Red Sox Year in Review: Top five pleasant surprises of 2017

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 11: Drew Pomeranz
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 11: Drew Pomeranz /
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BOSTON, MA – SEPTEMBER 30: David Price (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA – SEPTEMBER 30: David Price (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images) /

Any bullpen would look good with Craig Kimbrel holding down the ninth inning yet given the number of unproven arms behind him in the Red Sox relief pitcher hierarchy you may be surprised to find that they finished second in the league in bullpen ERA.

Tyler Thornburg missed the entire season due to injury and Carson Smith‘s return from Tommy John surgery was delayed until September. With the Red Sox deprived of their two primary setup options, it was up to other pitchers to step up in the late-inning roles.

Joe Kelly found his niche this year out of the bullpen, where he was able to dial up his velocity and become less reliant on his weaker secondary pitches. He posted a stellar 1.49 ERA in the first half, earning enough trust to briefly give him an opportunity in the eighth-inning role. A trip to the disabled list sidelined him for a month and Kelly wasn’t quite the same pitcher when he returned but the overall results remain promising.

Fans will still grumble that David Price hasn’t lived up to his massive contract but he started to earn his way back into our good graces with his dominant relief appearances to wrap up the season. There wasn’t time for the lefty to build up his pitch count following his return from the disabled list in September so the team pivoted to using him as a versatile weapon out of the bullpen. Price tossed 8 2/3 scoreless innings with 13 strikeouts in the final month of the regular season. He followed that with 6 2/3 shutout innings over two appearances in the postseason.

The bullpen got an unexpected boost down the stretch from Austin Maddox (17 1/3 innings, 0.52 ERA) and Brandon Workman (39 2/3 innings, 3.18 ERA).

Aside from Kimbrel, Boston’s bullpen wasn’t overflowing with big name arms but they managed to get the job done. What seemed to be a potential weakness once injuries struck turned out to be a strength of the team.