The Red Sox bullpen is not ideal for the postseason. These two starters being turned relievers could be the difference between an early exit and a World Series.
Since August 1, the Boston Red Sox bullpen is 13th in bullpen ERA and 22nd in bullpen FIP. Obviously, this is not ideal for a team with World Series aspirations. With a surplus of starters, two have already been moved or activated and placed in the bullpen. These two are hard-throwing Nathan Eovaldi and knuckleballer Steven Wright.
Last postseason, this strategy was a big reason the Houston Astros won the World Series, using Charlie Morton, Lance McCullers, and Brad Peacock out of the bullpen. Alex Cora, who was part of that Astros coaching staff, knows how effective that strategy was.
On July 25, the Red Sox acquired Eovaldi for lefty Jalen Beeks. He was extremely impressive in his first two outings, combining for 15 shutout innings in two starts against the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees. Since then, starting has been a struggle for him, as he has posted a 6.85 ERA in 22.1 innings during starts.
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With Chris Sale‘s return, Eovaldi moved to the bullpen. With a fastball that averages 97.3 MPH, he is an intriguing reliever, especially with the ability to throw multiple innings. In 2016, Eovaldi threw 7.2 scoreless innings in relief for the Yankees in three appearances. He averaged 98.3 MPH on his fastball, which was up a tick from his average as a starter that season.
Eovaldi has since added a cutter to his repertoire, which has really become an effective pitch. In his first appearance out of the bullpen for the Red Sox, he threw 3.2 innings allowing two earned runs. It was not really a taste of a possible postseason appearance, because he had to throw 73 pitches, which he likely will not be doing in a playoff game. If the Red Sox can get him some appearances in short relief, preferably an inning or two, it will be interesting to watch and see how the velocity is.
Another likable quality Eovaldi possesses is that he does not walk too many batters like other hard throwers. He walks just 1.65 per nine while his teammate Joe Kelly walks 4.26 per nine. However, as Alex Cora has pointed out, he needs to throw more quality strikes. Throwing less pitches allows him to raise the velocity even more, and possibly hit spots better when not having to worry about fatigue.
In 2012, the Red Sox acquired Wright for former top prospect Lars Anderson. Wright was an unknown guy and had been pretty much a failure in the minors until 2012. He began throwing the knuckleball in 2011 after years of going nowhere as a traditional pitcher. He struggled his first pro season with it but found success after being traded to the Red Sox.
He got his first shot in 2013 but was not able to find a continual spot on the roster. The same happened in 2014, and in 2015 he got a bit more of a chance, making 16 appearances, nine of them being starts.
Then, 2016 happened. He had a very good first half, posting a 3.36 ERA and was a large part in the Red Sox first-half success. Unfortunately, John Farrell thought it was a good idea to pinch run him in a game, and he ended up injuring his shoulder diving back into second and ended up missing most of the remainder of the season. In 2017, a knee injury ended his season after just five starts.
So now in 2018, it was pretty unclear what the Red Sox would get from him, especially after a suspension from a domestic violence incident in the offseason. Until an implosion on June 22, he was excellent, boasting a 1.23 ERA. After that extremely rough start, it was found that his knee had flared up and he was placed on the DL.
Since coming back he has been exclusively a reliever and has been tremendous. He has tossed five scoreless innings, including a scoreless eighth in a 1-0 game earlier this week. With the change of speed he offers out of the bullpen, he is a fascinating postseason option. No matter which starter the Red Sox use, he is at least a 15 MPH drop in average velocity on his primary pitch. If they can start someone like Chris Sale and get him through five or six then hand the ball to Wright for one turn of the order and then get the ball to someone like Ryan Brasier, teams will have trouble adjusting to the velocity.
With a lack of high-quality arms, this strategy could be a game changer in October. As a knuckleballer, he is prone to implosion, but are the other Red Sox relievers that safer of choices?