We talked earlier today about the Red Sox offense and some things that can be done to at least try and proactively fix it rather than just sitting around and waiting/hoping for things to fix themselves. In it, we mention that, while the lineup is certainly the biggest factor for the team’s slow start, it’s not the only one. The bullpen would be the other piece of the puzzle, and it’s been a weird one. It hasn’t been as consistently bad, and there have been some intriguing performers. It’s been given a ton of small leads thanks to the inept offense, and they’ve been unable to walk that tightrope, only exacerbating the team’s problems.
It’s clear that they are still looking for the right mix of pitchers on this roster, both in terms of roles — i.e., who the closer(s) is/are, and what role guys like Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock should play — and in terms of the mix of pitchers. They’ve run with generally the same core of guys, but just like with the offense, it’s probably time to change that up and look for some new options. John Schreiber should be the first new guy to get that look.
Schreiber is certainly not a big name like some of the offensive shakeup candidates like Jarren Duran and Triston Casas. Instead, he was an under-the-radar waiver pickup prior to last season who was quickly taken off the 40-man and snuck through waivers without issue. He’s in his age-28 season and has only made 33 appearances in the majors. He’s had plenty of success in the minors — he’s never had an ERA even as high as 3.00 in any minor-league stint at any level — and this year’s 4.13 FIP (due mostly to a small sample home run rate spike) nearly 80 points higher than his next highest mark. Despite that, he’s still not gotten many chances in the majors, which kind of points to him being the definition of a Quad-A guy.
The thing, relievers are weird. A 28-year-old who put up numbers in the minors but never got chances in the majors finally figuring it out would be a story, but not the kind of thing they make a movie about or anything. Schreiber was just called up over the weekend, taking Rich Hill’s roster spot after the latter was put on the COVID list. For the most part, players called up in this scenario are sent right back down when the other player is cleared to return. In this case, Schreiber should be the exception to the rule.
The case is pretty simple, and it doesn’t require him to be any sort of savior for this group or the closer. He just needs to keep pitching well. Schreiber has made four appearances in the majors this year. He’s yet to allow a run, or even issue a walk. The team already turned to him in a big spot, letting him face the meat of the White Sox in a one-run game in the eighth inning, and he got the job done.
What makes Schreiber such an intriguing player is his strange arm angle, which allows him to succeed despite sitting in the low 90s with his fastball, which is certainly not typical for a modern reliever. But it’s a look that hitters are not used to, and it can throw them off. We’ve seen the Rays build the most consistently strong bullpen year after year, and a big part of their strategy is diversifying their reliever ranks, in terms of everything from handedness to pitch mix to arm angles. Being able to bring in Schreiber after more over-the-top pitchers will serve to throw off lineups and give them solid performances in the middle innings.
Now, I don’t think this would be any kind of permanent solution. At the end of the day, there is a reason he hasn’t gotten a long look in the majors yet despite his minor-league performance, and generally I like to defer to people who see him every day and make these decisions. In Schreiber’s case, though, it’s clear that very good hitters — he’s recently performed well against Toronto and Chicago — are being fooled by him. Eventually, his arm angle will be figured out, and they can find a new arm to churn in and fill the middle relief role. But in the meantime, the Red Sox need all the help they can get, and rolling with the hot hand is worth the shot.