Red Sox: A case for moving Matt Barnes to the rotation

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 20: Matt Barnes #32 of the Boston Red Sox delivers during the seventh inning of a game against the Toronto Blue Jays on April 20, 2022 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 20: Matt Barnes #32 of the Boston Red Sox delivers during the seventh inning of a game against the Toronto Blue Jays on April 20, 2022 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /
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Red Sox experimental option of Matt Barnes to the rotation

The Boston Red Sox selected right-hander Matt Barnes as the 19th selection in the 2011 draft. Chosen at 18th was the Red Sox anticipated target, another righty Sonny Gray. Barnes was a key starter for the University of Connecticut (Storrs), and his collegiate career had earned him numerous and significant awards and accolades.

I had seen Barnes pitch locally since he participated in the Cape Cod Summer League in 2009-2010 with the Wareham Gatemen. Barnes was a starter for the Gatemen and at Connecticut. A role he would assume as a professional.

Barnes climbed rapidly in the Red Sox system, and 2013 rose to 38th on MLB Prospect Watch. Barnes was exclusively a starter in three minor league seasons except for one bullpen appearance at Pawtucket.

In 2015, Barnes picked up his only two MLB starts before becoming a fixture in the bullpen. A corporate decision based on various factors from the long-term team needs to Barnes’s viability as a starter. Since then, the road has been bumpy for sure.

Barnes was signed to an extension in July of 2021 for two years with a team option for a third year. This season, Barnes will receive $8.125 million and a boost to $8.375 million next year. The contract was based on his performance up to its signing and appeared to be a solid one. Barnes was an All-Star and considered by some an elite closer.

Then it simply all fell apart. How bad was it, you ask? Barnes was left off the playoff roster and eventually only added on when Garrett Richards (another dud) became injured. This season the nightmare has continued, and Barnes is on the fast track for clean-up duty.

If Barnes continued to perform as expected when extended, the bullpen situation would cause far less angst in RSN. Barnes’s failure has reverberated through the pitching food chain and forced manager Alex Cora into a series of pitching decisions to compensate. But what about Barnes?

Now it may be a back to the future solution to recoup team losses and Barnes to recoup a career. A bit of stretching out and a return to a fragile rotation. Barnes has pitched multiple innings in the past, and the process is not daunting.

Garrett Whitlock is your closer. Whitlock can shut it down in the eighth and ninth if necessary. Forget the uncertainty of Jake Diekman or Hansel Robles. Whitlock is the just about sure thing as it gets to seal the deal.

The rotation has a few wrinkles, with Nick Pivetta being more of a gouge than a wrinkle. James Paxton and Chris Sale are uncertain until proven otherwise. The overzealous reliance on the bullpen just give Barnes the ball as an opener – an opener who can go twice through the order as he (hopefully) transitions to the rotation.

Barnes has three pitches, including his heater, that is now well documented as losing its zip. Barnes is also upgrading the use of a change-up to a career-high 18.8%, and Barnes’s curve remains his killer pitch.

The downside with a cursive examination of Barnes’s metrics is his swing strike percentage has tanked. His 12.5 K% is an all-time low, but both are based on a mere five innings. Not a deal-breaker to me. Just a trend to keep an eye on.

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Moving Barnes could be considered a panic move, or it could be a move that has the potential of providing a jolt to the rotation. With openers and deep bullpens, the risk factor is minimized. Far less experimental with the new pitching philosophy by making such a move.