Red Sox: Adding structure to the bullpen will help cure the ailments of 2019
The Boston Red Sox were incredibly fluid with their bullpen during the 2019 campaign and it would wind up costing them a shot at October baseball.
A pitching staff is generally broken up into two categories: starters and relievers. Nowadays some teams are even using their relievers as starters as they use the opener method. When it comes down to the bare bones of the game though, it all goes back to those two groups. The Red Sox had issues in both areas this past season but one was far more damning than the other.
As former Boston closer Craig Kimbrel packed his bags and went to Free Agency Island, the Sox were left without a guaranteed arm to close out games. There had been some rumblings during the winter that either Matt Barnes or Ryan Brasier could fill the gap, as both had strong endings to the 2018 season. Red Sox Nation waited for Alex Cora to name his next closer, and we’re still waiting.
Now that the abysmal disaster that will be known as the 2019 season is behind us, we need to look towards the horizon. All year long we heard about the blown saves that the Red Sox were seemingly having each and every night. Granted it was a major problem, they weren’t that far removed from the rest of the league. A major factor that contributed to those totals was the fact that Cora never named an honest closer.
When you have no idea what you’re going to be doing on a day to day basis it can wreck you mentally and physically. One game you’re getting the ball to end the night and the next you’re the fifth inning reliever. It’s a different mindset and preparation routine and can break a pitcher in a heartbeat. The Red Sox didn’t do their relievers any favors by constantly shuffling the deck.
This needs to change and change fast if Boston wants to get back to the Fall Classic. I don’t see much of a likelihood that the Red Sox add to the pen this winter so they’ll need to promote from within. Brandon Workman has more than earned the job with how he performed in 2019, 10-1/1.88 ERA/71.2 IP/13.1 K-9. Yet, Chaim Bloom isn’t ready to fully commit to the Yackman to be the team’s final boss from the bullpen.
"“I don’t think we’re far enough along in our discussions to really figure out how things will line up for next year,” Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said. “He did a hell of a job. He did a great job. Certainly proved more than capable of handling that role. I just don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves in determining how it’s going to line up for 2020.”"
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Now, I know I’ve been a tad harsh on the Red Sox for how they’ve handled the bullpen situation but I also can’t fault Bloom for being hesitant. After all, he’s only had the job for a few weeks and is most likely still working his way around the roster. In that same breath though, it’s hard to give the job to anyone on the payroll not named Workman. The man went from reliever to lights-out closer in the blink of an eye and earned the job.
The bottom line is this bullpen needs some stability and it needs it as soon as possible. Bloom may not be ready to announce who the team’s closer will be just yet, but that decision needs to be made in Spring Training. Granted, the Winter Meetings have yet to occur so something could always change but with the budget restrictions, I doubt there will be much action.
Boston can’t afford to go through another season playing hot potato with the final outs of the game. If the coaches and front office can’t come to a consensus for who the closer should be then we may as well chalk up 2020 as another disappointment.
Blown saves are bound to happen and will continue to happen even with a structured bullpen but they sure as hell won’t be happening as regularly as they did in 2019. However, by having a standard and precedent for who enters the game at what point, those numbers will decline. For as much that needs to be corrected from last season, having a designated closer needs to be close to the top of the list.
The Red Sox are still one of the best teams in the league despite how they finished off their most recent campaign. They have the tools to succeed and can once again find themselves in the promised land, they just need to stick to the course. Naming a closer, and building the bullpen to achieve the goal of getting the ball to that specific pitcher will be a big step in the right direction and, should be a focus.