Great baseball teams can put the game to bed as soon as their starter exists the contest.
Since the start of the 2019 season, the Red Sox bullpen hasn’t exactly been a strength. Yes, guys like Matt Barnes, Darwinzon Hernandez, and even the likes of Phillips Valdez, Ryan Brasier, and Josh Taylor have had their bouts of success over that stretch. However, the proof is in the pudding. Over the past two seasons, the team’s bullpen ranks 21st in ERA (4.81), 13th in FIP (4.37), and 12th in SIERA (4.17).
We can deduce that there is room to grow for this staff, but they’re not as far behind as the ERA would indicate. In that same stretch, they also have the third-best strikeout rate (25.8 percent) and tied for 12th in ground-ball rate (43.5 percent).
But how can the team improve their bullpen enough to still make a play on another outfielder as well as starting pitching?
Bedrosian is someone that has flown under the radar over in Anaheim in recent seasons. He’s not a closer with a magnetic personality like Hansel Robles. He’s not a once highly-regarded prospect like Ty Buttrey. But he has been quietly putting up good numbers in that bullpen for five years.
Since 2016, Bedrosian has a 3.20 ERA, a 3.46 FIP, a 3.74 SIERA, and a strikeout rate of 25.1 percent. In 2020, those numbers were 2.45, 2.92, 5.08, and 19 percent, respectively (a small sample size of 14.2 innings).
His slider is his money-maker, making his decline in fastball velocity less alarming. On 513 registered sliders (50.6 percent usage) in 2019, he had a 3.21 FIP, a .242 wOBA against, and a strikeout rate of 27.9 percent.
He likely would serve in the sixth or seventh inning for Alex Cora’s Red Sox, but he is certainly an interesting name to keep an eye on as the offseason progresses.
Nothing screams a “Chaim Bloom move” quite like one he’s already had a say in making.
Roe has spent the last three seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays, two of which were when Chaim Bloom worked in their front office. Since becoming a Ray, the 34-year-old has blossomed as a situational middle reliever. He’s not an elite strikeout artist but has struck out 27 percent of his opponents since the start of 2018.
Roe, like Bedrosian, sort of lives off of the success of his slider. Which is more than okay if that pitch is one of the most diabolical pitches in existence. In 2019, Roe threw his slider a staggering 64.3 percent of the time yet still kept hitters at bay to the tune of a 2.34 FIP and a 32.9 percent strikeout rate.
It just moves like a frisbee.
He’s far from the best reliever on the market. Still, he certainly can and would be useful in Boston’s right role––especially given the variety of arm angles and pitch movements opposing hitters would be dealing with. He ranked in the 90th percentile or better in hard-hit rate, exit velocity, barrel rate, xSLG, and fastball spin in 2019. In a more significant sample than his 9.1-inning sample of 2020, he should be able to return to form.
Like many who sign with the Rockies, McGee struggled with run prevention in three of his four seasons.
However, when he got to the Dodgers in 2020, he looked like the Jake McGee that tormented opposing hitters for years in Tampa Bay. In 20.1 innings last season, the left-hander posted a 2.66 ERA, a 1.67 FIP, and an astounding 41.8 percent strikeout rate. He even saw his average four-seam fastball velocity jump from 93.4 mph to 94.9 between 2019 and 2020.
If you’re a Red Sox fan, McGee is precisely the kind of pitcher you’re hoping Darwinzon Hernandez can become. Like McGee, he has an explosive fastball that you’d miss if you blinked. McGee threw his four-seamer 320 times on 332 pitches in 2020. While Hernandez doesn’t have to cut loose on over 96 percent of his pitchers, he’s the kind of pitcher you can see developing into an absolute flamethrower if developed and nurtured correctly.
Bradley headlined the list of surprise non-tenders on Dec. 2.
In 2020, he was brilliant, posting a 2.95 ERA, a 2.59 FIP, and a career-best hard-hit rate of 33.3 percent. Overall, he’s got a 2.82 ERA, a 3.18 FIP, and a 26.6 percent strikeout rate as a reliever in the major leagues.
If you’re not entirely sold on Matt Barnes being this team’s closer in 2021, Bradley brings experience shutting the door with him. In 2019, the right-hander posted 18 saves to couple with his career-best 27.4 percent strikeout rate.
He’s 28 and likely wouldn’t command too much as this would count as his final arbitration year. So, if you’re a team like the Red Sox and are looking to budget your spending, he could be the perfect guy on a one- or two-year deal.
Soria isn’t the type of pitcher that’ll ‘wow’ you, as he’s been productive for the better part of 13 years.
In 22.1 innings last season, the 36-year-old posted a 2.82 ERA, a 2.76 xERA (92nd percentile), and a .248 xwOBA against (also 92nd percentile). He also had a 25 percent strikeout rate and was excellent at limiting hard contact (33.9 percent hard-hit rate, 94th percentile in barrel rate).
What makes Soria so appealing, even as he advances in age, is his ability to be effective with multiple arm slots. He can beat you over the top with his breaking ball, but also turn it into a slider as he drops his arm slot. Not to mention his effectiveness with his fastball––which hasn’t seen a steep decline in velocity to this point (92.4 mph average in 2020).
The right-hander hasn’t been a closer since 2018 with the White Sox, but he can certainly be used there sparsely to give Matt Barnes a night off. Not to mention that he’s nearing the end of his career and certainly shouldn’t cost much to acquire.
Why not roll out a third guy with ties to Chaim Bloom and the Tampa Bay Rays?
Drake regressed in 2020 (only pitched 11 innings) but was a pretty effective pitcher in 2019. No matter what his ERA would tell you, he’s been something of a peripheral darling to this point. In five of his six major league seasons, Drake has posted a FIP below 3.90. In four seasons, his xFIP has been below 3.70. Lastly, in five seasons, he’s seen a SIERA below 4.00.
He’s not going to light up the radar gun, but his splitter is easily one of the most aesthetically pleasing pitches in the game. It also defies the laws of physics with how it moves.
Adding someone with his skillset to the Red Sox bullpen could add a new wrinkle to a team that’s full of overpowering fastballs and over-the-top curveballs. The way his splitter moves is closer to how Darwinzon Hernandez’s slider breaks. Which is something unordinary considering they throw with opposite hands.
Drake would be a strong depth move for a Red Sox team that needs depth at seemingly every role in the bullpen.
Devenski is an interesting case in the sense that he’s regressed every single year since he was a rookie. Culminating in 2020, he pitched just 3.2 innings as he battled injuries, ultimately requiring surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow.
He was designated for assignment by the Astros and elected free agency.
However, there could be a little value to the 30-year-old right-hander, even after the surgery.
Now you might be asking: What kind of value does a pitcher who has regressed every year bring? And that’s a fair question. However, the answer is quite simple: he’s cheap and showed some bright spots in his last full season.
His fastball likely should be used very infrequently, as it got hammered to the tune of an 8.37 xFIP in 2019. However, his changeup has a 35.5 percent strikeout rate and a 2.68 xFIP as his second-most utilized pitch––and his slider was even more lethal as his third-most used pitch (38 percent, 1.57 xFIP).
If Devenski figures out how to better utilize his fastball while simultaneously using his secondary pitches more are primary pitches, he could revitalize his career. Is Boston the place to do that? Time will tell.
This move has nothing to do with the 2021 season and would likely make some fans angry––as it is just money lost for next season.
However, Tommy Kahnle might be worth it for what he’ll be when he recovers from Tommy John Surgery. He pitched just one inning in 2020, but was inarguably a top 10 reliever in the 2019 season. That year, in 61.1 innings, Kahnle posted a 35.5 percent strikeout rate, a 2.69 xFIP, a .202 xBA, and a 2.79 SIERA.
His changeup is also one of the most unhittable pitches in the league, as he posted a 0.13 FIP and a 50.4 percent strikeout rate on it in 2019.
You’re not signing him with the expectation that he’ll contribute in 2021. However, having him locked up for 2022 (and perhaps beyond) could be well worth the risk.
Clippard is someone who has been around for quite some time. And no matter how his peripherals look at season’s end, he is consistently amongst the top 10 percent in expected batting average against and hard-hit rate.
He’s not an elite strikeout machine, but he still has a career rate of 27.1 percent. He’s also coming off a season where he posted a 2.65 FIP, a 2.77 ERA, and a 22.4 strikeout-to-walk percentage. So, even as he advances in age, he remains a reliable commodity in the bullpen.
He isn’t what you’d think a ‘true’ closer should be, but he has a 30-save season to his resume as well. Much like a few of the guys before him, he can be used in that role if need be to give Barnes a spell.
However, the major drawback is his exceedingly high fly-ball rate for his career (55.7 percent). Fly balls, plus eroding velocity, plus Fenway Park could spell disaster. Though, for the right price, giving him the sixth inning is far from the worst idea in the world.
Rounding out this list is a man who has become a familiar face to Red Sox Nation.
Workman, 32, spent the first five-and-a-half years of his career with the Boston Red Sox and was one of the best relievers in the league in 2019. However, once he was traded to the Phillies at the 2020 Trade Deadline, he was bitten by struggles.
In 14 outings for the Phillies, Workman posted a 6.96 FIP, a 21.4 percent strikeout rate, and allowed four home runs. As a result, Philadelphia hasn’t exactly rushed to re-sign him.
That being said, for Boston, it makes perfect sense to bring him back. For one, it’ll cost next to nothing to get him back after one of the worst seasons of his career. Second, he thrived in whatever role he was presented with for the Red Sox. Closer? Sure thing. Setup man? Yes. Middle relief? He got the job done.
He’s not close to the pitcher he was in 2019. But if he can be similar to how he was in 2018 or how he was with Boston in 2020, he can certainly be a useful commodity.
The reliever market is quietly full of vital depth pieces. Chaim Bloom and co., even should they miss out on a handful of the arms mentioned, should still be able to add to this bullpen that’s not too far from being a legitimate strength.