Red Sox Mirror Image: Brandon Workman and John Wyatt

CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 14: Brandon Workman #44 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the Cleveland Indians the ninth inning at Progressive Field on August 14, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Red Sox defeated the Indians 5-1. (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 14: Brandon Workman #44 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the Cleveland Indians the ninth inning at Progressive Field on August 14, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Red Sox defeated the Indians 5-1. (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images) /

The Boston Red Sox closer situation is fluid, but the apparent front runner is Brandon Workman. I now dip into the memory bank and link to John Wyatt of the 1967 Impossible Dream.

Historical perspective can be cloudy by the measurement of time. In baseball, our reflections have a natural bias based on our perceptions of players and their perceived value or our hard-wired feelings be they positive or negative. Linking the past of the Red Sox to the present can be daunting, but maybe good judgment does come from observational experience?

The Red Sox bullpen had one role that needed to be solidified in 2019 and that was closer. Manager Alex Cora allowed all applicants to blaze their road to hell and that is exactly what transpired. Eventually, when the detritus settled veteran right-hander Brandon Workman was left with the closing keys to the Red Sox express. Unfortunately by that time the espress was more a Pinto than a Mercedes.

The 1967 Red Sox are still celebrated for their wondrous season, but that team also had a bullpen disability in an age when a closer was not considered the end-all of today. Enter another veteran right-hander in John Wyatt, who had closing experience with Kansas City, and like many others with his job description had failed and was replaced. Closers are the placekickers of baseball and evaluations are made daily.

The Red Sox brought Wyatt to town in 1966 and he demonstrated enough with nine saves to lend encouragement for 1967. Wyatt was considered in that baseball category defined as a “journeyman.” Reflecting back upon1966, the Red Sox were not exactly an American League Juggernaut with a ninth-place finish (72-90) so Wyatt was considered just one among many for the bullpen.

Workman in 2019 built upon a foundation of 2018 (6-1, 3.27) and the continuation of success in higher leverage situations finally culminated in Workman being the AL Reliever of the Month for September. The final tally was impressive with 16 saves, a 10-1 record, and a 1.80 ERA. Two numbers that leap out are allowing just a lone home run and a 5.7 BB/9. A positive offset by a negative.

Wyatt’s budding Red Sox career was not pluperfect with spring training issues with the new manager and the personification of an often brutal taskmaster in Dick Williams. Two things heated up as the season progressed – the Red Sox and Wyatt. In June the Red Sox traded occasional closer veteran Don McMahon for infielder Jerry Adair. Adair would collect his own resume of valued contributions. A great trade made possible by the emergence of Wyatt.

In August and September Wyatt appeared in 27 games as in crunch time Williams repeatedly summoned Wyatt in an age when pitch counts were just an amusing and ignored sidebar. For the season Wyatt bagged 20 saves, finished 10-7, hurled 93.1 innings, and held the opposition to a .217 average.

Workman does not throw hard by today’s standards (92.9v), but accumulates strikeouts at a prodigious rate ( 13.1 K/9) and his secret ingredient? A devastating curve that is hurled at a 47% rate. A knee buckler that rolls off the table and what appears as a tempting tidbit to the free swingers of today becomes the walk of shame returning to the confines of the bench.

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Wyatt also had an out pitch – a special pitch that he would utilize in the most crucial of moments that would work off his basic fastball. There are numerous anecdotal incidents of Wyatt’s mastery of the “Vaseline Ball” as his part of his special operations initiative. Wyatt’s special pitch for special occasions.

In 1968 the downhill slide for Wyatt commenced and eventually led to a very rare occurrence – a deal with the New York Yankees. Wyatt claimed his departure was based on a continuing simmering feud with manager Williams and there certainly is substantial evidence of Williams’ animosity towards players and I will most certainly avoid the possible racial connecting – Wyatt was black – and that seemed to hover over Williams and Red Sox personnel decisions.

The reality is Wyatt was done as a competent pitcher and soon faded from the majors in 1969, but as a person, Wyatt was not done contributing – just not on the field. Wyatt returned to Kansas City and became a noted developer of low-income housing even receiving a national citation for his efforts.

Next. Four steps to create a dominant bullpen. dark

Workman’s last two seasons do mirror those of Wyatt’s first two in Boston and just possibly similarity may be a more appropriate term, but my preference is a mirror. Workman also has two rings, but I will omit Workman’s 2018 playoff performances. As of this day, he becomes the favorite to be the closer for 2020 and it could mean a one time opportunity for the penultimate payoff as Workman will be in his free agency year. A great season equals a great contract.


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