Red Sox right-hander Matt Barnes has been bullpen’s best reliever
By Isaac Aaron
Although Mat Barnes’ ERA is high, don’t let that deceive the fact that he’s been the best pitcher in the Boston Red Sox bullpen.
The Boston Red Sox pitching staff has been an absolute mess this year, as both the starting rotation and the bullpen have just been straight-up bad. There have been, however, a couple of arms who have had pretty good years.
As far as the bullpen goes, Brandon Workman is someone who jumps out as the best reliever, if not overall pitcher, on the 2019 Red Sox staff. He owns a 1.95 ERA, to go along with his 12.26 K/9 and 2.70 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching). He’s pitched 49.2 innings and has 6 saves, the second-most on the team behind Ryan Brasier who has 7.
Now I’m not denying the success that Workman has been able to come up with this season, but when you look a little more closely, he hasn’t been the best pitcher in the weak Boston bullpen. It’s been Matt Barnes.
You may be wondering, how in the world can a guy who has a 4.67 ERA be better than someone with a 1.99 ERA? Well, that’s why I’m here to explain that to you.
Out of every sport in the world, baseball is the one that relies the most on luck. You can hit a ball extremely hard but if the third baseman makes a diving catch, it’s an out. Other times, you can hit a little bloop that falls in front of the right fielder for a base hit. It doesn’t matter how hard you hit it in the box score, meaning the box score doesn’t factor in luck. However, when you’re looking at how good a player really is, it’s important to not pay attention to stats like ERA or batting average.
If you’ve been looking at batting average to calculate a hitters performance or ERA to calculate a pitchers performance, you might be wondering why those aren’t the best stats to evaluate a player. In hindsight, it’s simple. They don’t factor in luck. If pitcher A has given up a couple of runs in one inning, while pitcher B has given up 0, that doesn’t necessarily mean that pitcher B had the better outing. Even though pitcher A may have given up 2 runs on 2 hits, both hits could have been soft contact, while pitcher B had a 1-2-3 inning, with 3 hard-hit balls.
Workman has been good, but a little reliant on luck in 2019. According to FanGraphs, he has a 79.5% left on base percentage, which is abnormally high and due to regress. He also owns a .190 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) which happens to be abnormally low. Having an extremely high LOB% and an extremely high BABIP pretty much means that you’re due to regress, whether it’s later down the line this year or next year.
Barnes, on the other hand, has been extremely unlucky in 2019. He has a 4.67 ERA, but a 2.83 FIP and a 2.44 xFIP (expected Fielding Independent Pitching), which is more than a whole run better than Workman’s 3.58 xFIP.
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FIP and xFIP are similar stats, with the difference being that the xFIP statistic incorporates the expected number of homers a pitcher surrendered (based on the number of fly balls allowed and the entire league’s hr/fly ball ratio), whereas FIP is based on actual homers allowed.
Barnes also has an abnormally high .365 BABIP with a lower LOB% of 69.1 compared to Workman’s 79.5. What this means is Barnes is allowing more of his baserunners to score, but that’s not particularly his fault and something that is bound to happen less in the future. Barnes’s BABIP being incredibly high also tells you how unlucky has gotten, and something that is bound to lower in the future.
Lastly, I am comparing Workman and Barnes SIERA, or in other words, Skill Interactive Earned Run Average. Like the stats that came before it, such as FIP and xFIP, SIERA attempts to answer the question: what is the inexplicit skill level of this pitcher? How well did they actually pitch over the past year? Should their ERA have been higher, lower, or was it about right? SIERA doesn’t ignore balls in play like FIP and xFIP do, but more so attempts to explain why certain pitchers are more successful at limiting hits and preventing runs. This is the strength of SIERA; while it is only a little bit more predictive than xFIP, SIERA tells us more about the how and why of pitching.
Workman’s 3.99 SIERA suggests that he has gotten really lucky in order to keep his ERA low in 2019. Barnes, on the other hand, has a 2.89 SIERA, better than any he’s had in his career.
So, in summary, although Workman has gotten the better results, Barnes has been the better pitcher this season. That’s not to say Workman doesn’t deserve to be the closer or a late-inning guy, but Barnes has certainly shown he’s capable of being a reliable late-inning guy, as long as he’s not overused.