Who is he and where did he come from?
He’s Zack Littell, and at this point, he fits into the category of maybe the only thing Chaim Bloom brings to the Red Sox organization more than relief arms: guys with red/reddish beards. He is also, you guessed it, a depth relief arm. He was acquired from the Texas Rangers organization on Friday afternoon for cash considerations... which isn’t free, of course, but seeing as we didn’t give up any precious depth to acquire him, it sure feels like we got him for free, doesn’t it? He’s spent parts of the last five seasons in the Major Leagues for Minnesota and San Francisco, notably notching 61 2⁄3 innings across 63 appearances for the Giants in 2021, where he finished second on the team’s bullpen in strikeouts, with 63.
Is he any good?
Usually, when he acquire a depth arm, the answer is no, but he could provide some innings of work if someone goes down. With Littell, who was acquired in a trade, the “no” is much more hesitant, perhaps resembling a “yes.”
He’s only 27, and has a not-too-terrible career ERA of 4.08, with a slightly higher FIP of 4.66. He was a great solution to the Giants’ bullpen in 2021 with those aforementioned 63 appearances, with an ERA of 2.92. That number almost doubled in 2022 (5.08) but his xERA was significantly lower (3.64) leading one to believe his troubles were not all entirely his fault last season. More importantly, his groundball percentage has hovered around 40% for his entire career, which is also not a terrible number. Littell has struggled with strikeouts since his notable 2021 season. Reason to be optimistic though: in Triple-A Round Rock, he has a 2.25 ERA serving as a multi-inning relief guy, and strikes out 12 batters per 9 innings.
His velocity reaches 95-ish, 96-ish, which, for most relief, is fine. He has a cutter he utilizes about a third of the time, which tops out at around 89, and a splitter he breaks out every now and then, roughly 12% of his pitches. You would be surprised to find out that Littell, despite being a piece added by Chaim Bloom, does not have an extensive injury history; he did suffer an oblique injury in July but did not miss much time at all.
Perhaps the most coincidentally funny thing about Littell that Red Sox historians may grimace at is, following one of his not-so-good outings in 2022 directly preceding his demotion to Triple-A Sacramento, him and Gabe Kapler, San Francisco manager and member of that storied 2004 Red Sox team, had a very public disagreement when Littell was pulled. Kapler was sure to state that it did not stem from a lack of Littell being a team player, which is a good thing to hear.
Show me a cool highlight.
This is him striking out three straight about a year ago, Memorial Day weekend, 2022. He gets guy to chase outside too, which, I mean, is kind of what you want guys on the mound to do! He has the ability to make guys miss, and that splitter is always good to add some variety.
What’s his role on the 2023 Red Sox?
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: probably a Worcester guy for the foreseeable future, and a guy that may come with a narrative to eek more than a full inning out of from time to time down there. With the pickup, promotion and decent performance of Bernardino, the plight of Ort, Crawford hitting the IL, and whatever the hell continues to go on with Ryan Brasier, one never knows when he could make a Fenway appearance. Obviously, I foresee a lot of “cue the duckboats!” and “bargain bin shopping again I see!” comments, and those may be valid in a lot of these depth pickups, but Littell is not far removed from a pretty remarkable performance, and appears to be finding his footing in the minors. If he can roll that into some respectable inning-eating in the Majors again, he may be able to add his name to the Chaim Bloom Decent Redbeard Roster Pickups Club.