We have reached the week where baseball is getting underway, which is surprising to me that we have gotten that far. But behind my skepticism that this season will work along with my moral questioning of whether an attempt should even be made, there is genuine excitement to see baseball on my TV again. It will be different, but ultimately it is still baseball with Red Sox players. And with that, it means we must be re-introduced to the Red Sox roster after a long hiatus. That’s what this position preview series is for. We’ll look at catchers, infielders, outfielders, starting pitchers and relief pitchers, ultimately covering everyone on the 60-man player pool. Today, we wrap things up with the relievers.
After going into last season planning to mix and match in the ninth inning rather than rely on just one guy, Brandon Workman eventually emerged as the closer on the team in the second half. And he was dominant enough in that role that he is being handed the ninth again in 2020. No arguments here. Before we get into the good, we will of course mention that regression is coming. Workman allowed a batting average on balls in play of .209 and allowed just one homer in a year where everyone was hitting home runs. That’s not happening again, especially while walking almost six per nine innings. That said, don’t regress back to league average. Workman sequences in such a way that his middling fastball is one of the most effective in baseball, and as long as he’s commanding that curveball he should be plenty effective yet again this season.
Look, if you’ve been reading this site long enough you know how I feel about Matt Barnes, and even with as much confidence I have in Workman I do believe Barnes is the best reliever in this bullpen. He doesn’t really get the credit he deserves league-wide, either, as he is in the elite tier of relievers in terms of strikeout stuff. He’s gotten more and more strikeouts every year, topping out last year with over 15 per nine innings. That’s absurd. Now, it’s not all perfect for Barnes as he usually has a stretch or two every year where he loses command and can’t keep the ball in the strike zone. If he can ever put it all together for a ful season rather than four and a half months out of six, he’s going to be one of the best relievers in the game.
Taylor is one of two players on this list who are going to have the start of their year delayed due to a positive COVID test, but I’m including him here because the plan is still for him to be a big part of the bullpen. A lot of his work last year came down the stretch in a bad season for the team, so it went unnoticed, but he was really, really good. He wasn’t elite in any one area, but he was solid to good all across the board and was able to pitch well against both righties and lefties. It’s always hard to buy into a reliever after just one good year, but there was nothing particularly worrisome about Taylor’s season in terms of regression, and if healthy I’m sold on him being a good seventh inning-ish arm.
I’m high on this bullpen, but if they from solid to one of the better units in baseball, it will be because of Hernandez. Like Taylor, he had a positive COVID test that will delay the start of his season, but he seems like he may be on track to return first. Right now, the southpaw is the ultimate boom or bust reliever. They’re still talking about him as a potential starter or at least a guy who can go a few innings, but I really hope that’s not how they develop him this year. His stuff has the potential to make him a truly dominant late-inning arm, and he needs to work on honing his command in those let-it-fly situations. The sooner he can get some semblance of control, the sooner the Red Sox can reap the benefits.
I’m really interested to see how Walden is used this year, because he can be the Swiss Army Knife guy in this bullpen if they want him to. He isn’t too far removed from being a starter, and unlike Hernandez he doesn’t have some huge ceiling as a one-inning pitcher he can build to. That said, he can succeed in that role and has shown he can handle some late-inning situations too. He doesn’t get a ton of strikeouts (though he’s still right around a batter per inning), but he gets weak contact and has been above-average throughout his admittedly short major-league career so far.
Brasier did blow a lead in the first exhibition game, but he will play a decent role in this bullpen to start the year, particularly until Taylor and Hernandez get back. We’ve seen him succeed in the majors in 2018 and that included a great postseason run, but his control fell off in a big way last season and that resulted in a rough season that included a demotion to Pawtucket. He needs to limit the free passes this year if he’s going to approach the 2018 levels again.
Brice is one of a handful of new low-cost additions made to this group over the winter, and he’s the one most intriguing to me. The former Marlin changed up his repertoire last year, going from a sinkerball pitcher to one who leans heavily on his curveball. That is, of course, something the Red Sox like with Barnes and Workman as their top two arms. The consistency wasn’t really there last year, but with an extended offseason to make tweaks and two of the best curveball relievers in his bullpen with him, I’m cautiously optimistic he’s going to surprise some people this year.
Brewer was the lone addition to the 2019 Opening Day roster that wasn’t around in 2018, and he had a little bit of hype heading into the season thanks to some big spin rate numbers. There was some hope the Red Sox coaching staff was going to be able to unlock something there. The righty did spend most of the year in the majors, but the control just wasn’t there and he was more of a multi-inning arm than one who was trusted in big moments. I’m looking for him to be a two-inning opener or even a multi-inning arm in bullpen games this year.
Another one of the cheap additions this year, Springs will start the year in the majors with the two lefties on the shelf. He’s an extreme fly ball pitcher, so he better hope the ball is de-juiced this year.
Osich is one of the most fascinating pitchers on the Red Sox this year. Like Springs, he’ll start the year in the majors as one of the lefties in the bullpen, but he’s interesting because he totally revamps his approach on the mound basically every season. I’m looking forward to see his strategy this year.
Covey is the most recent Red Sox addition and could feasibly be a starter. However, he’s been horrible in that role in the past and if the Red Sox want to unlock something I think the best course of action would to make him a three innings max kind of pitcher.
I’m still a little surprised Tapia is on the player pool as he was pretty bad in Triple-A last year, but he is another multi-inning depth arm.
Alvarez hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2015, but he’s shown some solid strikeout stuff in Triple-A the last few years. He just needs to harness his command to make it back to the bigs.
Kickham is basically Dylan Covey from the left side.
Another recent addition, Simpson has a big fastball/slider combination that has given him gaudy strikeout totals, but the control is a major issue that needs to be fixed.
Leyer is a name to keep on as the Red Sox really seem to like him, though he has yet to make it over the Triple-A hump.