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Checking in on the Red Sox bullpen’s workload

Is anyone reaching a breaking point?

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Kansas City Royals Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday, Tim Britton of the Providence Journal published an interesting story after a conversation with John Farrell. You can read it in its entirety here, but the quick synopsis is that Farrell recognizes he has been leaning heavily on his top relievers, and now he’s trying to find a way to back off their workload a bit. That seems difficult to do at this point, of course, but it could be necessary if this team wants to make a deep postseason run. We saw just last fall how important a bullpen can be to a team’s success in October. With that in mind, let’s go down the bullpen and check where these pitchers are at in terms of innings, what they’re on pace for and what their career-high innings total is, including minors. Before we start, it’s worth noting that innings isn’t the perfect measure of pitcher workload, since every inning is not created equally. It is, however, the preferred measure by teams around the league, so it’s what we’ll use here.

Craig Kimbrel

Innings: 51

Pace: 68.9

Career-High: 77

So, Kimbrel isn’t quite on track to break his career-high in terms of innings pitched, but he’s getting close to that level. It’s worth noting that the 77-inning season came in his rookie year, and his workload has come down considerably since then. Assuming he does indeed break the 60-inning mark this year, it’ll be the first time since 2014. If he continues on this pace, he’ll finish with the second-highest inning total of his career.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Barnes

Innings: 58 13

Pace: 78.7

Career-High: 66 23

Barnes has obviously thrown more than 66 23 innings during his time in the minors, but I figured it didn’t make sense to include the innings he spent in the rotation. So, assuming we only care about his history as a reliever, this is the most disturbing trend in the bullpen. Barnes isn’t really showing signs of fatigue with his velocity or the crispness of his breaking ball at this point, but that can happen at the snap of a finger. Getting his final-season inning total down closer to 70 heading into the postseason would be a big win for Farrell and the Red Sox.

Addison Reed

Innings: 54 13

Pace: 73.3

Career-High: 77 23

This is another concern for Farrell, though you can’t really blame him for this workload considering he’s only had Reed for a couple of weeks. The righty has been worked tremendously hard over the last couple of years, and the Mets continued that trend for much of the year. In fact, one of the concerns for many when Reed was acquired was the possibility of him suffering through some fatigue down the stretch. I’d expect Farrell to try to get him some rest down the stretch, but it will be tough to do so with both Barnes and Reed.

Heath Hembree

Innings: 51 23

Pace: 69.7

Career-High: 64 13

Hembree, particularly in the early part of the year, has been the picture of overwork in the Red Sox bullpen. Farrell has leaned heavily on the righty and it’s showing in the fact that he is on pace to go right past his career-high. The process of resting him has already begun, though, as he’s only made three appearances in August with ten days between his second and third. Hembree was arguably the pitcher most affected by the return of Brandon Workman and the acquisition of Reed, so resting him shouldn’t be overly difficult.

Joe Kelly

Innings: 40

Pace: 54

Career-High: 79*

So, this one is a little tough to gauge in terms of career-high. I went with the 79 innings he tossed last year, but eight of the 40 appearances he made were as a starter, so that skews things. Either way, the 54 innings he is on pace for is manageable, though it was certainly helped out by an injury, and that’s not really how you want innings totals to go down. That being said, given his background as a starter I wouldn’t worry too much about Kelly’s usage down the stretch, at least in terms of how it affects his workload.

Brandon Workman

Innings: 52

Pace: 70.2

Career-High: N/A

Here is a good example of a player whose workload doesn’t get as much attention because much of it came in the minor leagues. Those innings still count, though, and they especially count for a guy who is coming off a major elbow surgery. He came back and tossed 20 innings last year, but the Red Sox will want to monitor him moving forward. He hasn’t shown many signs of fatigue just yet, but I’d feel a lot more comfortable if they found a way to lighten his load over the next six weeks.

Before I get into the quick, end-of-post analysis, just a quick note on Robby Scott and Fernando Abad. I would expect one or both to make the postseason roster, so their workload matters too. That being said, both find themselves in the 30’s for innings this year, and workload isn’t a major concern with the two southpaws.

In terms of the righty’s in the bullpen, there is certainly some concern here. The Red Sox have gotten more innings than all but one starting rotation in baseball, but a couple of factors have played into this usage. For one, they’ve played a ton of extra-innings games. Additionally, they haven’t always had the most trustworthy crew of relievers. That’s caused Farrell to lean heavily on a certain cast of characters. Down the stretch, he’ll have more options with Reed, Barnes, Kelly and Workman all theoretically able to handle setup duties. If they all perform to their potential, cutting their workload becomes much, much easier. That can also be said if/when Carson Smith makes his way back and when the bullpen gets more help upon September’s roster expansion. Farrell understands the importance of resting the bullpen, but in this important stretch of the year he needs things to go according to plan if he’s going to be able to achieve this goal.