Red Sox Bullpen: Fenway Fallout After Uehara
What a difference a year makes. From World Series Champions in 2013 to 4th place in the AL East, Boston is a team struggling to find traction in a wide open division. However the Red Sox bullpen has been a model of consistency, posting a 5.8 WAR in 2013 (3rd overall) and 3.1 WAR in 2014 (1st overall). Koji Uehara has been a dominant force in the ninth, but as he enters the final year of his contract (at age 39), the clock is ticking for him in Boston.
The Red Sox Bullpen in 2014
It is difficult to argue with the results thus far, but while Uehara and Andrew Miller are strikeout artists, the rest have pedestrian strikeout totals (17th overall). Despite Craig Breslow‘s walks and Edward Mujica‘s home runs, the pen is 7th overall in BB/9 and HR/9 rates. While their FIP and xFIP are top 7 in the league, they are in the bottom third of the league in GB%. As the weather warms up, expect regression as more balls leave the yard.
K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP Koji Uehara 13.10 1.19 0.79 0.298 100.00% 30.40% 8.70% 0.79 1.69 1.86 Andrew Miller 13.88 2.63 0.38 0.308 67.80% 49.00% 6.30% 2.63 1.51 1.83 Chris Capuano 8.13 3.58 0.33 0.250 81.70% 41.30% 4.20% 1.95 3.02 3.67 Junichi Tazawa 8.28 2.16 0.72 0.286 87.30% 31.90% 6.90% 2.16 2.97 3.44 Burke Badenhop 4.60 2.87 0.29 0.307 81.30% 60.00% 4.50% 2.01 3.40 3.90 Craig Breslow 6.50 5.00 0.50 0.362 69.60% 31.60% 3.80% 5.00 4.16 5.32 Edward Mujica 5.49 2.75 1.83 0.308 65.60% 41.20% 16.00% 6.41 5.39 4.40
The Incumbent, Koji Uehara
Although his MLB career only spans only 300+ innings Uehara has been historically awesome.*
K/9 BB/9 LOB% ERA FIP K/BB AVG WHIP SwStr F-Strike Contact% Rank 14th 1st 1st 2nd 6th 1st 4th 1st 4th 7th 12th
Despite his stellar numbers and their recent win streak, the Red Sox playoff odds remain unfavorable (31%). Given Uehara’s shoulder and elbow injury history, age, and expiring contract, the front office will go a different direction by the trade deadline. The Angels are a logical fit as they chase Oakland in the AL West. Given the Red Sox aging lineup, top-five payroll, and diminishing playoff chances it is time to find the next Red Sox closer.
The Future at Fenway
Junichi Tazawa, RHP, age 27
Tazawa is essentially a poor man’s Uehara. He relies on a fastball-splitter combination and mixes in a curveball sporadically. However, the game plan is similar for both Japanese pitchers — work the fastball up and the splitter down in the zone.
2014 Fastball Whiff Rates
2014 Splitter Whiff Rates
Info via brooksbaseball.net
Although he generates fewer whiffs, Tazawa’s command is above-average. He strands runners and limits home runs. Consistency in the later innings is important for a coaching staff and front office. Expect Tazawa to receive the first chance to close if Uehara goes down or is traded. He will be a cost-effective alternative to Uehara if the front office wants to stay in house.
Andrew Miller, LHP, age 29
While Tazawa deserves the first shot at closing, a case can also be made for Andrew Miller. A former first-round “bust,” Miller rejuvenated his career with a move to the bullpen in 2012. A left-handed specialist until recently, something has clicked for Miller this season versus right handers.
AVG OBP SLG wOBA K/9 BB/9 BABIP Career vs. RH 0.276 0.376 0.432 0.357 6.97 4.99 0.321 2014 vs. RH 0.186 0.250 0.241 0.226 12.91 2.35 0.297
According to John Farrell, a simplified delivery and throwing more strikes make him a possible closer candidate. Miller will be a free agent after the season and has generated nearly $10mm of value to the Red Sox against his $3.5mm salary. With his value at its peak he’s another valuable trade chip in the Red Sox bullpen. And if Boston isn’t willing to sign him long term as its closer, he’ll walk. It’s Miller’s domino, not Uehara’s will cause the rest of the bullpen to fall into place.
Rubby De La Rosa, RHP, age 25
Mike Newman touted De La Rosa’s power arsenal back in 2011. This April, ROTOscouting dubbed him the next starter in the Red Sox rotation. On Saturday he had a stellar outing against the Rays pitching seven shutout innings. He was facing a terrible offense (22nd in runs scored) slashing a .245/.317/.367 line this year. Regardless the raw stuff is legit.
With Felix Doubront and Clay Buchholz hurting, De La Rosa has earned a couple of spot starts. However, De La Rosa’s Tommy John procedure, penchant for throwing sliders, and developing change-up fit the profile of a dominant bullpen arm. If remaining a starter doesn’t work out, the arsenal will play up out of the pen.
Allen Webster, RHP, age 24
While Mike Newman saw a ceiling of a #2 or #3 starter back in 2011, Webster has yet to break out. Chris Blessing also noted consistency struggles in 2012. He has been pitching well lately but his current 6.65 K/9 rate is a career low. His slight frame and command problems are making the case for a switch to the pen as early as next season. The move will help him focus on his fastball-slider development in order to generate more strikeouts. His floor is still valuable in the later innings given a mid-90’s fastball which touches 98 MPH.
Koji Uehara is an elite closer — one worth dealing to the highest bidder given the Red Sox playoff odds. From a fantasy standpoint, great fantasy managers view situations from an organization perspective. The rest use stats to dictate what they want to happen. Anticipate Boston’s field of potential closers and corner the Red Sox bullpen options before opposing owners wise up.
*Using the Fangraphs database of all relief pitchers with minimum qualified innings from 1871-present.
2 Jun 2014 / Joseph Pytleski /
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