Red Sox bullpen: Can Matt Barnes be trusted in close games?
The latest disappointing appearance from Boston Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes leaves us wondering if he can be counted on with the game on the line.
The Boston Red Sox have one of the league’s best bullpens this season. Right-hander Matt Barnes has been part of the reason why. He’s having a career year, posting a 2.51 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and 11.93 K/9. So why is it so hard to trust him?
Sunday’s appearance against the Chicago White Sox provided the latest fodder for Barnes detractors. He wasn’t tagged with the loss since he entered the game with the Red Sox trailing. However, it seemed out of reach once Barnes coughed up a pair of runs in the top of the ninth.
Barnes has put up numbers that resemble a top-notch reliever this season but that doesn’t mean he can be counted on as one. He’s been at his best when the game isn’t close. Barnes has faced 117 batters when either team is leading by 4+ runs, more than the number of plate appearances he’s faced in any other scoreboard margin. He’s holding opposing batters to a .145 average in those situations.
As the margin narrows, Barnes has been less effective in fewer opportunities.
|Within 3 runs||21||86||.197||.650||6|
|Within 2 runs||18||76||.226||.739||5|
|Within 1 run||13||53||.262||.772||3|
Barnes hasn’t allowed a hit in two appearances with the score tied, although the small sample of eight plate appearances speaks more to the team’s lack of trust in him.
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It’s not as though Barnes is being wasted in mop-up duty. Sunday was only the fourth time this season that he’s been used with the Red Sox trailing. Opposing hitters are hitting .333 with a .789 OPS and he’s allowed four earned runs when his team is behind. Those numbers are a bit skewed in a small sample size due to his most recent outing.
He’s also made only one appearance with a margin of more than four runs. He retired all three batters he faced in that outing.
Barnes isn’t being used in blowouts. Most of his work has come in the 7th and 8th innings when the score has a margin of at least a couple of runs. This shows that manager Alex Cora is willing to turn to him in spots that matter. Yet these results lead us to question how much that trust has been earned.
While he’s hardly the best choice to be a setup man in this bullpen, Barnes can still be a useful bridge to the ninth inning. Between the sixth and eighth inning is when he should be called upon. Preferably when the Red Sox are leading by at least three runs.
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The eventual return of Tyler Thornburg should shake up the bullpen hierarchy. Assuming he returns to form, Thornburg can share setup duties with Joe Kelly. That bumps everyone else in the bullpen down a notch, enabling them to pitch in lower leverage situations. That’s the role where Barnes should be able to thrive.