Boston Red Sox continue with bullpen fortifications


The rebuilding of the Boston Red Sox bullpen continues with the trade for Carson Smith.

The Boston Red Sox continue to be a baseball construction site and so far the foundation appears fairly solid. This is no “Big Dig” or even – and I am dating myself – Boston Common Underground Garage fiasco.

Baseball Operations guru, Dave Dombrowski, is piecing together a reasonable rotation and apparently is going full-bore on taking arguably the most hideously performing bullpen in baseball and somehow converting it into something that will be a facsimile of what is the latest trend – a lights-out bullpen as demonstrated by the champion Kansas City Royals.

Koji Uehara is signed and healthy. Junichi Tazawa one expects will be as proficient as always providing the workload is reduced. And, of course, the 800-pound gorilla was the trade that brought Craig Kimbrel to town and that is one very successful closer. Where is further depth? That was just answered with the acquisition of the 26-year-old Carson Smith.

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The catch of Smith further solidifies the Red Sox bullpen that was the Freddy Kruger of pitching performances. The lanky Smith (6’ 6”) appeared in 70 games for the M’s with 13 saves. Smith posted a 2-5 record that was accompanied by a 2.31 ERA, WHIP of 1.01 and BA of .192. , but what stands out is 11.8 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and a ground-ball rate of 64.8%. This is a notch more impressive GB rate than Burke Badenhop, who had a nice 2014 run in Boston.

Mr. Smith is essentially a two-pitch pony with his sinker being tossed 51.4% of the time with a velocity of 92.5 MPH. That, my friends, is one hard sinker. The slider was shown 40.9% of the time and an occasional curve, fastball and change finished off the pitching choices. A further view of various metrics is impressive with a 2.12 FIP, 2.36 xFIP and a WAR of 2.1.

So now that Mr. Smith has come to Boston just what can Boston fans expect?

Smith will be placed into a back-end of the bullpen situation and add further depth to the seventh and eighth inning (or earlier) options. When a ground ball situation happens Smith may be manager John Farrell’s go to pitcher. And Smith has closing experience so that has been a plus since quality – note the word quality – depth is important and not a stream of gas cans coming in as RSN saw in 2015.

Are there any negatives with Smith?

In one Boston career appearance, it was not pretty – two innings and two runs on three hits, but with the meager appearances in the remaining ballparks of the American League East nothing jumps out, so one bad Boston outing can be dismissed. Another potential issue is that Smith pitched in a pitching paradise in Seattle’s Safeco Field.

On the road, Smith’s ERA bumped up to 3.18 from 1.50 at home and the hits came in at almost one per inning – 32 hits in 34 IP on the road. Otherwise, the K and BB rate remained relatively stable. Then a gander at the first and second half splits that points to a reversal of fortune and that may deserve some speculative attention.

In the second half of 2015 Smith’s WHIP went from 0.77 to 1.27 and walks increased from six to 16. ERA went upwards from a first half 1.73 to a 2.94 second half. A sinker ball pitcher is also prone to the plague of the wild pitch and Smith notched six for the season. Tazawa had nine so the Red Sox have some extra base potential in the WP department. Smith also totaled seven hit batters and that led all American League relievers.

Next: Red Sox trade Wade Miley to Seattle Mariners

The second half performance can raise some concerns. Is it a trend? Over use? That will all be answered in 2016, but for now this is a very positive move towards restoring the credibility of the Boston bullpen.

Sources: Fangraphs/baseball-reference