John Farrell John Farrell

Red Sox Bullpen Needs Work, Maybe More Than Starting Rotation


The Boston Red Sox under manager John Farrell have been using the strategy that if they can have their starters outlast the opposing team’s starter, then they have a chance to win. However, this year’s World Series Champions, the Kansas City Royals, did the exact opposite. Their starters may go five to seven innings, but the game was never in more jeopardy after putting their relievers on the mound. Maybe Farrell’s strategy has a couple flaws.

More from Red Sox History

Even last night, in Game Five of the World Series, the New York Mets had their stud starter Matt Harvey outlast Edinson Volquez, only to lose in extra innings. Volquez pitched six innings and gave up two runs; Harvey went eight innings and gave up two runs. Stalemate, as far as the starters’ results are concerned. If anything, Harvey went too long and gave up the first run and a baserunner on second with no outs in the ninth inning, even though they had their juggernaut of a closer Jeurys Familia to relieve him. Familia had 43 saves and a 1.85 ERA in the regular season; yet, the Mets kept Harvey in the game and disaster struck.

Arguably, Harvey’s runner scored on Familia’s watch to tie the game; however, since the closer went two full innings without a hit or a walk it’s very possible that Familia would have just shut the door on the Royals if he had started the inning.

Where the Red Sox enter this conversation is when you adjust your view on the Royals bullpen, instead of the Mets’ debacle.

The Royals had Kelvin Herrera pitch three straight relief innings of shutout ball. For the postseason, he had pitched 13.2 innings, struck out 22 opposing batters, and had a 0.66 ERA. Luke Hochevar pitched another two innings to hold the Mets at bay, pitching 10.2 innings and not allowing a run at all in nine postseason appearances. Wade Davis closed out the game, once the Royals took the lead, for his fourth playoff save and never allowed a run in 10.2 innings, striking out 18 hitters in the process. For the regular season, Davis was 8-1, with a 0.94 ERA and had 17 saves in 67.1 innings of work.

Kansas City’s bullpen was ranked tied for third in Major League Baseball for wins (30), second in ERA (2.72), and third for saves (56). The Red Sox had 40 saves, a 4.24 ERA, and 19 wins in relief, putting them in the average to below average side of the rankings.

Of course, it was because the Royals’ starters were so dominant before the bullpen took over, right?

The Royals’ starters had 65 wins to Boston’s 59. The Royals’ starters’ ERA was 4.34, just ahead of Boston’s 4.39, putting them at 22nd and 24th place, respectively in both majors. And, if you think the Royals’ ERA is because the starters held on longer, in fact, the Royals starters played only 912.2 innings to the Red Sox starters pitching 947.1 innings.

To cap this stat-fest off, the Royals didn’t even score as many runs as the Red Sox, driving in only 724 runs to Boston’s 748.

Did the Royals win the World Series because they had the most dominant starting rotation in the majors? No. Did they win their second championship in the club’s history because they had an explosive, high-octane offense? No. They won because their starters and bullpen worked together to keep teams to a low amount of runs while the offense kept coming at the opposing teams. A war of attrition, if you will. The bullpen dominated over lineups, once they blew their collective sweat over the Royals’ starter, having nothing left in the tank while the Royals chipped away at leads until they had the lead, themselves.

The Red Sox may be publicly stating that they need an ace, for legitimate reasons or to quell Red Sox Nation’s frustrations, but it may not be the biggest problem. Based on the numbers, maybe a number of solid, quality relievers could help the Sox and their starting rotation more than one big arm whom only plays once every five games.