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 Brandon Workman.
Brandon Workman’s long road back after undergoing Tommy John surgery and missing the entire 2015 season finally ended in 2017, his first full season since 2014. He did come back for the end of 2016, but it was all in Triple-A and was more of a tune-up than real pitching performances to be judged. Either way, he started the 2017 season in Triple-A as well but eventually made his way back to the majors. That alone is a positive sign, because it’s easy to forget now but we really weren’t sure what kind of pitcher he was after missing so much time. That he was able to come back and become a trusted member of a playoff team’s bullpen is certainly no small feat.
Looking more specifically, the start of his extended and final call-up — coming in the middle of July — was a really strong run. Prior to this, he had been called up on two other occasions, but made just one appearance in each stint. Then, in July, he had a real chance to make an impression and he did well enough that John Farrell eventually gained enough trust to use the righty in high-leverage spots. Over the first 17 starts of this stint, Workman pitched to a 0.89 ERA over 20 1⁄3 innings with 16 strikeouts and four walks while allowing an OPS of just .527. It was a phenomenal run that many weren’t sure he had in him anymore.
Workman also had a bit better control than other points where we’ve seen him in the majors, and while he certainly is never going to be elite in this area he was more than good enough in 2017. He finished his major-league season with just 11 walks in 39 2⁄3 innings for a career-low 2.5 per nine innings. If he can keep that up over a full season, that’s a massive boost for his profile.
Additionally, there was one pitch in particular that allowed the righty to shine on the mound. Workman, of course, is a former starter, so he has a bit of an extended repertoire for a reliever. He’s cut that down to a fastball, a curveball and a cutter at this point in his career, and the latter pitch was dominant in 2017. The pitch induced a swinging strike over 16 percent of the time it was thrown — for reference, that’s more than Craig Kimbrel’s fastball — and it induced a ground ball on over seventy percent of the balls in play against it. We’re dealing with a small sample and there are other factors that contribute to these numbers, but the cutter was absolutely effective for Workman this year.
Finally, there was the righty’s run through Triple-A that allowed him to get a long chance in the majors in the first place. Workman made 18 appearances and tossed 29 innings in Pawtucket and pitched to a 1.55 ERA. After an inconsistent showing when he first returned to the mound in 2016, this was the perfect way for him to start his year.
There really weren’t a whole lot of negatives that stand out about Workman’s season, but there was one big one that most will remember. He finished the season extremely poorly, even being left off the ALDS roster, which seemed next to impossible in August. His September was awful, though, and the righty pitched to a 6.43 ERA while allowing a 1.033 OPS over his last 14 innings. The good news is I think it’s fair to chalk that up to fatigue in his first full season since 2014.
Sticking with the fatigue factor, there was also some inconsistency with his fastball. Like most right-handed relievers, it’s the fourseamer that makes Workman so effective, and he needs that pitch to be firing on all cylinders for him to be at his best. For much of the year, that was the case and he was able to pump it to the mid-90s on a regular basis. However, particularly towards the end of the year, he settled in around 92 mph, and that was part of his problem. Again, though, I think fatigue played a major role in this case.
The Big Question
As I mentioned before, it was really unclear what to expect from Workman after only giving us 20 mediocre-at-best minor-league innings in 2016 and not pitching at all in 2015. We’d seen the talent, just not in a long time. The answer to this, of course, is a resounding yes. He faded at the end, but I think we saw enough last year to know that Workman is still a viable major-league reliever.
Looking ahead to 2018
After what he did last year, Workman should be right in the middle of the Red Sox bullpen, and while he won’t have a super high-leverage role out of the gate he should have a strong chance of making the Opening Day roster. This is another big year for the righty as he now needs to prove he can perform consistently over an entire season.