The 2018 season was a love-hate relationship with the Red Sox bullpen. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski passed on making any significant additions at the trading deadline and the general consensus was this would doom the team in the playoffs. That – thankfully – proved just the opposite when the playoffs arrived.
The two big health question marks are Carson Smith and Tyler Thornburg who have been clear failures in their Red Sox years. Both have injury issues that may or may not kill their careers. Smith (1-1, 3.72) appeared to be making headway until he injured his shoulder and Thornburg managed to give up six home runs in just 24 innings. Don’t count on either.
The next issue is free agents Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly. This is a real flip-flop between the regular season and postseason for both. Kimbrel had 42 saves and the strikeouts were down (13.9 K/9) versus 2017 and the walks (4.5 BB/9) we up. Kimbel was awful in the playoffs with 10.2 innings pitched and seven earned runs.
Kelly gave the Dodgers fits in the World Series appearing in all five games and allowing no runs, four hits, striking out 10, and issuing no walks. Kelly didn’t walk a batter in the playoffs despite having a 4.4 BB/9 during 2018. And 2018 was a tale of two halves with the first half being spectacular and the second half a spectacular failure.
Expect the remaining pieces of the bullpen to return with all-purpose starter-reliever Hector Velazquez, hard-throwing Matt Barnes, home run prone (10) Heath Hembree, surprising Ryan Brasier, and youthful lefty Bobby Poyner. Brandon Workman may have seen his last days in a Red Sox uniform but will leave with two rings.
Prediction: Red Sox sign Kelly