State of the Sox: Bullpen
Over the next ten days I will be posting an overview of every position on the Red Sox. Today we will be looking at the bullpen. Read the others here: First base, Second Base, Third base, Shortstop, Left Field, Center Field, Right Field, Catcher, Designated Hitter, Starting Rotation
Bullpen in 2019:
For all of the complaining about the Red Sox bullpen in 2019, the relief pitchers were actually extremely effective. The unit combined to throw 665 innings on the season, with a 4.40 ERA and a 4.14 FIP. They gave up the fourth fewest home runs per 9 innings among MLB bullpens, at only 1.12 per 9, and struck opposing batters out at the highest rate in baseball, at 10.5 per 9. For these reasons, the Red Sox bullpen accrued 7.5 bWAR in 2019, second in all of baseball behind only the Tampa Bay Rays. Brandon Workman was the primary reason for this success. He had an absolutely phenomenal season. In 71.2 innings, Workman struck out 13.06 batters per 9 while allowing only a 1.88 ERA and 2.46 FIP. He was far and away the best Sox reliever in 2019. Matt Barnes also had a good season, putting up a 3.78 ERA and 3.28 FIP over 64.1 innings while striking out 15.39 per 9 (second in MLB behind Josh Hader). Marcus Walden threw 78 innings, allowing a 3.81 ERA and 3.69 FIP. Those three were the primary reasons for the success of Boston’s bullpen in 2019.
Depth chart for 2020:
All of the three mentioned above are returning to the team in 2020. Josh Taylor, Heath Hembree, Darwinzon Hernandez, Colton Brewer, and Ryan Brasier are among the relievers who will fill out the rest of the bullpen. It is obviously extremely difficult to project who will pitch in a teams bullpen, as relievers are traded, signed, called up, and sent down so frequently, but it’s safe to assume that most of the above will be significant pieces of the team’s bullpen in 2020.
How the bullpen can be better than 2019:
Despite the fantastic season Boston’s bullpen had in 2019, there is still room for improvement. The player I see with the best shot to improve is Matt Barnes. Barnes had a great season in 2019, as noted above, but his 3.78 ERA was a full 0.50 points higher than his FIP. This was due in large part to a .339 BABIP against. Additionally, 19.5% of the fly balls hit off of Barnes carried over the wall for home runs. Both the BABIP and the HR/FB indicate that the hitters Barnes was facing were getting relatively lucky. With improved luck, Barnes could have a monster season in 2020. Furthermore, I see some young, developing pitchers, such as Darwinzon Hernandez, improving on their performances from a year ago. If Workman can continue his success, and Barnes can get improved luck, the bullpen could see some regression from other pieces and could still be better as a whole than it was in 2019.
How the bullpen can be worse than 2019:
It is easy to envision a bullpen that accrued the second most bWAR in baseball having a slightly worse season a year later. Workman had a fantastic season, and it is not absurd to think that 2019 may end up being the best season of his career. The unit could get slightly less lucky and give up more homers in 2020 than in 2019, which would have a significant effect on the overall performance. Barnes may not be able to sustain his extreme strikeout rate, which could severely impact his productivity.
I think that the bullpen will be somewhat similar to what it was a season ago. I think that Workman will continue to be a fantastic relief pitcher, although he might not have as stellar a season as he did in 2019. I think that Matt Barnes will continue to strike batters out at a very high clip, and with improved BABIP luck could have an even better season than he did last year. I think some young guys, such as Darwinzon Hernandez, will continue to develop and improve, while other players, such as Walden and Brasier, may see slight dips in production. I foresee the bullpen having close to the same success as it did in 2019, but I see the unit achieving this success in a slightly different way, with some pitchers improving and others regressing.