Early Innings: Grading the Red Sox bullpen
Friday’s game against the Tampa Bays Rays was the 54th of the 2014 MLB season, which is exactly one-third of the way through the 162-game schedule. The campaign has had its share of highs, lows and head-scratchers so far. The BSI team will look back on the first two months by evaluating the team’s performance, position-by-position.
Previously: outfield, infield, starting pitchers
The Boston Red Sox bullpen has the lowest ERA in the American League and fourth lowest in the majors. There have not been many bright spots, at least during a ten game losing streak, but the bullpen has been pretty solid throughout the season. This is a review of how each pitcher (who has been with the team most of the season) has fared so far.
Overall Grade: A
Burke Badenhop (0-2, 2.01, 2 holds, 1 save, 17/23 inherited runners stranded)) has been tremendous so far this year. In three straight appearances in April he gave up runs, but since then he has allowed an earned run one time. He has not been scored upon since April 18, a span of 23 innings. He can pitch multiple innings and Manager John Farrell has started to trust him in high-leverage situations.
Craig Breslow (2-1, 5.00, 1 hold, 4/4 IRS) has only been scored on in three of his appearances, but two of them totaled nine runs, which inflated his ERA. He was used sporadically in April as he was treated carefully by Farrell early on, going eight days between appearances at one point. Generally appears in losing games (6-12 team record).
Junichi Tazawa (1-0, 2.16, 4 holds, 9/9 IRS) had a rough patch in late April/early May when he was scored on in 3 of 4 appearances. Since then, he has pitched 11 innings, allowing only 1 earned run. Has not pitched multiple innings since May 1, so Farrell might be trying to limit him to one inning.
Chris Capuano (1-1, 1.95. 4 holds, 15/20 IRS) has pitched more than one inning in 10 of his 23 appearances, so he and Badenhop are the long relief men on the staff. Had a similar 4 appearance tough stretch in which he was scored on 3 times, but that was after allowing no runs for his first 13 appearances. Overall, has been tremendous.
Koji Uehara (1-1, 0.67, 11 saves, 6/7 IRS) has been as unbelievably good as last year. 34/3 strikeout to walk ratio. 1 HR allowed in 23.2 innings. A little up with the WHIP, 0.84 vs. last year’s all-time best 0.57, but you never feel he is ever going to blow it.
Edward Mujica (2-1. 6.10, 1 save, 6/9 IRS) has been a disappointment. Koji should fire his agent because Mujica makes the same money as him. Was briefly the closer, saved one, then blew one. Has been better of late (scored on only 1 time in last 8 appearances), and seems to pitch better with more work. He worked 3 straight days recently without allowing a run.
Andrew Miller (2-4, 2.63, 3 holds, 14/14 IRS) had a brutal stretch when he gave up 3 walk-offs during the 10-game losing streak. With the exception of the two-run bomb in Minnesota, the losses were not due to hard contact. He splits time with Tazawa, functioning as the eighth inning guy vs. lefties. Generally filthy stuff and still trusted by Farrell despite 4 losses.
Things that jump out about this staff are the low ERAs (5 of 7 are under 3.00), and the low numbers of inherited runners that they allow to score. Last season the league leaders were in the low 90s in terms of percentage and this group strands 84 percent as a staff, which is tremendous. During the losing streak, there wasn’t much the pen could do because the starters were getting lit up every night, but once the offense came around and the starters performed better, the bullpen has been even better than it had been. During the seven-game winning streak, the ‘pen has pitched 21.1 innings, allowing 1 earned run (0.42 ERA).
It is unreasonable to believe this latest run of dominance can continue, but a bullpen ERA of 2.74 over 180.2 innings is not a fluke. It might not end up the American League leader as it is now, but if the Red Sox bullpen can continue in a similar vein, it will continue to be a strength of the team and perhaps lead to another trip to the playoffs in October.