The Boston Red Sox have implemented a closer by committee strategy and that usually results in failure. Is it time to designate a closer? But just who gets the job?
The Boston Red Sox have a BS problem and it is not any comments emanating from the media department but from the bullpen. A BS in baseball terminology is a blown save and the Red Sox bullpen has accumulated 14 in less than half a season. Last season, the eventual total was 20, but Boston had Craig Kimbrel who historically was one of the best in baseball.
The Red Sox passed on Kimbrel who was a Rolls Royce of closers and looked for an heir apparent and they have now shifted through the most prominent names – Ryan Brasier, Matt Barnes, and Brandon Workman. All have had opportunities and maybe the time has now come for manager Alex Cora to assign this mentally taxing position to one pitcher, but just who?
Shifting through the statistical evidence, one can pick and choose or “cherry pick” selected numbers to place one above the others. If speed is your most valuable asset then Barnes (96.4) or Brasier (96.0) certainly out heat Workman (92.5).
If your statistical delight is BABIP (Batting Average Balls In Play) then Barnes (.328) and Brasier (.225) are statistically smothered by Workman’s .156. Maybe you like to see the ball buried into the dirt? Don’t look for that from Brasier with a dismal 29.8 GB%. Well below Barnes’ (57.6%) and Workman’s (49.2%). Of course, not hitting the ball has advantages and Brasier posts a 15 SwStr% (Swinging Strike). Best among the three.
How has each performed at crunch time? Brasier leads the team in saves with seven against three blown saves. Barnes is four and four and Workman has only two saves in five opportunities but does have the team lead in the innocuous hold category with 12.
My baseball basics are you need someone at the end of the game who keeps runners either off base or doesn’t allow a home run to go sailing into the night. Basketball strategy has now become a battle of three-pointers and baseball is firmly entrenched in the Earl Weaver philosophy of three-run home runs. Who can best provide that dual avoidance technique?
Workman is having a spectacular season on three specific fronts. I’ll go with Workman. He has a 2.9 H/9 and that makes even Chris Sale (6.7 H/9) look like an easy touch. And home runs? He’s has allowed only one this season, but before I get all giddy over Workman and his 12.5 K/9 there is a problem.
A special passion I have is walks – a tactical item that I consider as pleasant as a kidney stone. This is the crimp in Workman’s 2019 armor with a 6.2 BB/9. No one on the staff is even close. And it is out of character for Workman who posted a more presentable 3.5 BB/9 in 2018 and 2.5 in 2017. That is the risk and it showed against the Twins when Workman issued two freebies and blew the save.
Brasier is now my choice and I will pass on Workman as the de facto closer and anoint Brasier. What’s not to like? Brasier was a breath of pitching fresh air in 2018 and has done a reasonable job this season with seven saves. Brasier throws hard, keeps the walks down (2.3 BB/9), and certainly has the mettle to close. Perfect choice. I’m all in, but there is one minor flaw.
If it is home runs you like then Brasier may be the pitcher you want with a 1.5 HR/9. Do you need the specter of the Yankee lineup having a scrum at the bat rack waiting to swing against Brasier? I may now revisit my idea of Brasier being the end all for closing which means the job is there for Barnes.
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Barnes is a rarity in the Boston farm system as the former number one draft pick (2011) is a homegrown pitcher actually contributing. If you enjoy punch outs then it doesn’t get better than Barnes and his impressive 16.1 K/9. That was no anomaly as Barnes posted a 14.0 K/9 in 2018. Barnes’s “money pitch” is a devastatingly effective curveball that simply freezes batters.
The other vita on Barnes is significant especially a 2.37 FIP and 6.3 H/9. Barnes can lose focus (4.0 BB/9), but that is palatable. As far as giving up bombs, Barnes passes with a B grade with a 0.9 HR/9. Now that I have flawed out Brasier and Workman I’ll go with Barnes. Or will I?
The closer role requires them to be successful and Barnes has four blown saves. Last season, Barnes had three and nary a save. For his career, it is ten blown saves and six successes. Not encouraging. Say goodbye to Barnes.
The reality is closer by committee is out of necessity and not by design. All three mentioned having attributes that would give credence to closing and likewise a flaw that would prevent a commitment. Each has shown capabilities to be trusted and each has shown capabilities where they simply cave in. Cora no doubt chooses based on the situation.
The good news is that all three are highly capable of any role out of the bullpen and are capable of multiple innings. The structure of no designated closer may roil some – it does to me – but where this will benefit is playoff time when bullpens are condensed as is the entire pitching staff. We saw that is 2018 playoffs when the Red Sox survived Kimbrel’s less than stellar performances.
Maybe they should just give the ball to Heath Hembree or Marcus Walden? That would solve the closer problem for about two weeks. So, in the meantime, the Red Sox will go with what they have and Cora will have his daily risk-taking or who will demonstrate their good side or bad side.