Welcome to Over The Monster’s 2023 Season Preview. Between now and Opening Day, we’ll be here to tell you anything and everything* you need to know about the upcoming season. Below is an installment in our Things We’re Excited About series, in which we do a deep dive into the things we can’t wait to watch and experience this year (because we’re not all doom and gloom! We promise!) Let’s get things started with one Brayan Bello.
* Well, not everything, but a lot of things. Trust us: you don’t actually want everything, anyway; a little hunger feeds the soul.
When Brayan Bello was called up last July 6th, it was during a time of chaos. Four members of the opening day rotation were on the injured list and the team still awaited Chris Sale’s return. Five days after his 23rd birthday, the literal second half of the season started with the 45-36 Red Sox turning to Brayan Bello as the “9th starter” purely out of necessity, as they still had a firm hold on a playoff spot. Forget about development path, Bello was their best option as the last man standing.
With Bello finishing the season with 57 1/3 innings pitched over 13 games (11 starts and two “bulk” appearances following an opener), one would have assumed that the season was a resounding success. The truth was that Bello got roughed up in his first two outings and was jettisoned back to Worcester when Chris Sale returned. Sale was hit by a line drive in his second start and Bello was back, this time for good. Bello’s final line was a 2-8 record with a 4.71 ERA, a 1.78 WHIP, and a 10.4 K-BB%. The team was 2-11 in games that Bello pitched in, contributing to a 33-48 record in the second half of the season.
Under the hood, there was so much to like on several levels. If you’re into pitching metrics, you could look to Bello’s 2.94 FIP or the 3.80 xFIP (normalized for league average HR/FB rate), which were fueled by an unsustainable and completely absurd .404 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). The league average BABIP in 2022 was .289. Or you could look at his 3.80 expected ERA based on the Statcast-based quality of contact.
If you’re into pitch repertoires, you could point to how Bello evolved as a pitcher as the season progressed. Often reliant on his sinker and change-up in the early starts, Bello used the slider as an effective third pitch down the stretch. He had thrown the slider less than 20% of the time in 5 of his first 6 starts, before upping the usage to between 22.4 and 33.1% in each of his final five starts. Per Julian McWilliams of the Boston Globe, after Bello’s breakout September 3rd start against Texas, “The Sox. . . implored Bello to mix in his slider a bit more. Something that could go in to lefties and away from righties. The changeup and sinker had the same direction. He also needed to elevate his four-seam fastball in the strike zone, changing the eye-level of the hitter.”
If you’re into the eye test, there was something about the wind-up that had vibes of, dare I say, Pedro Martinez? And something about the change-up that had vibes of, dare I say, Pedro Martinez? So, when I saw this paragraph in Peter Abraham’s Globe article in October, my interest was piqued:
I was able to watch him. He got better,” Martinez said. “It must have been a little intimidating for him early because he came up out of necessity, not precisely because he was mature enough to be there. I think he made a great adjustment once he realized what he needed to do and what it was like and got used to being around. I’m planning on working with him, especially about some of the things that I saw with his pitches.
In December, Bello released multiple videos working with Martinez to his Instagram (which appears to have been subsequently scrubbed) but fortunately @BostonStrong_34 posted one of those on Twitter:
Pedro Martínez and Brayan Bello continue to work in the Dominican Republic, Pedro keeps telling Bello to not change anything of what he’s doing on the video just to sink his sinker more. pic.twitter.com/KcVxPgAxa4— Boston Strong (@BostonStrong_34) December 24, 2022
In Ian Browne’s blog last week, he reported that the duo was not working on the change up, but instead that, “He was more focusing on just the high fastball and slider,” Bello said, before adding that he was working on a new curveball, and “I’m looking forward to using it.”
Bello only allowed one home run in those 57 1/3 MLB innings, and 7 total home runs in 153 1/3 innings across three levels in 2022. Despite throwing 153+ innings, a career-high by far, the most encouraging sign for me was the way that Bello held his velocity through all of the late-season outings. I kept waiting for signs of fatigue and the team to shut him down, and it simply never happened. Bello’s sinker, the more frequently used of the two fastballs, consistently stayed between 96 and 97 mph all the way through his final start on October 1st, even peaking at 97.2 mph in his second-to-last start (in Yankee Stadium).
With the rough 20% estimate that is often added to a prospect’s innings increase, it’s not unreasonable to think that Bello could approach 180 innings next season.
Whatever happened in 2022 did, in fact, happen. Bello’s 10.1% walk-rate (4.24 walks per 9) needs to improve, without question. He will need to pitch deeper into games without hitting a wall, such as at Camden Yards in September where he had a 2-0 lead after five innings, before walking the bases loaded in the sixth and ending up with the loss. Perhaps that’s why he’s put on 15 pounds and focused on his leg strength.
However, a season of adversity like Bello had, in what turned out to be a lost year for the Red Sox, can end up being the most valuable season of a player’s career. Bello took some shots early in the season, had to fight back, and had a very encouraging stretch run. In Bello’s five September starts, he was 2-3 with a 1.65 ERA with a .243 BA allowed and a .626 OPS allowed, before allowing four runs to Toronto in his lone October start. His most impressive start was on Sunday Night Baseball at Yankee Stadium with baseball fans far and wide tuning in to see if Aaron Judge would break the American League home run record. Despite the bright lights, Bello allowed just one earned run in six innings, a “complete game” thanks to the rain shortening it to a six-inning affair.
We know what Pedro thinks, but let’s close with two other quotes that stood out to me in the aforementioned Boston Globe articles:
Xander Bogaerts: “It’s just something different about him and I’m honest about that. I haven’t seen guys make their debut and, pitching-wise, be that confident. It’s pretty impressive.”
Roger Clemens: “I love him. I love him. From watching him from afar, he’s going to be a good one.”
As long as we don’t have any Instagram videos next offseason of Clemens and Bello opening a package marked “BALCO”, then we should be in good hands for years to come.
Pedro Mentoring Brayan Bello Excitement Score: 8 Doug Mirabelli Police Escorts To Fenway Out Of 10