The Red Sox bullpen has gotten a lot of headlines of late, both on these very webpages and others around the interwebs. For as well as the team has played during this great stretch of baseball in August, the bullpen has been the one weak point so it makes sense that they are the part of the team that many are focusing on for the moment. Just yesterday in this space, we discussed how to split blame for the recent performance between John Farrell and the relievers themselves. For the most part, it feels like this is just a bad stretch in the bullpen and while Brandon Workman, Joe Kelly and Matt Barnes aren’t elite they are more than capable of bridging to Addison Reed and Craig Kimbrel.
Then, there’s Fernando Abad. Remember Fernando Abad? I’ll forgive you if you forgot that he was even on the roster, because the Red Sox have been very strange with how they’ve treated him this season. If you’ll recall, back in spring it was unclear if he’d even make this roster, particularly after leaving the team to go pitch for Team Dominican in the World Baseball Classic. They did end up keeping him on the roster, and five months into the year it’s a legitimate question as to why he’s even here.
Don’t take this the wrong way, either. This isn’t me saying that Abad has been bad this year. In fact, he’s been pretty damn solid, which is much better than most of us expected him to be this year. He’s tossed 34 innings over 35 appearances in 2017 and has pitched to a very impressive 2.91 ERA. The peripherals don’t really match that up, though, as he’s striking out fewer than six batters per nine innings and walking more than three. That being said, he’s always been able to outperform his peripherals by a small margin, at least. He’s getting more ground balls than ever this year and has allowed a fair amount of weak contact. Furthermore, he’s been fairly effective against both righties (.674 OPS) and lefties (.513).
Despite all that, he has not exactly been a focal point of the Red Sox bullpen, to say the least. It’s not even that he’s hardly been used — though he’s definitely been leaned upon the least among all the relievers who have spent the entire year on the roster — but it’s that he hasn’t really been used in any important spots. Of his 35 appearances, only five have been in the seventh inning with the game closer than four runs. One of those was the 14th inning of a game in which the Red Sox had no other options. He’s been missing even more than usual in this month of August, which has been a crucial one for the Red Sox. While the rest of the bullpen has been utilized a ton, Abad has made just three appearances in the month.
This is even more strange because of how effective he’s been against both-handed hitters. Obviously, it’s worth mentioning that most of the numbers discussed above came in garbage time. I’m not entirely sure how to reconcile that — it’s the same hitters, but the tension level of the moment is noticeably different — but I feel it’s worth mentioning all the same.
In the end, I’m not really sure what I think the Red Sox should do with Fernando Abad. This only thing I’m fairly certain of is that they should be doing something different. On the one hand, they’ve treated him like a player who is important to the roster. They’ve had chances to get rid of him — they could have cut him loose instead of optioning Robby Scott earlier in the year and they could have cut him loose at any point in August when the team has been rolling with a short bench despite having a pitcher they don’t use — but they’ve kept him around. That suggests he’s an important part of the bullpen. And yet, he’s just taking up a roster spot. If they think he’s good, then give him a chance to make good on his numbers to this point. I suppose it’s too late to go in the other direction and cut him loose if you don’t think he’s good since rosters are about to expand. At this point, you just bite the bullet for another week. Still, the way Abad has been used in 2017 has been one of the strangest parts of the season.