At its most basic level, a bullpen’s job is to close out games and secure victories. In that way, it would be easy to say the Boston Red Sox and Seattle Mariners have two of the best ‘pens in the majors. Not only do both teams rank first and tied for third, respectively, in baseball when it comes to wins, they were also first and second in saves entering play last night, with the Mariners owning 26 and the Red Sox owning 24. On top of that, as The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh pointed out earlier this week, Seattle leads the majors in shutdowns. Guess who’s second? That’s right. The Red Sox.
That elite standing falls just bit after those counting statistics, with the Red Sox ranked sixth in bullpen ERA (2.98) and the Mariners 11th (3.69). They are also third and seventh, respectively, in fielding independent pitching and third and sixth in fWAR from their relievers. Clearly both squads are blessed with solid, if not excellent, bullpens.
Seattle’s top bullpen arm is closer Edwin Diaz, who has 25 saves this season, while striking out an incredible 58 batters across 36 innings. He has thrown 36 innings already, which leads the team by quite a stretch. Chasen Bradford has provided quite a bit of support, with an ERA+ of 171 in 26 2⁄3 innings, but his underlying metrics paint the second-year hurler as a more average pitcher, since his FIP is more than two runs higher than his ERA. Left-hander James Pazos boasted a 262 ERA+ and run prevention numbers that are truly elite (1.54 ERA, 2.24 FIP) before last night and he only improved on those with an inning of shutout relief in a game built on high-leverage yesterday. The 27-year-old had thrown all of 8 1⁄3 MLB innings before 2016, but he has a 3.16 ERA in 77 innings with the Mariners the last two years.
Unfortunately for the Mariners, they do not currently have as much depth in the bullpen because of injuries. Juan Nicasio, Nick Vincent and Dan Altavilla are the only other relievers on the team with more than 10 innings pitched, but all three are on the 10-day DL, joining Erasmo Ramirez. Additionally, all four guys have bee below league average even when they’ve been healthy.
For the Red Sox, obviously Craig Kimbrel is the answer to Diaz, what with his 29 innings of 2.40 ERA work and 22 saves. While he has taken a ever-so-slight step back from last season, Kimbrel is still one of the best closers in baseball and he has not been worked as hard as Diaz. That‘s because Boston has been able to spread its bullpen work out a bit more, even as its dealt with some health issues of its own, albeit to a lesser degree than the Mariners. While Carson Smith was lost for the season, Joe Kelly, Matt Barnes and Heath Hembree have all been good to great short relief options, while Hector Velazquez and Steven Wright have served as swingmen with the ability to pitch in relief and as starters. If there’s one weak point, its the fact that there is no surefire left-handed reliever, as Brian Johnson has been primarily below average. Meanwhile, the Mariners have Pazos, even if he has actually been better against righties than lefties.
Both the Red Sox and Mariners are contending right now and the bullpens of each squad have a lot to do with it. Looking past the surface shows that just because that statement is true, doesn’t mean each team‘s bullpen story is the same.
Great minds think alike, as Jason Mastrodonato did a deep dive on the success of the Red Sox’s bullpen as well. (Jason Mastrodonato; Boston Herald)
So did Matthew Kory at The Athletic. (Matthew Kory; The Athletic) ($$)
Joe Kelly tossed one inning of shutout relief to earn his 14th hold yesterday. Here’s a look at the showing. (Jen McCaffrey; The Athletic) ($$)
Continuing on the bullpen trend, Mike Brenly and Kelly are having some fun on home run balls hit into the bullpen. (Christopher Smith; MassLive)
If you think Jackie Bradley Jr. isn’t a valuable player because he’s not hitting all that well, you must be ignoring his other contributions. (Nick Cafardo; Boston Globe)
Justin Haley was drafted by the Red Sox in 2012 but didn’t make his debut with the team until this year. In between, he managed to play his first MLB game, throwing 18 innings in 10 contests for the Twins last year. (Peter Abraham; Boston Globe)