Red Sox: Is there too much heat in Boston’s bullpen?

Feb 28, 2017; Fort Myers, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell (53) looks on |N at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 28, 2017; Fort Myers, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell (53) looks on |N at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Red Sox have some real duplication from the right side of their bullpen. Maybe a little variety would help put spice in their baseball life?

The Boston Red Sox have an interesting collection of aspiring right-handed bullpen talent that has certainly adopted the latest mantra of relief pitching – harder is better. Pass the blame to the Kansas City Royals and their vaunted collection that eventually led them to a World Series title.

Gone is Koji Uehara and his fastball that would have extreme difficulty breaking an egg. Koji operated with stealth and despite the lack of flames being emitted from his “heater” still managed impressive strikeout numbers. Last season Koji tossed his fastball at a 50% rate with a speed that averaged 86.7 MPH, according to Fangraphs. Uehara still managed a very impressive 12.06 K/9.

This season the talent that is expected to be called from the right side have two things in common – they throw predominately fastball and they throw hard. The leader of the fastball (FB) brigade is Craig Kimbrel, who heaves the hard one 68.4% of the time with a nasty 97.3 MPH. Surprisingly the next on the parade is Matt Barnes with 96.6 MPH and a 67.2% rate.

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Joe Kelly – he of the occasional 100 MPH – checks in with an FB rate of 65.8% and an average gun speed of 96.3 MPH. Newcomer Tyler Thornburg is another primary fastball tosser with a delivery rate of 66.3% and speed of 94.1 MPH. The laggard is Heath Hembree, who is a slow poke at 93.8 MPH for his 60.6% rate.

What I look at is a change of pace and not within the personal pitch selection, but from pitcher to pitcher. Seems to be a bundle of duplication as you move from one to another with essentially the same pitch to sit on or make an adjustment. Maybe a Steven Wright could offer variety if he is packaged to the ‘pen?

The one item on the staff that interests me is Lefty Robby Scott. Scott did some reasonable work late in the season and will never be confused with Billy Wagner. Scott tosses four different pitches – five if you toss it fastball variations – and he mixes them up well. Scott went to what passes for a fastball a miserly 32.7% and no speed barriers were broken – just 87.3 MPH.

Does the bullpen need a Scott type from the right side? When the Red Sox passed on Uehara that is what I wondered. That’s a very nice change of pace before Kimbrel arrives to make his smoke look like 100+.

Pitchers speed has progressed like size in football with linemen. Linemen get physically larger and pitchers throw harder. Pitchers are generally the bigger bodies on a team and speed does not necessarily equate with success. What is the key with consistently hard throwers is the development of another option? When Kimbrel has his other pitch – a curve – working he becomes virtually unhittable.

Relief pitchers are stuck in a loop since speed is the sexy attention getter. The dynamics of the positions are usually a one inning and done so just air it out, but to be truly successful you need a bit more than just pure heat or one pitch unless you are Mariano Rivera.

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Just how this pans out will be an interesting side not for the season as I watch the bullpen develop. I just fear a move from Barnes to Hembree to even Kelly will not require that much of an adjustment for hitters. They will sit on number one.

Source: Fangraphs