The regular season hasn’t begun yet, but new Red Sox manager Alex Cora is already making sweeping changes within the organization, specifically with the bullpen. Cora recently announced that he has considered the idea of going with an all-righty bullpen, which would be a major shift in the typical team-building philosophy. However, Cora’s unconventional thinking is exactly what Boston needs. The Red Sox don’t need a lefty reliever, and Cora should be credited for his outside thinking.
Lefty Relieve: The Boston Red Sox Don’t Necessarily Need It
The Current Bullpen
The top of the bullpen is set. The depth…not so much
Image credit: SI.com
Barring injury, three of the bullpen roster spots will belong to Craig Kimbrel, Carson Smith, Matt Barnes, and Joe Kelly. Assuming Tyler Thornberg won’t be ready for the regular season, that probably leaves three remaining spots in the bullpen.
The contestants for those spots are Heath Hembree, Brandon Workman, Robby Scott, Austin Maddox, and Brian Johnson. Of those five, Scott and Johnson are the only lefties. Johnson can be taken out of the equation, as injuries to Steven Wright and Eduardo Rodriguez thrusted him into the starting rotation. Essentially, Scott is the only lefty option for the bullpen.
What Does Robby Scott Bring?
2017 was Scott’s first season consistently in the majors, and served as the teams primary lefty arm in the bullpen. Scott got plenty of playing time, appearing in 57 games and pitching 35.2 innings. While he’s only been in the majors one year, there’s plenty of data and tape to determine what kind of player Scott is.
On a positive note, Scott was highly effective against lefties. His sidearm delivery naturally works well against left handed hitters, and Scott was very reliable against left handed hitter. In 20.2 innings, Scott held lefties to a slash line of just .119/.224/.303.
On the negative side, Scott struggled mightily against righties. While his aforementioned sidearm motion made him a nightmare against lefties, righties ate his motion up. In 15 innings against righties, Scott gave up a far less impressive slash line of .241/.323/.494.
Basically, Scott showed that he has the potential to be a good lefty-only bullpen arm. While there’s certainly value in that type of player, he’s basically only good for one batter a game. The league has steadily evolved to the point where the bullpen is more important than it’s ever been. It’s not uncommon for the bullpen to be utilized the first second a starter starts to struggle, so teams need guys that can go longer in games than just one batter.
With that in mind, the Red Sox still need somebody that can consistently get lefties out. The top bullpen options, like Kimbrel and Smith, can get anybody out, but what of the other guys? Can any of Workman, Hembree, or Maddox consistently get lefties out if they need to?
The Non-Robby Scott Options
Could Austin Maddox be the bullpen’s secret weapon?
Image credit: WEEI
If Cora’s looking for a righty that can get lefties out, he may look towards Austin Maddox. Maddox, admittedly, has a very small sample size against lefties, but he has promise. Maddox only faced six innings worth of lefties last season, but he held said hitters to a .280/.280/.440 slash line. That’s pretty promising, especially considering he does his best work against righties.
Scott could only face one or two batters at a time, whereas Maddox could go as long as he needed to. Sending Scott to Pawtucket allows the major league bullpen to remain fresher, longer, and it might not cause a drastic drop off in performance against lefties.
Additionally, Cora has stated that he believes in putting his best pitchers in during the games biggest moment. In previous years, former manager John Farrell had always reserved his best bullpen arms for the very end of the game. While that’s great in theory, there’s no point having your best arms available late if you’ve already blown a lead.
Cora has already announced that he won’t shy away from using his best arms in the biggest moments. Perhaps, instead of turning to Robby Scott or Robby Ross Jr. to get a lefty out in the sixth, Cora will turn to Carson Smith. There’s enough talent in this bullpen for one of the other relievers to handle later innings, so Cora shouldn’t shy away from using his best arms when the game matters most.
What to Expect on Opening Day
At the end of the day, Scott will still probably end up on the Opening Day roster, and frankly, that’s probably the right move. Maddox has a very limited workload, and he should probably get more time to develop in Pawtucket. Chances are the three final bullpen spots will go to Hembree, Workman, and Scott.
However, the fact that Cora is looking at unconventional ways to make the best team possible is fantastic news for the Red Sox. The game of baseball is constantly evolving, and you can’t afford to fall behind the curve. The previous Red Sox administration relied too heavily on outdated thoughts and ideas, and it’s a breath of fresh air to see new, out of the box thinking.
Cover image courtesy of WEEI.