Red Sox: Mr. Softy optimistically looks at the 2018 bullpen

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 05: Austin Maddox
HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 05: Austin Maddox /

The Boston Red Sox bullpen was very good in 2017.  In 2018 that bullpen may go from good to great. Call me Mr. Softy on that.

I may have been Mr. Negativity when looking at the Red Sox rotation, but I become Mr. Softy when looking at the bullpen.  Do I love this ‘pen as much as eggnog ice cream, unicorns, and rainbows? No, but it is a very close second.  I just see several less “ifs” from that collection compared to the rotation.

How times have changed The Red Sox starters tossed 1482.1 innings in 2017 and the bullpen chipped in with 531.  The boys who didn’t start managed to be ranked third – behind Cleveland and New York – in the American League with a 7.0 fWAR.  But about those changing times?  In 1962 the Red Sox bullpen tossed 332.1 innings. Through the decades since the bullpen efforts continue to grow.

You check the splits for the Boston bullpen and what jumps out is the consistency and it is positive consistency.  There is little statistical deviation between the first and second half and even into September crunch time when the ‘pen was called upon for 114 innings.

The one factor that certainly can skewer the various metrics is Craig Kimbrel.  Is he the best closer in the AL? For me, it is a resounding “yes” with the possible exclusion of the postseason, but I’ll bypass that since I am in Mr. Softy mode.

In baseball today, speed does not kill – it sells, and the Boston collection had a 94.8 MPH (v) for their efforts. A thank you to Mr. Kimbrel, but some others also tossed considerable heat. Joe Kelly with 99v even topped out slow ball tossing Kimbrel at 98.4v. Heath Hembree and Matt Barnes went over 95v and impressive Austin Maddox was clocked at 95.2v.

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Throwing hard is one aspect of pitching and the second is trying to get the pitches reasonably close to the plate. The Boston bullpen had a 3.03 BB/9 and that is the third lowest in the AL.  As I cherry pick the statistics I note that Boston is the stingiest bullpen for allowing runners stranded with a 79.8 LOB%. One downside is they don’t get many ground balls with a 42.1 GB%.

I see improvement in this squad.  The loss of Tyler Thornburg and Carson Smith should have been catastrophic. They were not two bindlestiffs, but expected to be premier set-up specialist.  The loss of both allowed some development to take place and now Smith appears ready to go.  A real plus. If Thornburg is ready to answer the call this could be the best bullpen in the AL.

Looking for a negative is easy as the Red Sox passed on the one item I would have enjoyed seeing out of the bullpen – a proven shutdown lefty. Jake McGee was my guy, but, alas, Jake returns to Coors Field  – ouch!

Next: Mr. Negativity looks at the 2018 rotation

My questions about the rotation are significant, but with the bullpen, I see talent, depth, experience and a carry-over and improvement from 2017. My big and up in lights concern is they may need even more depth if the rotation collapse. Maybe Mitch Moreland can be brought back to work relief?