In the wake of his latest blown save, it’s time for the Boston Red Sox to abandon the idea that Matt Barnes can be their closer.
The Boston Red Sox have cycled through several options trying to fill the void they have in the closer role to no avail. One thing we’ve established is that Matt Barnes isn’t the man for the job.
Barnes blew his major league-leading sixth save of the season on Wednesday against the Chicago White Sox. He was fortunate that Christian Vazquez was able to throw out Leury Garcia when he tried to steal second following a leadoff base hit. That would be the only out he recorded, as another base hit followed by a two-run homer from Jose Abreu led to Barnes getting the hook.
Boston’s rally in the ninth came up short, ensuring Barnes would be tagged with his third loss while his ERA inflated to a season-high 4.19.
Barnes has now converted only four of ten save opportunities. I’m not saying that a 40 percent save percentage is terrible, I’m simply pointing out that former Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel owns a career 90.7 save percentage and was at 89.4% last year. Ok, apparently 40 percent is pretty terrible.
This isn’t to say that Barnes isn’t a useful arm in the bullpen. He’s arguably the team’s most talented reliever but he clearly doesn’t have the mental makeup to handle the closer role. Barnes has posted a 3.21 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 15.4 K/9 in non-save situations this season. He’s capable of being a productive reliever when he’s placed in the proper situations.
It’s also worth noting that Barnes has been overworked this month. Wednesday was his 14th appearance in June, the most he’s made in any single month in his career. This was the fourth time this month that Barnes has given up multiple runs in an outing. Three out of those four appearances came in games when Barnes had pitched the previous day.
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The problem with Barnes all circles back to the same overlying issue with the Red Sox. They don’t have enough reliable arms in the bullpen. They need a trustworthy closer to handle the ninth inning so that Barnes can be used in a more flexible role in the seventh or eighth inning.
Since they don’t have that proven closer, Barnes is tasked with sharing the load. Unless he’s needed earlier in the game to get out of a jam or face the heart of the opposing lineup. Either way, Barnes is going to get called upon at some point late in a close game because there are so few options in this bullpen that can be relied on in high-leverage situations. No wonder he’s overused.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any appealing options to take the reigns in the ninth. Ryan Brasier leads the team with seven saves but he’s also blown three. Brandon Workman has converted only three out of six chances. Nobody else has tallied more than one save for this team.
Boston may be forced to look outside of the organization to find a real closer. It’s not just about the comfort of having someone you can trust to close the door in the ninth. Freeing up Barnes to be used in a setup role he’s more comfortable in is the only way to get the best out of him. The Red Sox need Barnes to be effective but that’s not going to happen if they keep trying to force him into being a closer.