lacked the ability to be versatile when brought in for extra outs. I’m not sold on Kimbrel, but not yet ready to write the obituary.
Tyler Thornsburg: Had a partially torn UCL in 2014. Opted for blood platelet injections rather than Tommy John Surgery. Pitched well in a low pressure market over in Milwaukee, but as Kimbrel found out, Boston is a whole different animal. Though Thornsburg’s upside is immense, his injury liabilities and inexperience in a tough market give me plenty of cause for uncertainty. I will have to see his past effectiveness on the mound at Fenway before I can truly be sold.
Carson Smith: Perhaps he is the biggest concern of all our relievers. People talk about Chris Sale’s violent delivery, wait until you see Carson Smith’s (if we even get that far). Smith showed great potential in Seattle, but has only pitched 80 innings of baseball at the major league level. His sample size is too small, his injury liability is too great. Not to mention he did have his ups and downs while pitching in Seattle, we don’t know how he will pitch in Boston. There is just too much uncertainty on whether Smith will pan out. We all know that old cliché: “If it sounds too good to be true… it probably is.” Even though we basically only gave up Wade Miley, I’m still very haunted by that trade.
Matt Barnes: Barnes is streaky and has shown potential. Throws 98-99mph, but the problem with him is that the ball often leaves the park with an exit velocity of 110mph. When he’s on a roll, he looks like could be a very effective setup man. But frustratingly, Barnes never proves to be consistent.
Robbie Ross: I like Ross. He is who he is. His spring appearances tend be shaky, but he eventually settles down, and is a solid lefty reliever.
Joe Kelly: Total headcase.
Heath Hembree: I’ve always liked Hembree. Though sometimes similar to Matt Barnes, I could still see him having a break through season. He is also perhaps one of the more viable options at long relief.
Fernando Abad: Was an extremely solid lefty in low pressure Minnesota. Abad immediately got the yips upon being traded to the Red Sox. And has the most unfortunate name possible for a struggling pitcher in Boston. I’m willing to ride Abad out a little while longer. Everyone deserves a fair shot.
Robby Scott: Just not enough of a sample size to to determine how well of a fit he is. But Scott could prove to be one of the more interesting story lines of the 2017 season.
So finally, now that I’ve laid it all out, I’m not sure how anybody can be completely sold on this 2017 projected bullpen. For the “It doesn’t matter, we have the best rotation in MLB” people… it definitely matters. Look at the Detroit Tigers a few years ago. They had Justin Verlander (2011 Cy Young Winner), David Price (2012 Cy Young Winner), and Max Scherzer (2013 Cy Young Winner) as their starting 1-2-3 going into the 2014 ALDS. What more could you ask for? It should have been an automatic World Series win. But instead they were automatically swept by the Baltimore Orioles in three games. How bad couldnyou possibly blow it? You would think Dave Dombrowski would take this aspect of a baseball team more seriously. Especially following two epic blunders. Don’t take my word for it. Ask the people of Detroit. Any dominant starting rotation will always needs a healthy and reliable bullpen to balance out a team’s overall pitching, which in turn will keep the rotation healthy.
Lastly, and most ominously of all, John Farrell will be the “mastermind” in maneuvering this 2017 bullpen. Ain’t that the cat’s ass?