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Red Sox Bullpen: Expectations vs. Reality vs. Perception

The Red Sox offense is on pace to score 702 runs. The Red Sox rotation is 27th in the MLB with an ERA of 5.76. Defensively, this team that was supposed to prevent runs is actually allowing more than any other with a -9 Defensive Runs Saved.

And yet it's the bullpen with the 8th best ERA in the nation that many Red Sox fans would consider the weakest link. What's that all about? Let's find out after the jump.

To start with, it's about expectations. Coming into this year, most believed that we should be one of the best defensive teams with one of the best rotations in the majors, and a legitimate-if-not-outstanding offense. And if everyone on the team would start performing to the level that they are capable of, that's just about how this team WOULD play out in the long run.

After all, how long can Josh Beckett, John Lackey, and Jon Lester all maintain ERAs over 5.00? Three good pitchers simply don't disappear off the face of the Earth like that at once. The same can be said for our batters, many of whom are underperforming. I went into greater detail on the offense here, so I won't say too much more on that subject.

But what about the bullpen? All throughout Spring Training, the shakiness of the bullpen loomed. Papelbon was coming off his worst career year, Hideki Okajima was just getting older, MDC and Ramon Ramirez spent the last half of the 2009 season failing to get anyone out, and the last two spots were going to be taken up by minor league free agents picked from the scrap heap. So it's no surprise that, after a few early bullpen meltdowns, we had our opinion of these "Dirty's", as our own Gizmosandy likes to call them, locked in.

Is that opinion fair? Well, yes and no. As I mentioned earlier, we have the 8th best ERA at 3.06--certainly an acceptable number. And if you remove the pathetic numbers of Ramon Ramirez, things look even better. Replace him with, say, Wakefield, and it appears that we have a very full and well-structured bullpen. Okajima, Bard, and Papelbon are a strong 7th-8th-9th inning combo. Scott Schoeneweis has actually been quite good against lefties, striking out 6 of the 13 he has faced (only 1 walk). And Manny Delcarmen and Scott Atchison's ERAs are actually quite good, especially for mop-up duties.

But much like the struggles of the rotation, offense, and defense, it seems like this is not likely to last.

As good as some of these guy's ERAs are concerned, there are some very scary signs. Particularly with Okajima, Papelbon, and Delcarmen, all three of whom have walked more batters than they have struck out (a combined 15:7 BB:K--remarkably awful), a great deal of regression is likely. Looking at the Manny Delcarmen of last year compared to the Manny Delcarmen of this year, the only thing that stands out is that this one hasn't given up the big hit. The Red Sox' bullpen has the 4th highest strand rate, the 3rd worst FIP, and by far the lowest BABIP. None of this speaks to any level of sustainability.

There are some "real" results--if just a few. Daniel Bard is looking for all the world like exactly who we had hoped he would be, blowing away hitters alternatively with big heat and two styles of Slider with hard break. Scott Schoeneweis' results against lefties have been very impressive, too, and believe it or not, Ramon Ramirez has actually had three straight strong outings, totaling almost 6 innings.

But the dangers of the late innings still looms strong. Can Okajima, Papelbon, and Delcarmen avoid getting hurt by their bad tendencies long enough to correct them, or are the Sox in store for more meltdowns? With Daniel Bard currently being run out there just about every night, the team is going to need to rely on these guys more and more--hopefully, they can keep providing results regardless of the process.