Red Sox’s Matt Barnes as a closer success story
Matt Barnes as the closer for the Boston Red Sox was a frightening idea for me and I was certainly not on an island of loneliness on that point of view. There was nothing in Barnes’s eight-year Boston career to suddenly state he would be Jonathan Papelbon in his prime or Koji Uehara of 2013.
Barnes’s closer history was rather shaky with more blown saves than saves. The figures can be tooled to show it was not that bad, but Barnes in a game was one where having a defibrillator handy was an excellent action of preparedness.
The talent was obvious with a heater that comes close to 100 MPH. Where Barnes makes his living is his curveball. A knee-buckling hook that when right – meaning Barnes knows where it is going – can just embarrass the most accomplished of hitters.
There is no secret sauce to the Barnes of 2021. The figures don’t lie and the figure that jolts is a 5.4 BB%. That is roughly half his career average. With the heater and the hook in safe control, Barnes is becoming automatic in the closer category and even captured high honors as the American League Reliever for April.
Barnes is not a ground ball pitcher and if the past means anything for 2021 that was well noted. In 2020 the 1.6 HR/9 a 23.5 HR/FB%. Now it is down to 7.7%. Hard Contact (HARD%) is now a career-low of 25.9%. In layman’s terms, the hitters are just not teeing off on the righty.
Barnes is a former first-round pick for Boston (2011) as the Red Sox lost out on Sonny Gray who the A’s gobbled up just before Barnes. Barnes as a starter failed and as a bullpen specialist, it had mixed results over the years. This season Barnes is now perfect in saves with seven and has allowed just one home run – a three-run shot in a non save situation game against Seattle.
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This is good news for the Red Sox with closer stability and fantastic news for Barnes who will be a free agent after the season. If Liam Hendriks – a year older than the soon-to-be 31-year-old Barnes – can get $54 MM from the White Sox then Barnes may soon get the same.
My own comeuppance is my first choice signing Brad Hand. Hand has done well for the Phillies and at $10 MM is more than twice what the Red Sox have gifted Barnes. My other choice was Kirby Yates and that was one I would rather forget about. So would the Blue Jays.
The issue is if Barnes can continue on this unaccustomed path? Will a melt-down with walks be followed by grooving a heater down Broadway for a dinger? Sometimes a pitcher will just get it all together and that could be Barnes.
Long-range the Red Sox will face the prospect of paying a high price for an elite closer – a term I never thought would apply to Barnes. Of course, the Red Sox certainly have a few options on the roster, but all this is conjecture until the season plays out. Meanwhile, I will feast on crow as Barnes continues to prove me wrong.