Boston Red Sox 30-year old rookie sensation Marcus Walden
By Jacob Anes
Rookie reliever Marcus Walden has burst onto the scene and been a revelation with the Red Sox. Can he continue his success?
At the beginning of the season, the Boston Red Sox bullpen was considered to be the weakest part of the team, with just two relievers considered to be reliable. Since then, one reliever has made it hard to ignore his presence. That reliever? 30-year-old rookie Marcus Walden.
Walden was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 9th round of the 2007 draft. After spending 7 seasons in the minors for them, he was designated for assignment and claimed by the A’s. After spending the remainder of the year in AA, he signed with Cincinnati as a minor league free agent.
He was released in April 2015. After the release, Walden signed with the Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic League, an Independent League, where he broke the record for the longest scoreless streak in the team’s history.
After this solid year in Independent ball, he signed with the Minnesota Twins, where he spent most of the year in AAA. Once again in 2016, he was a free agent. In this offseason, he signed with the Red Sox.
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After spending a year in Pawtucket, Walden got an invitation to Red Sox camp. To most fans, he was unknown, but with Eduardo Rodriguez and Drew Pomeranz injured to start the year, two bullpen spots were open due to the need for Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez in the rotation. After a strong spring, Walden was a surprise member of the 2018 Opening Day roster. In just 14 innings, Walden was solid, posting a 3.68 ERA with a 2.07 FIP and a 2.97 xFIP. He was called up sent down a few times early in the year, but on May 4 was sent down for good and spent the remainder of the year in AAA.
Fast forward to 2019, where Walden is making a name for himself in Boston. He had a strong Spring Training but did not crack the Opening Day roster. In 16.1 innings this season, he has a 1.65 ERA with a 2.70 FIP and a 2.92 xFIP. He is also racking up 10 strikeouts per 9. His K% is in the 84th percentile, per Baseball Savant.
This dominance can be attributed to numerous things. His slider, his best pitch, he threw just 12% of the time last year. This season, he is throwing the slider 39.6% of the time. Opposing batters are hitting just .200 against the slider. With the higher slider usage, his cutter and sinker have both been utilized much less than last season. Hitters fared noticeably better against those two pitches last year, which I am sure the Red Sox and Walden noticed.
Last season, Walden let up a lot of hard contact, finishing with a 48.8% hard contact rate. This season, that number has seen a major improvement, dropping to 28.9%. In addition to the soft contact, Walden has also raised his groundball rate, while lowering his fly ball and line drive rate. In pretty much every category, Walden has improved.
If Walden can continue his success, he will be a big part of the Red Sox thin bullpen. He can go multiple innings, or he can go just one. If his dominance continues, he will likely see more time in high leverage spots. Regardless, he has given the Red Sox a weapon that not everyone expected to have this season.