With spring training upon us, the major maneuvers are likely done for the Red Sox. Guys like Ian Desmond and Dexter Fowler are still available in free agency, and there will clearly still be movement within the league. Neither player represents a great fit for Boston, however, barring injury. What the Red Sox are expected to look at as February turns to March is some depth in the bullpen. That doesn’t mean bringing in more relievers of the Craig Kimbrel variety, of course. It simply means throwing a bunch of minor-league contracts at the wall and seeing what sticks. The Red Sox started that process last week by bringing in Carlos Marmol.
Let’s be honest with ourselves, Marmol almost certainly doesn’t move the needle. He’s been a bad pitcher for a few years now. He didn’t appear in the majors in 2015, and earned that with his performance in 2013 and 2014. In those two years, he put up a horrendous 5.20 ERA and 5.76 FIP in 62-1/3 innings worth of work between Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami. The main issue for him was control, as he walked more than seven batters per nine innings in that stretch. Those control issues didn’t fix themselves against Triple-A and Winter League competition in 2015, as he walked 33 batters in 34-2/3 innings between those two levels. Fortunately, there’s nothing to get upset about here because it’s a relatively risk-free minor-league deal.
The Red Sox wouldn’t sign him if there wasn’t some reason for optimism, either. It’s easy to forget now, but Marmol was one of the better relievers for a stretch just a few years ago. From 2007-2012, the right-hander was able to put up a 2.90 ERA and a 3.30 FIP, all with the Cubs. While that seems like forever ago, it’s worth noting that Marmol will only be 33 this year, so it’s not as if he’s on the verge of typical retirement age.
More importantly than any of that, the organization sounds like they think they found the issue with him. Shortly after the signing, all of the beats were reporting that the team had identified a change in Marmol’s release point in the last few years, corresponding with his sharp downfall.
As you can see in that chart, their hypothesis is clearly correct. He has become more of an over-the-top pitcher since 2012. It’s a neat insight into why a team would take a chance on someone like Marmol and invite them to spring training.
With that being said, it’s clear that this experiment is not likely to work. Let’s be honest. We see tons of potential reclamation projects like this every spring, and the majority of them don’t work. If Marmol somehow does become a key part of the 2016 bullpen, that’s great, but that’s not what I’m taking away from this right now. The real key, in my eyes, is Brian Bannister, the guy who identified the issue and persuaded Dave Dombrowski to bring Marmol in.
If you recall, Bannister was given a prominent role in the front office this past winter, under the title of Director of Pitching Analysis and Development. While that’s something of a wordy title, ultimately it sounds like his job will be to come up with tweaks like this. While the Marmol situation is a nice illustration of the things he can do, it’s becoming clear to me that his job is going to be much bigger that.
Craig Kimbrel saves more than the ninth for the Red Sox
Craig Kimbrel will close out games for the Red Sox, and in doing so, free up the rest of the bullpen to be the best it can be.
As the Red Sox look to compete in 2016, they’ll need their rotation behind David Price to have much better seasons than they did a year ago. Bannister should be able to play a big role with that. He should be able to help Rick Porcello get back to the ground-ball approach that made him successful in Detroit, while possibly still maintaining some of those strikeouts since 2015. He should be able to help Eduardo Rodriguez not only avoid more pitch-tipping problems in 2016, but also to tweak his game just enough to keep him ahead of the adjustments hitters will inevitably be made against him. He should be able to help Joe Kelly finally harness that uniquely large repertoire that we’ve long hear about and sprinkle some command in there. Perhaps he’ll even be able to tweak things enough with Clay Buchholz to keep him healthy through a whole season without taking away from his production.
What exactly the tweaks to enact those changes would be, I have no idea. It’s clear that Bannister has the eye and the acumen to identify those opportunities, though. Marmol is a fine starting point, and there’s a small chance he can be a difference maker for the 2016 Red Sox. The most important aspect of his signing, however, is the importance that Bannister can play for the pitching staff this year.