If you have found your way to this article, then I’ll assume you are aware that the Boston Red Sox had trouble with their bullpen last season, even if it wasn’t quite as much of a problem as it could have been. It was a potentially fixable problem during the offseason and became an untenable one as the season progressed. I’ll stop there because we don’t need to go over this well-tread ground. The bottom line is the Red Sox need help in the bullpen next season. The free agent market is a perfect place to find that help because there are a slew of relievers currently looking for work. Among them, Arodys Vizcaino is an intriguing candidate for the Red Sox to consider.
Before we dive into what Vizcaino has done on the mound, we should address the fact that the right-hander hasn’t pitched since April and it’s anyone’s guess if he’ll be able to bounce back next year. Baseball-Reference currently projects him to log 31 innings and, according to FanGraphs, Steamer projects him to throw 35, which falls just a few innings short of his production from 2018. That’s not exactly the workload of a bullpen savior. However, signing Vizcaino could not only be helpful in 2020 but in the years to come. Vizcaino turned 29 last week and when he’s not hurting, he has been consistently effective, even if he might have gotten a bit of help earlier in his career.
Vizcaino posted a sub-3.00 ERA in each of the two years before 2019 and he was on pace to do so yet again last year, albeit across an incredibly small sample (four innings). Those stellar marks in ERA look a bit worse when diving deeper, but the numbers are still solid enough. Vizcaino posted an ERA+ of 155 in 2017 and an ERA+ of 195 in 2018. His FIPs for each of those seasons were below 4.00 and his xFIPs fell in the low fours. Speaking of his career statistics, Vizcaino is a pitcher with a career ERA of 3.01 who has struck out 10.1 batters per nine innings. In addition, Vizcaino has shown the ability to pitch in multiple situations, although he has been primarily utilized in the late innings, with 50 career saves and 165 of 194 1⁄3 career innings coming in the eighth or ninth frame.
Vizcaino largely relies on two pitches, including a fastball that touches the mid 90s and what Fangraphs classifies as a curveball. He will also mix in a changeup here and there although he didn’t throw any in his brief 2019 campaign. With that repertoire he has posted a career strikeout rate of 26.3 percent compared with a walk rate of 10.8 percent. Those numbers don’t jump off the page but they aren’t that bad either. Unfortunately, when he does allow contact, Vizcaino tends to let batter’s lift the ball, as he has allowed a higher fly ball rate (40.6 percent) than groundball rate (39 percent) in his career. That gap has gotten even wider in recent years which could be a cause for concern.
Looking at projections makes it even less clear what the Red Sox could expect from Vizcaino. According to FanGraphs, Vizcaino is pegged for a 4.51 ERA, 4.57 FIP and 4.79 xFIP based on Steamer projections. Those are not the makings of a bullpen cornerstone. The Red Sox could find a pitcher of that caliber without signing anyone new. However, Baseball-Reference has him down for a 3.77 ERA. That’s still not the mark of a dominant reliever but its getting closer to what the Red Sox need and would put Vizcaino in the same neighborhood as Matt Barnes and Marcus Walden. Now imagine if you he beats those projections and gets back toward a sub 3.00 ERA type of production. It’s a difficult task but not an impossible one.
Obviously the Red Sox should want more than another so-so reliever on the roster, but that may take more money than they’ll be willing to part with. Even if they do opt to open the wallet more than we expect, it can’t hurt to add a pitcher like Vizcaino who presents some upside if he returns to form. That’s a pretty big if, of course, and investing in a player who was hurt for the majority of 2019 might not be the most logical move. But Vizcaino is flying under the radar right now and he could at the least provide depth to what was a weak bullpen or, in a best case scenario, be the type of lottery ticket signing that pays off in a major way. Or maybe I just like former Braves pitchers too much.