The Red Sox have made three major league pitching acquisitions this offseason: Burke Badenhop, Chris Capuano, and Edward Mujica. None of those pitchers will likely be significant acquisitions that make large impacts in 2014 (with the possible exception of Mujica), but the additions of those three pitchers represent something different– a change in philosophy for the Red Sox’ pitching staff.
Once a pitching staff prized for their powerful arms throughout both the bullpen and rotation, the Red Sox have made a shift to a more command-based ideology, especially in the bullpen. The traditional thought-process is to have powerful, hard-throwing relief pitchers, but the Red Sox ‘pen thrived last season due to limiting their walks and they appear to be putting the same theory into action in 2014. In fact, of the seven pitchers projected to anchor the relief corps in 2014, Andrew Miller is the only pitcher with a walk rate over 2.7 BB/9.
This represents a major change from the days not too long ago when Daniel Bard (career 4.2 BB/9) and Manny Delcarmen (career 4.2 BB/9) were regulars in the late innings. Though the Red Sox don’t have anybody that throws 100 mph nowadays, six of seven pitchers can be easily trusted to avoid the free pass.
However, it’s not just in the bullpen. Starting pitchers have been cutting down on their walks just as much as their counterparts in the bullpen, as from 2012 to 2013 (2011 to 2013 in the case of John Lackey), every pitcher in the Red Sox rotation has cut a few points off of their walk rate. Jon Lester is a perfect example of the gradual change in the Red Sox’ pitching philosophy as he posted a 3.6 BB/9 in 2010– the height of the Red Sox’ loss of identity as an organization under Theo Epstein– and has seen it fall every year, all the way to 2.8 last season.
Some would attribute that change to Lester’s maturing as a pitcher. However, one could easily make the argument that it’s due to a larger change in the management and development of pitchers. Whatever the reason is, it’s working.
Hiring John Farrell as manager and Juan Nieves as pitching coach was last year’s step towards this new philosophy. This year’s step has been the acquisitions of Badenhop, Capuano, and Mujica. The front office has done their job; it’s now up to the players to continue this positive trend and prove that I’m on to something here. If this is a legitimate team philosophy and the team commits to ingraining it in young pitchers and acquiring pitchers that fit the prototype, then the Red Sox look to be well-positioned for the future. After all, a team could have far worse philosophies than high on-base percentage at the plate and low walk rates on the mound.