Joel Hanrahan‘s entrance in the bottom of the ninth of last night’s 3-1 win over the Blue Jays surprised many. Andrew Bailey had done an excellent job in place of the eccentric former Pirate, saving 5 of 6 games and allowing just a run and 3 hits in 7 innings with an 11:2 strikeout to walk ratio. John Farrell had even gone as far as to announce that Bailey was staying in his role despite the return of Hanrahan. The hard-throwing right-hander did a good job of closing the door, allowing one hit in a scoreless inning, but it wasn’t what was expected of him.
That, of course, raises the question of what exactly is expected of him and I’m unsure if anybody knows quite what that role will be. Hanrahan has a good track record as a good pitcher, but he has not shown it this year. He has a 9.45 ERA, has allowed a .333 opponents’ batting average, and has 5 walks to just 4 strikeouts. He has shown excellent stuff at times, but at other times has proven to be just another erratic hard thrower.
That screams “NOOO!!!” to Hanrahan being in a high leverage spot for the Red Sox. In the eighth inning of a tie game, walking a pair of batters isn’t going to help a lot, even if he balances it out by striking out a pair as well. It seems that the man who saved 36 games with a 2.72 ERA last year and saved 40 games with a 1.83 ERA the year before is destined for middle relief.
This isn’t to say that Hanrahan is a bad pitcher, far from it. It is more a testament to the strength of the Red Sox’ bullpen, as one would be doomed if trying to argue that Hanrahan is a better pitcher than Bailey (1.46 ERA, 20:4 K:BB), Koji Uehara (1.54 ERA, 14:1 K:BB), or Junichi Tazawa (2.77 ERA, 15:3 K:BB). It’s tough to think of another bullpen in the majors (with the exception of Atlanta) where Hanrahan would be the fourth best pitcher in the bullpen.
However, that is the case in Boston. Even with his track record, it seems unintelligent at best and downright idiotic at worst to put Hanrahan into one of the highest leverage positions in baseball– closer of the Boston Red Sox. Hanrahan should contribute to what will be a lights out back end of the Red Sox bullpen though. I expect that he’ll pitch in the sixth and seventh innings if the Red Sox are in need of a flamethrower. If he struggles further, the Red Sox may try to bait another team based on his last two seasons. For now, however, let’s just enjoy that Joel Hanrahan is the fourth best reliever in this bullpen.