The BoSox Injection staff reflects on the 2016 season by grading each member of the Boston Red Sox based on expectations for them entering the season.
Coming into 2016, Matt Barnes wasn’t really on people’s radar as someone to keep an eye on. He was just another body in the Red Sox bullpen that had added a closer in Craig Kimbrel and another solid set-up guy in Carson Smith.
Often times, being a middle reliever is an unforgiving position because you aren’t noticed unless you make a mistake and have a bad outing. Andrew Miller changed the game for middle relief this postseason, but that’s a whole different set of circumstance given that he was traded for mid-season and is one of the best in the game.
Barnes had spent three seasons as a starter in the minors trying to work his way to the big leagues. With a fastball, curveball and changeup that were all pretty effective, Barnes showed some promise. After floundering around a bit, his fastball was good enough that Boston decided to see what he could do in the bullpen in 2015. He came into 2016 ready to roll in his first full season as a reliever.
When Smith went down early on and had to have Tommy John surgery, it appeared that there was an opening for Barnes to take on a larger role in the bullpen. That didn’t happen exactly. Barnes was still more of 6th/7th inning kind of guy and was a bit up-and-down as the year went on.
He would have a couple of nice outings in a row, and then get hit around the yard a bit in the next. His fastball definitely had the velocity that you’re looking for in a reliever, but he did have some difficulty locating it at times. In fact, you could argue that Barnes’ mediocrity forced Dombrowski to make a move for Brad Ziegler.
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Barnes finished the season with 66.2 innings pitched, a 4.05 ERA, and six home runs allowed. He struck out a total of 71 batters and walked 31. It’s probably more effective to glance at the strikeout and walks per nine innings to get a better idea of how he performed. It’s basically the definition of an up-and-down season. He struck out 9.6 batters per nine innings which is pretty good, however he also walked 4.2 batters per nine. That is poor and is not something you’re looking for in a reliever.
He looked better at the beginning-to-middle of the season, but struggled at times in August and September. That is when his ERA ballooned to the upper three’s and then over four. He was always there for John Farrell though and was a reliable arm for Boston all season long.
Barnes will be back next year in the same roll. According to WEEI’s Rob Bradford, Dave Dombrowski already mentioned that Barnes will be in the mix. With Smith returning, the closer role already set, plus Boston apparently looking for another top-of-the line reliever/set-up man, it appears Barnes will continue in the middle relief role.
He made just $511,000 last season and is under the team’s control for another two seasons before he is eligible for arbitration. With those kind of numbers, he is actually a good bargain for the team.
They’ll need him to be much more consistent next season and get those walks down. Again, it’s not a very forgiving position, but it’s still a very important one where the pitcher has the ability to either slow the bleeding if he enters while the team is losing, or to maintain a lead when a team is winning. Hopefully Barnes has found his niche and just needs to figure out his location on a consistent basis.