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2017 Red Sox Review: Fernando Abad

A look back at the year that was for Fernando Abad

MLB: Boston Red Sox at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Red Sox Review series. It’s a fairly standard feature in which we will review the year that was for every player who made a decently large impact on the Red Sox this year. How do I come up with that definition? Completely arbitrarily, of course! The list of players I’m using can be seen here, and if I am missing anyone please let me know in the comments. Anyway, for the players who are included we will look at the positives of their 2017, the negatives, review their One Big Question from the preseason and look ahead to what’s on the table for 2018. Today, we kick things off with Fernando Abad.

Positives

Overall, it was probably a positive year for Abad, who wasn’t even a lock to make the roster before the season if you recall. There was some weird controversy with his decision to go to the World Baseball Classic during a battle for a roster spot, but apparently that didn’t have as much of an effect as we expected. After all of that and the trepidation of him being around, Abad put together a really solid season in which he stuck around on the roster all year long. The southpaw tossed 43 23 innings over 48 appearances on the season and finished with a 3.30 ERA with 3.66 FIP and a 3.91 DRA. He came through with a number of solid multi-inning performances, too, recording more than three outs on eight occasions this year. Even better, he allowed an earned run in just one of those appearances.

The numbers themselves are the probably the biggest positive for Abad this year, as the deeper you dig the less impressive things get. There were some other relative steps forward, though. For one thing, he limited his free passes as well as he has in years with his 2.9 walks per nine being his lowest since 2014. It’s especially encouraging after he walked over five per nine in his short stint with the Red Sox at the end of 2016. This is another case of not wanting to look too deep, though, because it’s not entirely clear how he took this step forward. According to Baseball Prospectus’ plate discipline numbers, Abad hit the zone at a lower rate than ever and didn’t really get any more swings. He did allow more contact, so apparently batters were just putting the ball in play before they could walk. Either way, it worked.

The final and biggest positive for Abad is the reason I will remember his 2017 for years to come. I speak, of course, of the eephus pitch. It wasn’t an offering that Abad used all the time — it wouldn’t work if he did — but every time he came to the mound you knew there was a chance he could make a major-league hitter look silly with a 60 mph pitch. Who doesn’t love that?

Negatives

The biggest issue for Abad was kind of a strange one and was something that many of us were curious about all year long. To put it simply, he never gained the trust of the coaching staff over the course of the season. Despite putting up strong numbers, he never worked his way beyond a low-leverage role. According to Baseball-Reference’s leverage index, 132 of the plate appearances involving Abad were in low-leverage situations, a whopping 73 percent of his playing time. Even when the team demoted Robby Scott at certain times and left Abad as the only lefty on the roster, he never really was trusted with high-leverage spots. In a way, it makes those overall numbers described above more difficult to parse since most of it came in garbage time.

Beyond the simple fact that the team never trusted him, Abad also made bad impressions during the two months in which people are paying the most attention. In May, June, July and August, he was nails whenever the team decided to bring him in. In April and September, he was awful. This shouldn’t mean much to major-league decision makers, of course, but to fans he left a bad taste in their mouth when they were paying the most attention.

The Big Question

One Big Question: Can Fernando Abad improve against righties?

Prior to the season, when we still weren’t sure what kind of role Abad would play, one of the biggest concerns was his platoon splits. As noted in the linked post, even if he was to serve a lefty-specialist role he’d still need to be respectable against righties. Fortunately for him, he was. After allowing a .789 OPS to righties in 2016 (compared to a .459 mark versus lefties), Abad got righties’ to drop down to a .696 OPS in 2017 (compared to .636 for lefties). As we discussed above, it’s hard to know exactly how much stock to put into any of his numbers with the heavy skew towards low-leverage spots, but he did what he needed to do in the situations he was given.

Looking ahead to 2018

Abad is set to hit the free agent market in 2018, and I would suspect his Red Sox career has come to a close. I do believe that he pitched well enough that the team will at least consider trying to bring him back, and I don’t see any reason for bad blood between the two sides. However, if they spent all of last year not trusting him even after a strong performance most of the year, I can’t see why they wouldn’t look in a different direction for their second lefty behind Scott this year. Abad will get a major-league contract next year and perhaps get more of a chance to shine, but I’d be surprised if it was with the Red Sox.