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Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

  • Far be it from me to focus on the positive, but after yesterday’s trade that sent right-hander Matt Barnes to the Miami Marlins for left-hander Richard Bleier, the Red Sox further renovated their bullpen and emphasized something that should have been prioritized from the start.

    Throwing strikes.

    Seems obvious, right? Only for some odd reason, it wasn’t. Last year, for whatever reason, the Red Sox had a cast of relievers with strong arms who couldn’t hit the left field wall if standing on Lansdowne Street. Hansel Robles. Jake Diekman. Barnes. Hirokazu Sawamura. Austin Davis. The list goes on and on. Unsurprisingly, they ranked 14th in the 15-team American League in bullpen ERA in large part because they were playing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey in the late innings. While other bullpens ate them alive, the Sox couldn’t find the plate with a fork and knife.

    Whether the blame falls on Chaim Bloom or Alex Cora is open to debate. For someone who came from an organization that was emphasizing strike throwers – the Tampa Bay Rays bullpen averaged the fewest walks per nine innings – Bloom curiously signed one seemingly blindfolded pitcher after another. In the same breath, Cora seemed to have a curious affection for Robles, who basically averaged five walks per nine innings during his time with the Red Sox (in 2021-22); when he did throw strikes, they often were in the middle of the plate.

    So while all of those guys have been jettisoned over the last year or so, the Sox have replaced them – hallelujah – with pitchers who have far better histories of throwing strikes.

    Will it work?

    Time will tell.

    But at least this approach has some promise.

  • Kenley Jansen

    SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 09: Travis d'Arnaud #16 and Kenley Jansen #74 of the Atlanta Braves celebrate after beating the Seattle Mariners 6-4 at T-Mobile Park on September 09, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

    SEATTLE, WASHINGTON – SEPTEMBER 09: Travis d’Arnaud #16 and Kenley Jansen #74 of the Atlanta Braves celebrate after beating the Seattle Mariners 6-4 at T-Mobile Park on September 09, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

    Which Jansen are the Sox going to get? Good question. But either way, it should be an improvement over what they had at the end of the game for much of last year, which was basically nothing. During his peak years with the Los Angeles Dodgers from 2013-19, Jansen averaged a measly 1.9 walks per nine innings and, in 2017, walked just seven batters in 68.1 innings. His walk totals have climbed to a worrisome 3.8 per nine innings over the last three seasons, though last year’s number (3.1) was a significant step in the right direction. Generally speaking, he’s around the plate. But if there’s anything to worry about with the new Boston bullpen, the concerns start at the end with Jansen.

  • Chris Martin

    SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 15: Chris Martin #58 of the Los Angeles Dodgers reacts after striking out Wil Myers #5 of the San Diego Padres to end the sixth inning in game four of the National League Division Series at PETCO Park on October 15, 2022 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

    SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 15: Chris Martin #58 of the Los Angeles Dodgers reacts after striking out Wil Myers #5 of the San Diego Padres to end the sixth inning in game four of the National League Division Series at PETCO Park on October 15, 2022 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

    Here’s a stat for you: during a seven-year career covering 269 appearances and 251 innings, you know how many men Martin has walked? A mere 34, a microscopic average of just 1.2 per nine innings. Last year with the Cubs and Dodgers, he walked just five in 56 innings, an average of 0.8. So what’s the catch? Good question. Martin has allowed 255 hits in 251 innings over his career, though that’s hardly disturbing given how much he’s around the plate. Still, the Red Sox shouldn’t beat themselves as much when he’s out there, which, again, is a good start.

  • Richard Bleier

    MIAMI, FLORIDA - MAY 01: Richard Bleier #35 of the Miami Marlins delivers a pitch against the Seattle Mariners during the eighth inning at loanDepot park on May 01, 2022 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

    MIAMI, FLORIDA – MAY 01: Richard Bleier #35 of the Miami Marlins delivers a pitch against the Seattle Mariners during the eighth inning at loanDepot park on May 01, 2022 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

    If you had heard of Bleier before yesterday, it’s probably because of this: last September, he was called for three balks during one plate appearance – the first three balks of his career – that allowed a baserunner to score from first base in a game against the New York Mets. The good news? The baserunner – Jeff McNeil – had reached via an infield single. Bleier has averaged a mere 1.5 walks per nine innings for his career and walked just 1.8 per nine last season. He gets exposed against right-handed batters, but he’ll look like a diamond-cutter compared to people like Diekman and Darwinzon Hernandez, the latter of whom was released this offseason by the Red Sox while toting one of the worst walk rates in baseball history.

  • Corey Kluber

    CLEVELAND, OHIO - OCTOBER 08: Corey Kluber #28 of the Tampa Bay Rays throws a pitch in the thirteenth inning against the Cleveland Guardians in game two of the Wild Card Series at Progressive Field on October 08, 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

    CLEVELAND, OHIO – OCTOBER 08: Corey Kluber #28 of the Tampa Bay Rays throws a pitch in the thirteenth inning against the Cleveland Guardians in game two of the Wild Card Series at Progressive Field on October 08, 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

    OK, so Kluber is a starter and not a reliever. But work with us. After seemingly cutting ties with consistent strike-thrower Michael Wacha – who remains a free agent – the Red Sox replaced him with someone who historically has thrown strikes at one of the best rates in baseball history. For his career, Kluber has averaged just 2.0 walks per nine. Last season, among all qualifying pitchers, he led the AL with just 1.2 walks per nine innings. At this stage of his career, Kluber is really nothing more than a five-inning pitcher – two trips through the lineup feels like the max – but the Sox really didn’t get much more than that out of Wacha for much of last season.

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