The Red Sox shouldn’t turn to Matt Barnes to close games
The Boston Red Sox are said to be very active in their efforts to improve the roster from this past year despite their lack of actual signings/trades. Pitching has always been the need going into this winter, and per reports, has been what Chaim Bloom and his team have been focusing on acquiring. One thing the team needs badly is a dedicated closer, but the one that Alex Cora suggested as an option is not the route they should be going down.
A few days ago Alex Cora spoke about the empty position in the lineup and shined some light towards Matt Barnes. Now, don’t get me wrong, is Barnes a solid pitcher? Absolutely. Do I want him with the ball in the ninth inning in a high leverage situation? Absolutely not. In my eyes, in a perfect world, Barnes gets the ball no later than the eighth inning. He’s a great set-up man but we’ve seen too many times where he crumbles if things aren’t going his way.
"“Just watching what happened toward the end of the season, it seems like Matt threw the ball well and did a good job for the team,” Cora said. “I don’t want to go into roles right now, but he’s a guy that we should consider. We should talk about him as a potential candidate to be the closer.”"
The right-hander is a curveball specialist, but also has a fastball that can hit triple-digits without breaking a sweat. His biggest issues come when the curveball isn’t biting just right and his fastball isn’t placing.
We’ve all seen the look on his face when he either can’t quite place the curve or the batters aren’t willing to go fishing and the count is getting run-up. I just can’t trust him to come in when the game is on the line and have the composure to get the job done when the “W,” is on the line. Just ask Eduardo Rodriguez.
Again, I still want the man on the team, just nowhere near the most important inning of the game. Some will point to his strikeout rate, which at 12.1 in 2020 and 15.4 in 2019 were stellar. However, his walk rate per nine was around a third at 5.3 and almost half this year at 5.5. That’s the story with Barnes, if he faces three batters there’s a good chance that at least one of ’em is going to get a free pass to first base.
"“If the season started tomorrow and we had the lead in the ninth inning and we haven’t used Matt in the seventh or eighth, I’d flip him the ball and I believe he could get us the three outs and get us to the next day,” Cora added."
He also averages a 4.03 ERA for his career, not something I want in a closer, with the second-highest of his career coming in 2020 at 4.30. The last closer that the Red Sox employed was Brandon Workman toward the end of 2019 and technically in 2020. A similar pitcher to Barnes in that he also specializes in the curve with a fastball that can bite you. Workman had better command of his arsenal, that is until he was traded to the Phillies in August.
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I understand the desire for Cora and the Red Sox to look in-house for a closer as it’ll allow them to not have to go out and find one on the market or trade-block. But I feel that there are better options on the roster that could get the closer tag next to their names, Darwinzon Hernandez or Phillips Valdez. Neither was perfect in 2020 but Hernandez showed glimpses of power despite missing time due to COVID, and Valdez was one of Boston’s best pitchers.
Let’s get back to Barnes though since he’s the reason why we’re all here. He had nine saves through 13 chances in 2020, blowing just four of them. As we all know, the Red Sox didn’t have many games where they were actually in the position to win so this number actually isn’t awful.
Now we’re going to turn the clock back to 2019 though, a tale of a different type for the righty. He went 4-12 in save opportunities, with one of his eight blown saves coming in the final game of the year costing E-Rod his 20th win.
Obviously, Cora didn’t fully commit to Barnes as the closer for 2021 as it’s far too early to even begin making that decision. But the unwavering confidence that he’s placing on the Jekyll & Hyde reliever may be a small glimpse into what he’s thinking. There’s still lots of calendar left before the season begins so it’d be impossible to lock him in at that role but I also wouldn’t be surprised come spring.
When all is said and done, I like having Barnes in the bullpen as he serves a purpose, but he should stay far away from the end of the game. Bring him in the seventh/eighth inning to be that bridge to the set-up man or the closer. I appreciate Cora having confidence in his guy but the numbers just don’t back up the sentiment. I’m sure we’ll see plenty of the right-hander in 2021 as he’s a mainstay of the bullpen, but it should be in situations where he can’t give away the game.