Red Sox manager Alex Cora defends his questionable bullpen decisions
By Sean Penney
Bringing in Workman to begin the seventh doesn’t raise any flags. He’s been one of Boston’s best relievers this season. He can get a bit wild at times, with his 3.7 BB/9 now matching his career-high, yet Workman is as trustworthy an option as the Red Sox had available for that spot. The pair of walks is hardly ideal but you live with the decision.
Turning the ball over to Brasier to face the switch-hitting Walker is a bit more questionable. Brasier has been a pleasant surprise for the Red Sox this season but it was equally surprising that Cora didn’t call on a lefty with the game on the line. Brasier has been far more successful against right-handed batters (.122/.148/.204) than lefties (.245/.293/.377) while Walker struggles against southpaws (.174/.237/.246).
Cora had his reasons for going to Brasier with one out and men on the corners instead of lefty Bobby Poyner.
"“It was more about, if it was two outs with men at second he was coming in because (Luke) Voit was on the bench,” Cora said. “And I felt better with two outs and him able to expand the zone, up in the zone, and the changeups. If we walk him, we walk him and then we have Brasier for (Gleyber) Torres. But when we walked (Gary) Sanchez I wanted a groundball and we’ve seen Brasier has been able to do throughout the season. It didn’t happen today.”"
Ok, there’s a lot to unpack here but let’s start with the obvious. If Cora called in a lefty then the Yankees would have countered by pinch-hitting with the right-handed Luke Voit. The 27-year old has been great since arriving in New York and has more pop than Walker. Given the choice, you would prefer to avoid Voit in that spot.
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Brasier has also been one of the few trustworthy setup options for the Red Sox this season, producing a 1.53 ERA entering last night. Prior to Walker crushing the ball into the stands, Brasier had allowed only one home run in his previous 29 appearances this season. Needless to say, Walker beating Brasier with a homer was unexpected.
It’s clear that Brasier was told to pitch carefully to Walker, as Cora alluded to with his nonchalant attitude toward the concept of walking him to get to Gleyber Torres. The rookie has tailed off in the second half after bursting onto the major league scene early this season. Brasier didn’t follow the plan, hanging a slider right in Walker’s wheelhouse. That’s on the pitcher, not the manager.
The part where Cora loses me is when he refers to the need for a groundball double-play as a reason for turning to Brasier. It’s a limited sample but Brasier’s 40.5 groundball percentage puts him outside the top 150 major league relievers (minimum 30 innings). Sure, it’s a higher rate than Poyner (34.0%) or fellow lefty Robby Scott (23.1%). That still makes Brasier far from the best option when you need a double-play. Brasier’s 8.10 K/9 is also one of the lowest strikeout rates among the potential bullpen options Cora could have used in that spot.