Red Sox should name Brandon Workman closer for 2020 season

Red Sox closer Brandon Workman. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
Red Sox closer Brandon Workman. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images) /

If Brandon Workman can replicate his stellar stats from last year, the Red Sox bullpen will feature a key contributor in the late innings.

A listless, insipid third place finish in 2019 left Boston Red Sox fans disappointed and disillusioned with a team that was supposed to have a real shot at defending its World Series title.

The two best stories to come out of a consistently inconsistent season were the rise of Xander Bogaerts as an MVP caliber player (.309 BA, 33 homers, 117 RBI, and a .939 OPS) and the emergence of a healthy, effective Eduardo Rodriguez who boasted career bests in wins (19), ERA (3.81), strikeouts (213), and innings pitched (203.1) while essentially anchoring the Sox rotation marred by injuries and ineffectiveness.

But another key contributor in the Sox clubhouse was Brandon Workman, who quietly put together one heckuva 2019 campaign. Without any big-name offseason bullpen acquisitions, and no official closer being named (yet), I’m sure Chaim Bloom and the Sox brass hope that Workman can build off of his successes from last year’s campaign this summer.

It’s been well documented that the Red Sox had 31 blown saves in 2019, which was tied for worst in the majors (Oakland). After deciding to move on from probable future Hall of Famer Craig Kimbrel in the 2018 offseason, the team rebooted its philosophy of “Closer by Committee” last spring. The Sox were wise not to shell out the amount of dough Kimbrel was asking for (five years, $100M), but the lower cost alternative didn’t really pan out either.

Matt Barnes and Heath Hembree could only muster up six saves between them, and Ryan Brasier, who was supposed to be in the mix for the closing position, was gawdawful. After posting a 1.66 ERA in 2018, Ol’ Tilted neck struggled to the tune of a 4.85 ERA and four blown saves in 2019. Manager Alex Cora lost faith in the stocky righty, removing him from late-inning escapades and essentially cutting his workload in half after the All-Star break.

Things looked pretty bleak for the Sox bullpen until Workman emerged as the front-runner to toe the rubber in high leverage situations.

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Workman’s advanced metrics are pretty impressive. Boston was 50-14 in Workman’s 64 appearances last season. He improved as the season went along. On April 17, his ERA was sitting at 3.52. By season’s end, he was at 1.88. He increased his strikeout to walk ratio from 1.96 in the first half of the season, to 2.88 in the second half.

In September, when the Sox should have been competing for a playoff spot, Workman had a 3.00 SO/W ratio. In late and close games, his SO/W ratio was 2.00, and limited batters to a .148 batting average against. He boasted a .094 BAA in tie games. And get this…he only gave up one home run last season, the least amount by any Sox reliever who pitched over 40 innings in 2019.

If you look at Workman’s pitching splits from last season, the most encouraging trend is that his stats were pretty consistent regardless of the situation: Day/Night, Home/Away, First half/Second half, all were relatively close in comparison.

The only glaring stat that counters the assertion that Workman should get the ball in late and close situations is his 3.29 ERA in save situations, versus his .027 ERA in non-save situations. This discrepancy raises a red flag, but as presently constituted, Workman is your best reliever on this roster. Plus, he has postseason experience if the Red Sox decide they’re going to try to play late into October.

Darwinzon Hernandez might be your Fireman of the Future, but the lefty’s 26 walks in 30 innings pitched may make you balk at naming him the closer in 2020. Plus, when Darwinzon was behind in the count with no strikes? Sixteen batters faced, eight hits, four runs, six total walks. He clearly isn’t ready to take the mantle quite yet.

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That’s why Bloom and whoever eventually calls the shots from the Red Sox dugout in 2020 should give Brandon Workman the chance to close out games. Players can always emerge as shut-down guys down in Ft. Myers and throughout the course of a season, but at this point, he’s really your only option. Give him the “official” title, and see if he can retain it. “Closer by Committee” has never been kind to the Sox, so let’s nip the troublesome term in the bud before Truck Day arrives in a few days.