The Boston Red Sox 2015 campaign is nothing short of a disappointment. The team is sitting at the bottom of the American League East division, soon to be mathematically eliminated from the postseason. However, as the team has continued to turn hopes around for 2016 by winning so many games in August and September, many of the players are finding silver linings in their play. David Ortiz reached 500 career home runs, Dustin Pedroia came back from injury and hit two home runs last night, the Hanley Ramirez experiment in the outfield is finally over, Joe Kelly discovered that he could win eight games in a row, and the young prospects have proven their worth and that they can hang very well with men in the majors.
So, where does that leave reliever Junichi Tazawa?
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Tim Britton of The Providence Journal reported that the Red Sox officially shut down the Japanese native for the rest of the 2015 season because of the heavy workload he endured this season. “Interim manager Torey Lovullo said the move has nothing to do with Tazawa’s health and is instead a proactive move to ease the frequently used Tazawa into a normal offseason.”
Tazawa appeared in 61 games, this season, posting a 2-7 record, a 4.14 ERA, and three saves in 10 save opportunities. Opposing batters hit .280 off of him and Tazawa’s WHIP was 1.33. He had 13 walks and 56 strikeouts in 58.2 innings of work.
Coming into the season, Tazawa was thought to be the setup man for his fellow Japanese reliever Koji Uehara, the 40-year-old closer. Koji’s age became a factor in many baseball experts’ opinions that Tazawa would be the heir apparent to the closer position, when Uehara decided to put his glove on the retirement shelf. Those opinions were expressed even more when Uehara went down earlier this season with a fractured wrist. Tazawa was to be the man in the ninth. Seven blown saves later, Tazawa is now the one being put on the shelf, at least for 2015.
According to Britton, “After Tazawa walked four consecutive Mets in a game on August 28, the Red Sox removed him from the closer’s role and talked about limiting his appearances to the eighth inning with a slim lead. He appeared to get back on track before allowing four runs while recording one out last Friday at Tampa Bay.”
Possible fatigue aside, the numbers are not with Tazawa. Excluding Uehara, Tazawa finds himself behind relievers Robbie Ross (3.79 in 54.2), Alexi Ogando (3.98 in 61), and Tommy Layne (4.12 in 43.2) for best earned run average coming from the bullpen and pitching at least 43 innings. The other relievers’ numbers are not exactly stellar, either, but then Tazawa’s are that much further behind, which is not acceptable from a possible closer candidate.
Sep 11, 2015; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Junichi Tazawa (36) reacts as he gives up a 2-run home run at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
To put some of these numbers into perspective, the closer with the most saves in the majors is Mark Melancon of the Pittsburgh Pirates, earning 46 saves in 48 opportunities with an opposing batting average of .211 and a 1.97 ERA in 68.2 innings, a good 10 more innings than Tazawa.
Even his elderly teammate, Uehara, has a .188 opposing batting average, something any closer would love to have. A closer wants to come in and get out, quickly. They can’t afford teams getting their hopes up by having hits and walks start the ninth inning; the other teams might actually think that they can come back. That’s why they’re called closers: they close the door on the other teams’ hopes and dreams of last-minute glory.
And, it’s not like Tazawa hasn’t had chances before 2015. In 2013, he went 0-for-8 in save opportunities, before the Red Sox settled on Uehara as the closer. Last season, Tazawa went 0-for-5. What is in his career that suggests he should be the next closer?
Now, the 29-year-old is being shut down for the rest of the regular season, which still has a number of games left. Whether it’s his health or fatigue or any other factor, the Red Sox believe that they’ve seen enough of what Tazawa can do for them. His arbitration year is 2016 and free agency comes in 2017. He’ll still be an asset that the Red Sox can use, for whatever purpose, and won’t be finding any big money bags next season if he decides to go to arbitration for them, not based on this season’s performance. If any of Boston’s young arms prove to be worthy of a second look in 2016, Tazawa’s future with the Red Sox should be considered very uncertain, let alone any status of being a closer.
The rising sun may be setting, quicker than anticipated.
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