Do the Red Sox have a lefty problem in the bullpen?

Boston Red Sox Spring Training
Boston Red Sox Spring Training / Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/GettyImages

The Boston Red Sox spent their offseason overhauling a bullpen that ranked among the worst in the majors last season. While their revamped bullpen provides manager Alex Cora with more trustworthy options to utilize late in games, one area of concern has been a lack of left-handed relievers.

That concern escalated with an injury to Joely Rodriguez. According to's Ian Browne, the lefty has a grade two strain of his right oblique. There's no timetable for the return of Rodriguez, who is expected to open the season on the injured list. "He'll be back when he is healthy," is all Cora was willing to divulge in response to questions about Rodriguez's timeline.

The absence of Rodriguez will leave the Red Sox thin on lefty relievers when they break camp. Richard Bleier is the only left-handed pitcher currently projected to open the season in Boston's bullpen.

How will the Red Sox bullpen handle lefties?

Teams typically aim to arm their bullpens with at least a couple of lefties in order to gain the platoon advantage over the opposing lineup's best left-handed hitters. Red Sox relievers struggled against lefty hitters last season, producing a 4.42 xFIP, tied for the sixth-worst mark in the majors, per FanGraphs.

This isn't last year's bullpen though. While Boston would certainly prefer to have their full arsenal available in the bullpen, they can get by with a lack of lefties due to their collection of right-handed relievers who are more than capable against left-handed hitters.

One of the notable additions to the Red Sox bullpen is Chris Martin, a reverse-splits reliever who has actually fared better against lefties in his career with a .241/.282/.382 slash line compared to .273/.295/.410 against right-handed hitters. The trend was reversed last year when his .651 OPS allowed to lefties was higher than his .598 OPS allowed to right-handers but he fared well against both. Last season with the Dodgers was also the best of Martin's career, posting a 1.46 ERA and 12.4 K/9. Martin is one of Boston's best options late in games regardless of which side of the plate the hitter stands on.

John Schrieber was one of the few pleasant surprises for the Red Sox last season. He dominated hitters regardless of the platoon split, holding lefties to a .198/.305/.370 slash line and right-handed hitters to .193/.242/.280. Sure, he was slightly better against right-handers but it hardly matters when he was excellent against hitters from both sides of the plate.

Kenley Jansen has arrived to claim the closer role. The owner of 391 career saves, Jansen led the National League in that category with 41 last year. He has held lefties to a .200/.263/.324 slash line over the course of his outstanding career. Regardless of who steps into the box for the opposing team, Jansen will be on the mound for save situations.

Zack Kelly is competing for a spot on the Opening Day roster. While he might be pitching his way out of the competition with a rocky spring (4.50 ERA, 4 walk, 5 strikeouts in 6.0 innings), he was solid in his first taste of big league action when he produced a 3.95 ERA in 13 relief appearances for the Red Sox last season. Kelly showed reverse-splits tendencies (.208/.259/.250 vs LHH, .300/.344/.567 vs RHH). It was a very small sample size but his minor league track record showed signs of Kelly performing well against lefties.

If the Red Sox insist on having another true lefty in the bullpen instead of relying on the track records of these right-handers, they could find other options internally. Non-roster invitee Ryan Sherriff is making a case for himself with a strong spring. He has allowed only four hits without a walk over 4 2/3 scoreless innings while striking out six.

It's unclear what James Paxton's role will be when (or if) he gets healthy. The lefty is currently dealing with a hamstring injury that makes him a likely candidate to open the season on the injured list. The health of Boston's other options for the starting rotation will be a factor but considering Paxton has logged only 21 2/3 innings over the last three seasons, he could find himself in a bullpen role in order to monitor his workload.

The Red Sox expect to get Rodriguez back at some point to give them another lefty in the bullpen. A moderate strain generally takes about 5-8 weeks to recover from. It's not how he wanted to start his tenure in Boston but Rodriguez should be a factor at some point this season.

The limited left-handed options in the bullpen isn't a season-long concern unless the pitching staff is further ravaged by injuries. They have enough quality arms in their rebuilt bullpen who can handle left-handed hitters that the situation is hardly a reason to panic as we approach Opening Day.