Grudging Respect to the Skipper
Let’s be clear. Despite this, I do not think much of John Farrell as a manager. That said, however, he was a great pitching coach during Terry Francona’s tenure as skipper. It is not a coincidence that the Red Sox have one of the best rotations and have the best bullpen in baseball. Tough to argue with a 15-3 record in extra-inning games or find fault in the skipper who got them there.
Loaded for October
As great as we may feel about sweeping unlikeable Baltimore and clinching a playoff berth, the road ahead is going to be difficult. October baseball is different. There are no more Toronto’s, Oakland’s or Cincinnati’s. Everyone can play. Every line up is deep. Every rotation is tough. But, not every bullpen is great. Ours is, as Scott Frizzell expertly laid out yesterday (here).
Sure, every one of the locked or likely AL playoff teams has a lights-out closer. Giles (HOU), Kintzler (MIN), Allen (CLE), and, despite his struggles against Boston, Chapman (NYY) are all excellent. And they all have a decent set-up guys. But, in October starting pitchers face the deepest line-ups in the league and tend to have high pitch counts earlier. It’s not enough to have an eighth inning guy to bridge to your closer. You need a seventh inning stud. And often more.
With apologies to Velazquez, Maddox, Smith, and Elias who have all contributed but just barely, the nine core members of the Sox bullpen are the best in the AL. Kimbrel leads all AL playoff closers with 33 saves, with Houston’s Giles right behind him at 32.
Getting the ball to our ginger Travelocity gnome is a squad who’ve pitched over 350 innings, surrendered only 132 earned runs, struck out 345, and have a WHIP of 1.18. For perspective, Drew Pomeranz, 16-5 on the season, has a WHIP of 1.34. So, basically Boston’s bullpen is better than their number two starter. Not. Too. Shabby.
The Best We’ve Had
Boston’s current bullpen is the best we’ve had in decades. With the possible exception of ’07 Papelbon, nobody in their right mind would trade Kimbrell for any closer in recent Red Sox history. And, as much as the Timlin-Embree combination provided the ’04 world champions, the sheer depth of this year’s squad is unmatched.
None of this is to say that their success will continue in the post season. October baseball is different. Guys who were lights out in the regular season often fade as the innings pile up and as the teams get tougher. Hideki Okajima springs to mind.
In 2007, Oki had thrown 69 regular season innings – more than any of our current relievers – and registered a 2.22 ERA and 0.971 WHIP. He was the definition of shut-down. Yet, he threw 11 post-season innings, including 3.2 in the World Series, where his numbers skyrocketed (7.36 ERA).
As this season winds down, it is critical that Farrell manage innings for each of his arms. He should consider throwing Price as often as medically possible – to both get him in shape for important innings in October, and to protect the guys who are tired.