Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Unanswered Question

There really isn't a lot being said about the Red Sox' bullpen. Not really sure why. Maybe because it's not a blatant strength (like the rotation) nor a blatant weakness (like the offense). However, the strength of the 2010 Red Sox bullpen may be the deciding factor of whether this team is in playoff contention. Let's just say if they suck this year, the sellout streak is in jeopardy.

The bullpen's success is absolutely critical this year, seeing it will be up to them to make sure the team's 2-1 leads on the backs of their rotation don't become 6-2 deficits by the time the game is over. Because let's be honest: this team isn't going to rally against even the Orioles' bullpen because they just can't hit.

So these 2-1 leads are being protected by a closer who's gotten progressively worse every year since Pat, Bandi, and I graduated from college, a 24-year-old kid who can throw smoke but lacks the polish to pitch brilliantly on a consistent basis, the journeyman middle reliever who just hasn't changed teams yet, two guys named Ramon Ramirez, a Japanese marathon runner, a dude who got cut from the '09 Rays and was behind Jim Corsi and John Wasdin on the '98 Red Sox' depth chart, and Tim Wakefield.

As my boy once said, "when you rollin with this, would you be paranoid?"

The answer should be yes.

We can look at Papelbon any way we want to. I could make jokes about his mouth and his status as a political prisoner of the reserve clause tyranny. We already know about the increased walks, increased hits, increased home runs, decreased velocity, and decreased number of pitches actually thrown. Anyone who either reads How Youz Doin Baseball or watches Red Sox games regularly knows that Papelbon took some liberties with three-run leads, two-run leads, and even one-run leads, just to escape at the last minute. He was flat-out bad last year and the law of averages just didn't catch up to him until the ALDS. But unless something changes in a big way this year, especially in regards to pitching the ball over the plate, he's one walk and one double away from a blown save instead of one walk and one double away from a three-run lead being cut to two like he was last year.

Bard--obviously he's pretty good, and he throws hard. But at times, he was also hit hard. He's not there...yet. And if he's destined to take his lumps in 2010, he won't have too many big leads to be bailed out from.

Delcarmen already got a whole post to himself this winter. But the future journeyman might be a current journeyman pretty soon, as the Felger Channel is reporting that the Twins might be interested. Are there any Red Sox fans other than Craig F. H. who would be mourning that loss?

Okajima was the subject of many conversations between my father and me last year: If you are a relief pitcher, and you might only face one guy all night, how can you walk him? He's not bad, but he's not what we saw in 2007.

RamRam (the Dominican one) was one of my favorite Red Sox last year, because he didn't talk at all. However, his strikeouts decreased by about a quarter in virtually the same amount of innings, and there were some pretty prolonged stretches of getting lit up. He's probably the most trustworthy 7th-inning guy the team has. But that's not saying much.

The other RamRam (the Venezuelan one) is 26 years old and bounced between the rotation and the bullpen last year...for the Louisville Bats of the International League. Goo. Does the fact that the team prioritized funny names this offseason (Scooter-o, Boof, RamRam II) mean they're going to punt the season? Well, the last time they prioritized funny names over good baseball players (Coco Crisp, Runelvys Hernandez), they didn't play very well. I wonder if the Red Sox would call up David Pauley if he changed his name to Daniel Bard.

Boof Bonser is said to have good stuff. The former first-round pick has a 5.12 career ERA and averages well over 1.1 hits per inning pitched. Not a good thing for a guy who might need to protect one-run leads.

Brian Shouse was a Tim Wakefield teammate twice. Both with the '98 Red Sox, when he was behind Wasdin, and with the '93 Pirates. He got cut from the Rays last year, even after their bullpen proved to be a shell of the '08 bullpen. When Timlin stayed in the game for too long, we kind of felt bad when we weren't writing venom about him on HYD Baseball. But we don't even have any kind of nostalgic connection with this poor guy.

And then there's Wakefield and/or Buchholz. My philosophy is that seven innings of a good pitcher every five days is better than two or three. But Buchholz might be able to hold a one-run lead better than the rest of these guys, while Wakefield cannot. Is it worth jerking Buchholz around for this? Considering that they're punting the season, probably not. And also considering that there will be plenty of games where the Sox might be down 5-1 and Matsuzaka has thrown 107 pitches through four innings, Wakefield might be necessary for this bullpen.

Really, what I'm trying to say is, if you look up and down the list, you can't feel too confident in this bullpen. Granted, it's like any other average major league bullpen. If you have an average offense and an average bullpen, the best pitching might not be able to put you in AL East contention.


Patrick said...

good post here gm. when writing my red sox offense post for yesterday, i was thinking about a point you brought up here, which is that the red sox are likely to be in more close games late than they have recently due to their good starting pitching and potential lack of offense. close games can turn on lots of little things, and having an even average bullpen can really be a detriment in that scenario, because it makes those little things more likely to happen (if there are more base runners, etc.). i don't have the numbers, but as you pointed out it did seem like the red sox made a lot of 3 run games a lot closer than that, and it wasn't just papelbon. this year they probably won't be able to afford to do that as liberally.

the one other thing i wanted to comment on was your paragraph on buchholz/wakefield. i'm in complete agreement with you that 7 good innings once a week is better than one good inning three times per week. what makes that more significant is that buchholz is a young starter you hope can front your rotation at some point, so you want to continue to allow him to develop. also, while buchholz can hold a lead better than wakefield out of the bullpen, he can also probably start better than wakefield too. the red sox should at least find that out and i'm sure they will. i think with young starters, the rule should be they should start, start, start until the following set of circumstances is met: 1) there is a need in the bullpen, 2) it's in the second half of the season and the team is in contention, 3) there is not a greater need in the rotation, 4) the pitcher has the ability/stuff to relieve, 5) moving him to the bullpen isn't reckless towards his development.

for the red sox, you could see that situation arising this year. the red sox could potentially need some back-end bullpen help. they will likely definitely be in contention in the second half. lester, lackey, beckett, and matsuzaka could be performing in the rotation. buchholz seems stuff that would translate well to the bullpen so long as he can throw strikes. he's at a point in his career where a move to the bullpen after amassing a good number of innings as a starer in the first half or 2/3 of the season shouldn't stunt his development. in this situation, then i think you do send him to the bullpen. so long as it isn't reckless to the player's development, there becomes a point i think where you have to balance winning and the player's development. and i think this type of situation, where you have a chance to win, is a place where you should try to find that balance.

Ross Kaplan said...

There's no doubt in my mind that Papelbon is nowhere near the closer he was when he first burst out onto the scene a few years ago. The problem is that for all his flaws he's still a top 5 closer in the league and very difficult to replace. Off the top of my head I can only think of 3 closers who I'd rather have than Papelbon: Mo, Broxton and K-Rod and even the last 2 are prone to the same slip ups as Papelbon is.