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 discuss Blaine Boyer. Please, hold your applause until the end. I know you’re all excited about this edition.
Blaine Boyer was not supposed to be a major-league contributor for anyone in 2017, much less for a division winner. He was released from the freaking Braves at the end of spring training before being signed to a minor-league deal by the Red Sox in mid-April. When, upon the signing, OOLF suggested Boyer could work his way to the majors, I replied with an emphatic “nah.” I was wrong. The mere fact that Boyer was able to get up to the majors is a positive enough, and the fact that he was able to stay there for the majority of the season is nothing short of amazing.
In terms of his actual performance, while Boyer wasn’t all that impressive on the mound and was a largely forgettable part of the 2017 season, there were some things that stood out. First and foremost was his ability to get strikeouts. Granted, this is all relative to our expectations to him, because his strikeout rate wasn’t impressive when compared to your average reliever in today’s game. Still, his 7.2 strikeouts per nine were more than double his rate from 2016 (seriously, he pretty much couldn’t strike out anyone prior to this past year) and was his highest rate since 2008. He totally transformed as a pitcher to get to this point, ditching his sinker-heavy approach for a four-seam/slider combination that resulted in more swings and misses.
That led to some very real success when he first joined the Red Sox active roster. Through his first 15 appearances in the majors (out of a total of 32) he pitched to a 2.25 ERA over 20 innings with 13 strikeouts and just three walks. This was an important point of the Red Sox season as they were closing out the first half and fighting for position with the surprising Yankees. The bullpen had performed well at that point, but it was hard to have a ton of confidence in many people in that bullpen. Boyer was one of many who surprised us with his performance and helped solidify a bullpen that was such a huge key to the Red Sox winning 93 games and the American League East.
While Boyer was a massive surprise and his role in June and early July was an important part of the Red Sox season, he was far from perfect in 2017. The biggest issue for the righty, which is likely a result of his new pitching style aimed at missing more bats, was his control. He ended the year with three walks per nine innings, which isn’t horrible for a reliever who gets a lot of strikeouts but doesn’t really work for even the new version of Boyer. It was his highest rate since 2010.
Walks weren’t the only negative side effect of Boyer’s new pitching style, either. Always a ground ball pitcher, ditching his sinker predictably led to more balls in the air, and it didn’t work out in his favor. He ended the year with a 37 percent groundball rate according to Baseball Prospectus, far and away the lowest rate of his career. The benefit of fly balls is that it theoretically leads to a lower batting average on balls in play, but that didn’t work for Boyer as his opponents posted a .370 BABIP in 2017. That is probably somewhat due to luck, but probably speaks more to opponents’ abilities to square up his pitches.
The common trait both of these negatives fit, along with being side effects of his new repertoire, is that they became worse and worse as the year went on. Through that first half that was discussed above, his walks were way more in check and his groundball rate was still hovering just a bit below 50 percent. From that point on, the bottom fell out and Boyer’s ERA exploded to 6.33 while allowing an .828 OPS. Some of this was surely just Boyer falling back to Earth, but it also likely had a lot to do with the league getting a little tape on the new Boyer and not struggling to adjust. It was a fun ride while it lasted, at least, and he had a solid run in September, too.
The Big Question
Looking Ahead to 2018
Boyer is a free agent this offseason, and it would be a surprise to see him back in Boston. While the Red Sox could use some bullpen help this offseason, they should probably be looking for higher-end talent and preferably from the left side. That said, Boyer will get another chance from some team, though it will likely come in the form of a spring training invitation with a chance to make the roster from there. Hell, I could see the Red Sox making that offer, though he might see a better chance to make an Opening Day roster somewhere else. Either way, Boyer will probably be back in the majors at some point in 2018, though I wouldn’t expect a great performance.