Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes
If you were the pinpoint the biggest reason why the Red Sox fell from 55-36 in the first half to 37-35 in the second, it’d be hard not to point the finger at Matt Barnes. After years of solid-if-unspectacular middle relief work, Barnes was given the closer’s job in spring training and ran with it. He posted a 2.61 first-half ERA and converted 19 saves, earned an All-Star berth and a contract extension in the process.
Even in the success, however, there was an underlying issue. Barnes pitched 38 innings in the first half, his most since 2018. Barnes desperately needed the All-Star break to recover, but instead, he was forced to throw 25 pitches in a meaningless exhibition game. He managed to continue his success throughout the rest of July, but his arm was a ticking time bomb.
That bomb finally went off in August. His 13.50 ERA on the month cost him the closer’s role and eventually a spot on the postseason roster. One of the most valuable players on the Red Sox over the first half of the season pitched just one mop-up inning in October.
There are many reasons to be concerned about Barnes. His fastball velocity dropped around two miles per hour in the second half, and while his curveball was still effective, hitters were able to sit on the hook without fearing the heat. His control also fell off: He walked nine in the last two months after walking just eleven batters over the first four months. With limited control of diminished stuff, it’s no wonder why Barnes couldn’t get anyone out.
Barnes does have a history of falling off the second half only to come back good as new the following season. In 2018, the last time Barnes threw as many first-half innings, he had 6.41 second-half ERA only to rebound with a typical mid-three ERA the following year. As the longest-tenured pitcher on the Red Sox roster, Barnes will get the first shot at the closer’s role in 2022, but if he is the same pitcher he was in August, he won’t be long for the job.