Baseball is regimented to pitching roles and the Boston Red Sox have never defined who will be the closer. The time for assigning that task is needed. Who gets the job?
Just what is needed from a closer? What unique skill set is developed to make sure that the precious ninth inning remains as pristine as possible? Boston Red Sox fans have become spoiled the last four seasons and even before that with a string of closers with exceptional skills. Craig Kimbrel, recently retired Koji Uehara, and Jonathan Papelbon provided that comfort zone that the game was secure. This season, that comfort zone is now firmly in shaky status.
Kimbrel sits on the outside looking in like a spurned beau watching the love of his life getting married. Of course, in Kimbrel’s case, it is one of cost – he priced himself out of the market. The Red Sox had no desire to sink into luxury tax purgatory by signing Kimbrel even when the price dropped. We now see the results as the closer has become the bullpen Achilles heel. Not a disaster zone – yet.
The closer role was never clearly defined by manager Alex Cora and the season did start with Ryan Brasier being allotted the majority of save opportunities. As we all realize, those early opportunities were as rare as an albino rhino as the team just stunk and then sunk. Since the ship has been salvaged from rolling over and capsizing, the closer is now one that seems to vary.
Statistically, the log is disappointing after a mere 52 games as the closer collective has 11 saves and eight failures. The failures have been distributed with Matt Barnes nabbing a team-leading three and Brasier with two. Brasier also has six of the saves. Last season with stability, the Red Sox had 46 saves and 20 blown saves. They are at an uncomfortable pace.
The Red Sox in 2018 were fourth best at allowing the fewest runs in the ninth inning in the American League. This season they are ninth. Barnes in particular apparently has closer cloth not in his wardrobe despite a pitching tool kit that can be intimidating, especially a blazing heater (96.5 mph) and a physics-defying curve.
Pitchers have a mindset the separates them from the position players. They have their own preparation style and certainly want their roles clearly defined and that does not exist as now structured. Bullpen by committee? Appears that way. There seems to be no consistency on the various bullpen roles and especially closer.
What is the strategy being employed by Cora and pitching coach Dana LaVangie? Is there internal metrics that are being disseminated before each game to project assigned tasks? Is it a keep them guessing approach for your pitchers?
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So far, this is a Captain Obvious rant since even the casual Red Sox fan knows the ninth inning can be a painful experience with the game on the line even in a non save situation. Is there a magical remedy for this closer funk? Anyone internal or external to provide a modicum of stability?
The Red Sox have been successful at trolling the baseball world for gems that suddenly and surprisingly contribute. Braiser last season and 30-year-old rookie Marcus Walden this season. Walden has snatched a blown save but seems solid – surprisingly solid – in other tasks and the result is on display with six wins. What exists elsewhere?
In Pawtucket rests a pitcher with extensive closer experience in right-hander Jenrry Mejia, but the bad news is this Pawtucket closer has turned into a pitching pumpkin. The hotshot prospect of 2018 is one Durbin Feltman, but the talented righty has hit a developmental wall at Portland. Feltman needs polish and a lot of it.
Externally, the Red Sox could trade or sign some unknown or known who is sitting by the phone waiting for his agent to call. The only one that meets the criteria that you will improve your ‘pen is Kimbrel. The rest is just a side move.
The time is upon the Red Sox to make a decision on just who will take the sphere in the ninth. Brasier? Barnes? Walden? Maybe Eduardo Nunez? Nunez did manage an inning of relief. This is a managerial decision and Cora needs to determine with his staff just who will fill that closer role. A roll of the baseball dice and you go with it for the next third of the season.