Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
The defending World Champs are on the cusp of beginning their road to a two-peat. Though pitchers and catchers don’t officially report until the 15th, a multitude of players have already resumed baseball activities in Fort Myers. The offseason is quickly transitioning into spring ball, and for the most part that transition will end the Red Sox offseason pursuits. The franchise departed with two valuable players in Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalmacchia. These two departures highlight the Red Sox losses. The word that most accurately depicts the Red Sox in terms of additions, would be “depth.” Signing a plethora of players to low risk, high reward contracts. The depth that the Red Sox have acquired and that they possess within the organization will signal competition this spring. Today, we delve into which left-handed relievers will reign supreme over the others on March 31st.
Before we get acquainted with the candidates, it would be wise to review which non-southpaw relievers will for sure have a spot on Opening Day.
To shortlist it Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, Edward Mujica, Ryan Dempster, and Brandon Workman/Burke Badenhop will most likely occupy five of the seven bullpen roles.
I am taking a chance that Ryan Dempster, not Felix Doubront will be moved to the bullpen. The seasoned veteran was an anomaly on the collectively flourishing ball club. Dempster compiled a dismal 4.57 ERA and 4.68 FIP in 171 and 1/3 innings last year. Dempster is declining with age, and while Dempster is on the down slope, Doubront is on the rise. The young left-hander has showcased flashes of greatness pitching in Boston, possessing one of the highest swing and miss curveball in his repertoire. The nagging issue for Doubront has been his inability to get past the sixth inning. This in return subjects the bullpen to a heavier workload. I am confident that Farrell will make the right move by selecting Doubront as their number five starter. But anything can happen. It also seems likely that the Red Sox will come out of the gate with a 5-2 RHP: LHP ratio, but rolling the dice on three lefties is not unheard of. The Red Sox have a lot of talent all-around, so it will not be surprising either way they want to approach the bullpen situation.
Craig Breslow: Mr. 1.81 ERA is a virtual lock to occupy one of the spots in the bullpen. The second time around Red Sox, complemented the historically low run prevention total with a much less impressive 3.60 FIP (fielding independent pitching) in 59.2 innings in his most recent campaign. A lot has been made about his odd splits against right and left handed hitters, however. Right-handed hitters collected a meager .581 OPS versus Breslow, compared to a raw .704 OPS that hitters hit against Breslow. It is bizarre that a left-handed pitcher does not perform better against left-handed hitters. Breslow went against the curve last season by a substantial gap. Now fans are starting to ponder whether or not Breslow is equipped to act as the situational lefty that he is supposed to be. That fear should and could be quickly alleviated by taking a gander at his career splits. In his career, right-handed hitters cumulated a .644 OPS against the southpaw. Left-handed hitters totaled a similar .642 OPS. Even splits that are somewhat distorted by the unique 2013 season. Though Breslow may not be the prototypical left-handed ace that people expect, he is in fact, overall, one of the greatest assets on a deep Red Sox pen.
Andrew Miller: Miller is the second and final southpaw that I believe will have a place in Camden Yards on March 31st. Before being derailed by a foot injury that sidelined him for a majority of the year, Miller was on pace for the best season of his tenure. In 30 and 2/3 innings he composited a 2.64 ERA and 3.05 FIP. Miller can be placed in the same unique category as Breslow with his splits last season. Right-handers marked a low .526 OPS against Miller, while lefties hit for a solid .725 OPS. Sparking more similarities to Breslow, Miller as well has career splits that tell a different tale. In his eight-year career righties hit at a high .823 OPS against him, compared to a much lower .741 OPS versus lefties. Ultimately, it will come down to how well Miller progresses in JetBlue in terms of his health situation. If Miller struggles and does not appear to be in tip-top shape, than the Red Sox have a lot of quality safety nets itching for the opportunity.
Other Candidates: The Red Sox have three very quality candidates also vying for a spot on the roster. Their names being Jose Mijares, Rich Hill, and Drake Britton. Two proven veterans and one young arm. Mijares had a very strong 2012 campaign in San Francisco, but his 2013 numbers were significantly distorted by his bewildering .410 BABIP (batting average on balls in play). Jose Mijares has sleeper written all over him, but if he does not find a way to make the roster out of the gate among the deep group, than Mijares will certainly be given another chance in the MLB. The minor league starter turned MLB reliever, Drake Britton also has a strong case going for him. He dazzled fans in parts of 2013 and disappointed in others. For the most part, however, he was a very solid piece to the puzzle. The thing that is holding him back is his inexperience and the questions that rife from that. I believe that if Miller is not healthy or they bring a third reliever into the fold that Mijares will be third in line, followed by Britton. Rich Hill, the side-arm pitcher, is the final candidate to assume the role in the bullpen. Fans remember his stellar play in parts of three seasons with the Red Sox and it can hinder people from seeing what Hill really is, a journeyman that never quite solidified himself as a mainstay in any organization. Last season with Cleveland was utter atrocity, collecting a 6.28 ERA and 3.82 FIP in 38 and 2/3 innings with the Indians.
The Red Sox have a lot of viable candidates for the roles. Breslow is a lock, and Miller, if healthy, is too. The third, let’s call it final bullpen spot, is what really will be interesting to lookout for in the next coming weeks. The plethora of quality options that the Red Sox have, truly speaks volumes to the Red Sox organizational philosophy, and as we all know, worked out last season.