Welcome to Over The Monster’s One Big Question series. For the next 40 (week)days, we will be trying to answer one important question for each player on the Red Sox 40-man roster. The goal is to find one interesting portion of each player’s game to watch for, whether that be in spring training or the early regular season. We’ll be going straight down the list on the team’s roster page, meaning we’ll be going in alphabetical order through each position group, starting with the pitchers. Today, we’re highlighting Brandon Workman.
The Question: Is Brandon Workman even a major-league pitcher anymore?
Remember Brandon Workman? Yeah, he’s still on the 40-man. If, for whatever reason, you don’t remember him, here’s a crash course. He was drafted by the Red Sox in the second round of the 2010 draft out of college. He methodically made his way through the minors with very solid but unspectacular numbers. Workman never really made much noise on the national prospect scene, but heading into 2012 and 2013 he was making a name for himself locally. He got the call in 2013 and spent most of that season in the bullpen. He made some big appearances in that postseason and never gave up a run. He even inexplicably got an at bat from John Farrell. Wild times. After that season, he built up some expectations for himself within the fan base.
The following season didn’t go as well. In 2014, which was a bad one all around for the Red Sox, most of his major-league time was spent in the rotation. The numbers suffered, and it became clear he wasn’t going to be much of a starter. Before he could get back into the bullpen swing in 2015, though, he felt elbow discomfort. He spent the first months of the season trying to work back from that, but he eventually had to undergo Tommy John surgery and missed that entire season and most of 2016. That brings us back to today, where he’s still with the team and ready to get back to the mound at Fenway. The thing is, it’s been so long that we can’t really be sure that he’s a major-league arm at this point.
The most recent numbers we have from Workman are his rehab outings from last year, which don’t amount to much. He threw 20 innings in 10 appearances across Rookie ball, short-season ball, and Double-A. In that time he had a 7.65 ERA and a 16/11 K/BB. Two things are true about those stats. First, they are bad. Second, they don’t matter. He was coming off a major injury and it’s over a tiny sample. The most important part of his 2016 was that he barely pitched, but he did manage to get back in some capacity.
If you’re looking for numbers, unfortunately the only reliable ones we have come from way back in 2013 and 2014. As I said, the latter year was a rough one for Workman. However, for the purposes of his current-day role, they can also be mostly thrown away. If the righty ever gets back to the majors, it will be as a reliever. Because of this, it’s just his numbers as a reliever that matter.
Looking at his career splits out of the bullpen, there are some very strange numbers. On the one hand, his strikeout rate went way up. He has a 27 percent strikeout rate in his career out of the bullpen, compare to just 19 percent as a starter. So, his stuff gets better. His walk-rate essentially stays the same, but his home run rate skyrockets. It’s not just the home runs, either. Hitters are way better overall. The bullpen version of Workman allowed a .361 wOBA vs. a .322 mark as a starter. Things get even stranger when you look at his batted ball data, which doesn’t back up the home run issue. He allowed way more ground balls out of the bullpen, per Fangraphs, but a hugely inflated home-run-to-fly-ball ratio stabbed him in the back.
Really, the main takeaway here is that, even when you put aside the fact that he’s missed the last two seasons, we don’t have enough information on Brandon Workman. So much of his numbers contain noise that we may not have ever known who he was, and we certainly don’t now.
The one last thing I looked for was what made him so good over the last two months of 2013, when he struck out 30 percent of his opponents and earned Farrell’s trust for the playoffs. What stood out was his curveball. When he’s on, that pitch is working well. He threw it roughly a quarter of the time, and it induced whiffs on 33 percent of swings while inducing grounders a whopping 66 percent of the time. If he comes into spring and he has his curveball fooling opponents, he could be the guy he used to be.
At the end of the day, anything Workman gives the Red Sox is gravy. They tendered him a contract and kept him around, but it was only at a $635 thousand cost. They’ve built their bullpen without him in mind, and he’s not even at the top of the Triple-A depth chart. Workman will be given plenty of time to re-establish himself, and whatever happens happens. I’ll be rooting for him, and I know most other Red Sox fans will be as well. I’d be shocked if he makes more than a handful of appearances, though. It’s hard enough to pitch in the majors without having to do it after missing two full seasons.