Red Sox Prediction: Tyler Thornburg will be worth the wait
New Boston Red Sox reliever Tyler Thornburg has always had trouble in Spring Training. He’s at it again, and no one should be concerned.
Spring Training is a happy, welcome sign for Boston Red Sox fans, marking the first time they get to watch their new and improved team in action. It’s also an invitation for rash, overeager extrapolations, where fans and analysts alike judge meaningless exhibition performances to make bold claims.
Don’t get me wrong; Spring Training can be a time for improvement. Rising prospects or unheard of minor leaguers take developmental steps, ones that last throughout their rising status in a team’s roster. But for established veterans, full arsenals are held back, and the pressures of in-season situations that normally drive them are nowhere to be found. Thus, Spring Training stats often tell a warped picture, one that can’t be trusted.
Such is the case of Tyler Thornburg, the new Red Sox addition to the back of the bullpen. Acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers over the winter for Travis Shaw and prospects Mauricio Dubon and Josh Pennington, the 27-year old is coming off his best season to date. Posting a 2.15 ERA across 67 frames and striking out 90, Thornburg would take over the closer’s role by the end of the season.
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However, the righty hasn’t yet shown Red Sox fans what he can do. He’s made two Spring Training appearances thus far – and has yet to escape an inning.
On Feb. 25 he toed the rubber for the first time in 2017 and allowed five runs (four earned) to the Twins, only recording two outs. Then on March 1, he let four Orioles cross the plate (three earned), again only getting two outs.
But breathe easy, because this is hardly unprecedented for the hard-throwing reliever. Thornburg held a 10.24 ERA last spring, and entered 2017 with a 5.77 career ERA in Spring Training.
"“I always kind of start slow in spring just because the lower body wants to go full speed and the arm isn’t ready to be doing that yet,” Thornburg told Masslive.com."
One look at Thornburg’s unusual delivery puts the righty’s words into context. A straight over-the-top arm angle takes slightly longer for his upper body to catch up with his stride out of the stretch. It’s a game of timing; Thornburg has to make sure both halves of his body. When the arm lags behind, the ball is released too early, resulting in leaving pitches up. Anyone who has seen one of Thornburg’s two outings thus far will have noticed the fastballs left up in the zone or the unfinished, hanging curveball.
But that’s what Spring Training is for: work out the kinks now so it’s smooth sailing come April. And for a pitcher of Thornburg’s caliber, making the argument that he’ll be an effective member of the Red Sox bullpen is an easy one.
His K/9 has steadily risen each year since he became a reliever in 2013, topping out 12.09 last season. He had all the marks of an elite setup man in 2016, with a 81.3 left-on-base percentage, a .161 opponent batting average and a 34.2 strikeout percentage.
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2017 will be another year of dominance from the underrated hurler. He may not continue the progression he’s shown over the last four seasons (mostly because it’s nearly impossible to improve upon his 2016 numbers), but an ERA hovering around 2.40 with a K/9 nearing 10.0 would be reasonable to expect. Make no mistake: Spring Training Tyler Thornburg is meaningless – pay him no mind. Wait for the high-leverage situations to bring the best out of the Red Sox’s new bullpen weapon.