The Red Sox bullpen could prove to be a much different bullpen from last year. Despite the fact that it can’t get much worse, we can be assured that there is a real reason for excitement. This offseason we obtained Craig Kimbrel from a prospect-packaged deal from San Diego on November 13th. Then, less than a month later, on December 7th, we acquired a right-handed setup man Carson Smith and lefty Roenis Elías from a trade with Seattle, that sent Wade Miley packing. I hope he likes his Starbucks because Dunkin Donuts may be hard to come by over there in Seattle. Here is a breakdown on the relievers that are going to be a staple in our bullpen:
Craig Kimbrel: 27 year old, four time all-star, is one of the elite closers of the game today. He owns a career 1.63 earned run average (ERA), a walks-hits per innings pitched (WHIP) at a minuscule .927, and averages upwards of 14 strike outs per nine innings (K/9) all while having a successful save conversion rate of 91%. Ladies and gentleman, I think we found ourselves a new closer.
Carson Smith: A 26 year old sophomore who put up a solid rookie season in Seattle has plenty of potential to be excited for. Last season he possessed a 2.31 ERA, struck out 92 batters in only 70 innings, which gave him a K/9 of 11.8 while only surrendering 49 hits. Smith may be a key player to add to a Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa late inning mix.
Koji Uehara: Going on 41 years old a day before the 2016 season opener, had a strong season last year leading up to his fractured right wrist that ended his season 52 games early. He posted a respectable ERA of 2.23 with a 0.91 WHIP. Since coming to Beantown he has posted a 1.86 ERA, a .771 WHIP, with an all-star appearance. Bearing his age and the health status on his right wrist, the extra depth in the bullpen may pan out well for Koji.
Junichi Tazawa: Last year Tazawa posted a 4.14 ERA, with a WHIP of 1.330, along with other numbers that weren’t all that impressive. After the all-star break, he had 22 appearances until the Red Sox decided to shut him down for the season. In that span, he had a sky-high 7.08 ERA. Tazawa over the last three seasons has been heavily relied on, which could have finally caught up with him last year. However, with the added depth we can be assured that Tazawa won’t have as many appearances and heavy usage, which is when we see him perform his best
Robbie Ross: His first season in Boston last year was lively. He had 60.2 innings pitched in 54 appearances, with a 3.86 ERA. Ross can go one way or the other. Let’s hope he goes a positive way.
Some other pitchers to watch coming out of the bullpen are Tommy Layne, Matt Barnes, Steven Wright, and the spring training invite of Carlos Marmol bearing he has a strong showing in Fort Myers with the new arm slot he is working on. We can also anticipate some additional late season call-ups.
The biggest part of what can be a key factor of success from our bullpen is the versatility of pitching styles. We now have a power arm coming from Kimbrel, a deceptive split-finger fastball from Uehara, and a heavy sinker ball from Carson Smith that comes from a three-quarter arm slot delivery. Not only can the Red Sox benefit from having multiple relievers with different styles, but with the added depth, we can be assured there won’t be any risk for over usage like we saw last season with Uehara and Tazawa.
The bullpen that the Red Sox have put together for the 2016 season can be one that sees a lot of success and could manufacture more than a handful of wins. On paper, I think Sox fans should be excited to see what our relievers are going to show us this season. However, what is shown to us on paper doesn’t always create wins; it’s turning what’s on paper into reality. So, at least for now, we can be eager, but let’s see how things turn out for us two months into the season.