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2017 Red Sox Review: Austin Maddox

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A look back at the year that was for Boston’s young right-handed reliever.

Boston Red Sox v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

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 Austin Maddox.

The Positives

It probably wouldn’t be fair to say that Austin Maddox came out of nowhere in 2017, but he certainly surprised me with how much he was able to contribute this season. As someone I had seen a number of times in the minors, he always just seemed...fine. For whatever reason, though, he stepped up his game this season as he got called up to the majors and became a trustworthy enough member of the bullpen that he was named to the team’s playoff roster. That is absolutely not something that I saw coming for him ever, never mind for this season.

This leads us to his first positive of the season, which is the run he had through September that allowed him to earn John Farrell’s trust to the point in which he was named to the postseason roster. Maddox ended up making ten appearances in the final month of the season after rosters expanded, spanning 13 23 innings. The righty allowed only one run in that time — and it came in his final outing of the month — resulting in a sick 0.66 ERA to go with 12 strikeouts and two walks. Seeing those numbers, it’s not hard to see how he managed to get a spot on the ALDS roster.

MLB: ALDS-Boston Red Sox at Houston Astros Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Looking more at his major-league run, which was mostly made up of that September run but also included a couple of short stints earlier in the year, his control of the strike zone was particularly impressive. Maddox only walked two batters over 17 13 innings in 2017, giving him a rate of one per nine innings. This is even better when you consider that control and command was something of an issue for him in the minors and looked as if it could be a detriment to him potentially succeeding in the majors.

Finally, there is Maddox’ slider, which was by far the most impressive pitch from him and the biggest reason he looked like a totally different guy than the one I saw in the minors over the last couple years. He didn’t use his breaking ball very often in the majors, but it was incredibly effective whenever he did whip it out. He got whiffs on three-quarters of the swings against the pitch as well as on 19 percent of the overall number of pitches, and the only ball in play against the offering was an infield pop up. It’ll be interesting to see if he can keep up that success rate if he throws the pitch a bit more often next year.

The Negatives

Maddox came out of nowhere and 2017 was something of a coming out party for the righty, but it wasn’t an entirely successful season. For one thing, while he was outstanding in the majors, he really wasn’t all that impressive in the minors, at least depending on what metrics you look at. His 1.35 ERA in Portland, where he started the year, is great, but it was paired with just eight strikeouts and five walks in 13 innings of work. He also tossed 36 innings in Pawtucket and he finished with a 3.50 ERA, and while he did strike out over a batter per inning he also walked more than five per nine innings. The major-league performance certainly cancels that out on the surface, but a part of you has to wonder if we should be more concerned about the larger sample of lackluster performance against lesser competition.

Beyond that minor-league performance, there is really only one negative to point to with respect to his major-league run, and it’s kind of picking nits. In his 17 innings of work, Maddox only struck out 14 batters for a rate of 7.3 per nine innings. That’s not a bad rate, per se, but Maddox is a fastball/changeup/slider pitcher who can run his heat up to the high-90s. In today’s game, that kind of reliever is someone you expect about ten strikeouts per nine innings from. We’re obviously dealing with a rookie in a small sample, so this isn’t something to get worried about, but he could also work on perhaps using his slider a bit more to miss a larger number of bats.

The Big Question

N/A

Looking ahead to 2018

Maddox figures to play a role in Alex Cora’s bullpen in the upcoming season, though I wouldn’t expect him to be in a high-leverage spot. He’s not going to replace Addison Reed or anything like that, but instead will be one of the favorites in a battle for the final Opening Day roster spot or two. Having options available, he’s not guaranteed a spot even if he is the best in the competition. Whether he’s there on day one or not, though, Maddox will certainly play a role on the 2018 Red Sox as long as he stays healthy.