When the 2012 Boston Red Sox season began, there were few doubts despite 2011′s collapse about the team’s ability to score runs. It made sense – in 2011 the Red Sox scored more runs than any team in major league baseball. And despite missing some key pieces, this year’s Red Sox team in currently second in Major League Baseball in runs scored.
But we collapsed last year! We’re doomed for the 2012 season and likely the next decade, remember? Still, many of those scrutinizing the Red Sox accepted that a rotation led by John Lester, Josh Beckett, and Clay Buchholz could be semi-decent, all that chicken and beer aside. Felix Dubront showed potential, and the Daniel Bard experiment was, well, the Daniel Bard experiment. In the wake of an epic collapse and the loss of Boston’s all-time best closer, the bullpen was seemingly decimated. The reality is that Josh Beckett didn’t blow 20 games for the Red Sox last September – many of those losses fell firmly on the bullpen. What were the lowly Red Sox to do? Sign old, overweight Nicaraguan pitchers? Rely on the likes of Andrew Miller?
While it seemed like a second disaster in the making, the 2012 Red Sox bullpen has been outstanding. And better yet, they’re only going to get better in the second half. So much so that I’ve come up with 5 compelling reasons why the Red Sox pen will be the best in the AL after the All-Star break.
1) The return on Andrew Bailey – Simply put, Andrew Bailey was brought in to replace Jonathan Papelbon as the closer. But we’ve been without him all season now. This is a guy who came into the league and won the Rookie of the Year award. He’s been an All-Star in two of his first three seasons, and he owns a career ERA of 2.07. He’s 6’3, 240 pounds and throws primarily three pitches; a fastball of up to 97 mph, a splitter of up to 92 mph, and a curve – all of which he locates well. With Bailey’s return imminent in the second half, the Sox pen will get a huge boost – whether he immediately slides into the closer role or not.
2) The return of Daniel Bard – Daniel Bard was not effective as a starter. He limped to 5-6 with a 5.24 ERA as a starter this season. His fastball was down in the 93-94 mph range, and he averaged 5.6 strikeouts per nine innings. As a closer Bard was routinely hitting 98 or 99 mph, and his K’s per 9 ratio fluctuated between 9.1 and 11.5. Give him some 7th and 8th innings, and he’s a secondary boost.
3) Statistics – “The Red Sox bullpen hasn’t been that good this year,” you might say. Well, statistics show they’ve been very impressive in a couple of hugely important statistical categories – ERA and Batting Average Against (all statistics as of 7/2/12, ESPN.com).
Clayton Mortensen, 1.20 ERA, .170 BAA
Scott Atchison, 1.47 ERA, .208 BAA
Andrew Miller, 1.89 ERA, .172 BAA
Matt Albers, 2.53 ERA, .216 BAA
Rich Hill, 2.63 ERA, .240 BAA
Vicente Padilla, 3.64 ERA, .267 BAA
Alfredo Aceves, 4.17 ERA, .223 BAA
Note I did not include Franklin Morales or Aaron Cook – both have pitched well, but I’m assuming they’ll remain spot starters considering Bard is heading back to the pen and I’m not sure whether or not Daisuke Matsuzaka even has any interest in playing baseball. Mark Melancon, who was supposed to be a major new addition to the pen along with Bailey, started the year with an ERA higher than my average score on 18 holes. He’s finally returned to the line-up, so he has nowhere to go but up at this point. If he pitches well, he’s just the cherry on top.
4) Competition – Bobby Valentine and Ben Cherington haven’t been given much credit for anything they’ve done with the Red Sox yet – but I think there’s one area where they’ve really been fabulous. When these guys started talking in the off-season about creating an atmosphere of competition in spring training and throughout the clubhouse, I thought “Yes! That’s exactly what we need to do!” The competition largely began as the staff competed for the 4th and 5th spots in the starting rotation, but it’s obviously permeated through the pen as well. We’ve also seen it with Cody Ross, Daniel Nava, Ryan Kalish, and Ryan Sweeney in the outfield. These guys are all driving each other to do better, and they’re competing for innings. Which reminds me of another thing Bobby Valentine has actually done very well – spread the ball around. As of July 5th, Scott Atchison was leading all relievers on the Sox staff with 43 innings pitched… meaning those arms should all be relatively fresh heading into the second half of the season.
5) They’re battle tested – Think of what the Red Sox bullpen has been through, between the September collapse and the slow start this year. They’ve heard everything any critic could possibly say, and they’ve still come out and gotten it done. They’ve taken losses, they taken some heat, and they’ve rebounded and played better. Few staffs have dealt with what this staff has been through in the past 12 months or so. They’ve been hit repeatedly on the chin and they’ve weathered the punches. Ultimately, they’ll draw strength from it in the future.
Still don’t see this staff being the best in the AL after the break? Well then I’ve got another angle for you to chew on. We gave Bobby Valentine some due props earlier, so now let’s give it up for Ben Cherington (with an assist to Theo). The Red Sox pen of Andrew Bailey, Daniel Bard, Alfredo Aceves, Scott Atchison, Matt Albers, Mark Melacon, Andrew Miller, Vicente Padilla, Clayton Mortensen, and Rich Hill (that’s 10 players) will earn $12,098,000 this season. That’s about $3 million less than Mariano Riveira’s salary, and only $98,000 more than the Yankees pay their replacement closer Rafael Soriano. Talk about money ball!