Red Sox 25 in 25: Junichi Tazawa


2014 RECAP:
Junichi Tazawa has cemented a spot in the Red Sox bullpen for the foreseeable future. While he was a crucial member of the World Series champion Boston squad in 2013, his 2014 effort was almost on par with the year prior. He had a better ERA of 2.86 in comparison to 2013’s 3.16. He pitched about 5 innings less at 63.0 with 8 less strikeouts at 64. Tazawa only gave up 5 homeruns last season and 58 hits with a WHIP of 1.19. Sometimes it’s easy to take a solid bullpen pitcher/set-up man for granted, but these roles have become increasingly important in today’s MLB.

Tazawa, who led the team in average fastball velocity at 96.9 mph last season, filled a vital role. Sometimes when a team struggles in the bottom of the standings, solid relief pitching can go unnoticed. Sure, the pressure situations were few and far between in 2014 since the Sox were usually behind, but Tazawa’s understanding of opposing batters and command of his fastball/curveball/splitter combo again made him a consistent, reliable option for John Farrell all season. Something to watch out for however – Junichi walked 17 batters last year, the most in his five year career (he had Tommy John surgery in 2010 and missed the whole season).

As the Red Sox looked to build a fresh starting staff in the offseason, they’ve decided to stay the course with the meat of their bullpen. Koji Uehara will again be in the closer role while Junichi Tazawa will be the set-up man in the 7th/8th for a majority of the schedule. Tazawa was arbitration-eligible for the second time in his career, but that was avoided when he inked a one-year deal with Boston worth 2.25 million dollars.

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Middle relief can be overlooked and be under-appreciated, however it is a role that Tazawa relishes. Discussing being a middle-reliever through a translator with FanGraphs’ David Laurila, Tazawa was recently quoted:

“I don’t feel I have to be a closer to prove that I’m a good pitcher. There are a lot of important outs in the middle innings. I understand what the pressure is like being a closer, trying to finish the game off, but there are situations where getting a crucial out in the sixth, seventh or eighth inning can be a turnaround in the momentum. I like my job. I know people don’t think much of middle relievers, but I feel there is a lot of significance there.”

He went on to say: “I would say that it’s more taxing mentally. It’s not easy to not know, but preparing with uncertainty is part of being a middle reliever. That’s a significant part of it. I know I probably won’t be pitching three games in a row, but I have to be mentally prepared at all times.” (

That is the perfect mentality for a relief pitcher, and one that the Red Sox certainly value. Tazawa has career ERA of 2.62 and strikes out a batter per inning over his last three seasons with Boston according to Rotoworld (, which makes it quite obvious the he has carved out his niche with the Sox. They are hoping that he will see his fair share of high pressure situations this season as they look to regain a top spot in the AL.