Opening Day is in the books, and Red Sox Nation really wishes they could flip the pages back and rewrite a few things. For one, naming Corey Kluber the Opening Day starter against the Baltimore Orioles, a decision many were questioning when it was announced, ended up not paying off. Kluber, who turns 37 this year, went 3 1⁄3 innings and allowed five runs, six hits including two home runs, and four walks. At no point did it appear remotely like Kluber had command of the mound today... all with the birthday boy Chris Sale, who makes $27.5 million this season, resting his arm. From that dismal performance came Zack Kelly, who got out of the fourth relatively unscathed despite walking two. In the bottom half of the inning, the team squandered a bases-loaded opportunity due to Christan Arroyo batting into a double play, keeping the score 5-2.
And then the disaster happened.
Alex Cora punted the game by calling 35-year-old Ryan Brasier out to the mound to start the fifth inning. It was among the earliest Brasier has ever entered a game, and was peculiar given that had Arroyo properly capitalized on his one-out appearance, we may be looking at, best case-scenario, a 6-5 Red Sox lead, or an even more favorable outcome, depending how the rest of the inning went.
Two minutes after this questionable call, Brasier had hit Ramón Urías. After Austin Hays mercifully hit into a double play, Brasier walked Adam Frazier, likely pontificating over the fact that their last names rhymed. He was so bewildered, Frazier was able to steal second uncontested. Jorge Mateo then hit a single that scored Frazier, that probably wouldn’t have advanced him to home had it not been for the apathy on the previous steal. Mateo then practically walked to second and advanced to third on a wild pitch, also uncontested despite Mateo having a lengthy lead. After Brasier walked Cedric Mullins, Mullins also made stealing second as easy as playing Manhunt with kids half your size. Reese McGuire, who seemed to forget he could throw runners out, didn’t even contest the steal. Adley Rutschman then hit a single that allowed both Mateo and Mullins to add to the Orioles’ lead. Finally, Brasier recorded the third out of the inning by inducing Anthony Santander to hit a line drive into center that was caught by Adam “Not All Heroes Wear Capes” Duvall.
This commotion was all with two outs.
It was like the Bad News Bears. But even they eventually became good.
The Orioles made the base paths look like a high school track meet.
No one was impressed.
This is not even close to an uncharacteristic outing for number 70.
Brasier, who sported a 5.78 ERA in 2022, constantly was the team’s most obvious weak spot in a season that had many. The bullpen blew 28 saves, good for sixth in Major League Baseball, but Brasier unequivocally was the most liable arm on the team... and perhaps the organization for the entire season. And yet, he had a job with the Boston Red Sox at the end of the season, a feat that Darwinzon Hernandez, Philips Valdez, Hansel Robles, and Austin Davis could not also claim.
And that’s not to say the others were performing at a level of what should be expected in 2022 from a team that was two wins from appearing in the World Series in 2021. They played, well, pretty badly! The bullpen didn’t throw 28 leads away all from one pitcher. It was a concerted team effort. But, so seldom did Brasier command the mound respectably in 2022, that when he did record three consecutive outs, it was a rarity.
So, if I were a member of the Red Sox front office, why would I keep Ryan Brasier?
Well for one, he told Gary Sanchez to get back in the fucking box in the 2018 ALDS before striking him out. That’s badass! Using a cuss word at a Yankee before striking him out buys you, what, four, five years of good will, right? Right?
No? Well, there’s some other notable stuff, too.
Likely most importantly, he costs the front office 2 million dollars a year. For a guy with 5 full years of MLB service time, and a guy who was onboard for your last World Series team and can offer some perspective to players that are new to the show, that mindset and expertise is probably a bargain in and of itself!
There’s also the velocity. Red Sox Nation jeered at Kluber consistently struggling to break 94 miles-per-hour today... on Opening Day, many teams are trotting out guys that can approach triple digits. Brasier’s fastball velocity bottoms out at around 96 miles per hour and can top 97 miles an hour (although his average is 96.2, roughly.) That’s quite fast, especially for a middle reliever. The league average is just now approaching 94 miles an hour. Brasier is two miles per hour above that WELL into his thirties. To add to matters, he strikes over a batter an inning out throughout his career, boasting a 9.11 K/9 rating. Not entirely shabby!
Additionally, his Fielder Independent Pitching (FIP) stat in 2022 was considerably lower than his ERA: 3.61. Balls in play do not count towards this statistic, only strikeouts, home runs surrendered, walks, batters hit, basically, anything that happens between when the ball leaves Brasier’s glove and when it reaches the catcher’s glove is calculated. If not, it’s considered a ball in play, or, in short, someone else’s problem. That Brasier’s FIP metric is over 2 runs lower would indicate that fielding is the issue, and that is a plausible scapegoat, given the quantity of errors the Red Sox amassed in 2022. His xERA finished up at 3.96, so that evidence is tangibly. supported. That Brasier was treated as a low-leverage option can also speak to the morale of the team when he is on the mound; either the team gets complacent with a big lead, or guys realize nothing is coming up positively when they’re being blown out, so the effort may simply not be there in a way that would aid Brasier or the team.
This is not what we should be accepting in 2023.
All those stats are well and good, until you watch a game and see “lots of game left” turn into “well, where do we go from here, down six runs?” in the span of three outs, or see a five-run lead dissipate into a situation where you need to trot high-leverage arms out.
That the Red Sox ended up losing this game by a paltry one run (10-9) after being down 8-2 actually speaks worse of the pitching staff and the bullpen management, which was often a glaring opportunity for Cora in 2023. In the first game of the season, nothing should be so low-leverage that you trot out Ryan Brasier and Kaleb Ort in a row to an excited crowd. It waves the white flag on a day when the fanbase believes that anything is possible.
The very presence of Kaleb Ort on this 2023 team after his almost-as-poor performance in 2022 (with a surprisingly higher 6.35 ERA) raises some questions, as well. Sure, Joely Rodriguez, who likely would have captured that last slot, started the season on the IL. Sure, Jarren Duran is not a pitcher... nor is Bobby Dalbec... or Jorge Alfaro. But, Kaleb Ort is 31 and does not have much of a ceiling to speak of. And despite apparently wowing brass as Worcester’s closer before his call-up to Boston, it does not appear to be translating to Major League success. It leaves a sour taste in our mouths after management stated that they are serious about getting back to being a contender in 2023. Sure, Chaim Bloom grabbed Kenley Jansen and Chris Martin (which would have been much more exciting news in 2016 but still is nothing to sneeze at) but they can’t play 81 games a piece, so there will be times that Cora will be inclined to call on Old Unreliable... or his brother, Old Unreliable-r.
If it sounds like I am on the Bloom Doom and Gloom crowd, I apologize. I was never the best at avoiding jumping to unfavorable conclusions. But from a fan that sat through 2022, and heard the front office’s pledges to not make this season’s roster as weak as 2022’s, this game felt an awful lot like 2022 to me. Players batted into double plays when we simply could not afford to. The starting pitcher (an ex-Ray! Chaim’s favorite!) got shellacked in a way that late bats could not recover from. The bullpen (and catcher) allowed far too many stolen bases. There was some barely passable fielding. There was a guy pencilled into an outfielder slot playing infield due to injury (though he did a pretty decent job today) and there was a base running goof in the ninth inning. It was a winnable game that, due to several mistakes from several players, could not be won and never felt like it could be won.
However unlikely it may be that the team goes 0-162, one is left to wonder: how bad does it have to get before the front office who claims to care about the future — and present — of this team starts asking the same questions the fans do?