As the Red Sox finished off the Indians on Opening Day, there was a sigh of relief as the bullpen dominated the last three innings of the game. In 2015, the Red Sox bullpen was a major weakness on a last place team. The Sox ranked 26th out of 30 teams in bullpen ERA at 4.24 last year. They also allowed the most home runs of any bullpen in baseball with 76 home runs allowed. The lone bright spot was Koji Uehara who posted a 2.23 ERA with 25 saves before his season was cut short by an injury. Relief pitching was clearly an area of need this past offseason along with the priority of bringing in a #1 starting pitcher. David Price was brought in to solidify the top of the rotation. The Red Sox traded for arguably the best closer in Major League Baseball in Craig Kimbrel. They also traded Wade Miley for Carson Smith. While the Price deal got the most attention, the moves to get Kimbrel and Smith were key to getting this team back to contending.
The Red Sox bullpen suffered a setback in spring training when Carson Smith suffered an arm injury. The injury doesn’t appear to be long-term. However, he’ll likely be out for the month of April and possibly May. The Red Sox will need pitchers like Robbie Ross, Jr. and Noe Ramirez to step up in his absence. Having said that, the Red Sox have gone from having the bullpen being a major weakness of the team to having it as a major strength. Two arms make all of the difference in the world.
The biggest reason why the Sox bullpen should be one of the elite units in baseball is having Kimbrel as the closer. Kimbrel has an unheard of 1.62 career ERA. He led the National League in saves in four consecutive seasons. At age 27, he’s just entering his prime. Remember how it felt like the game was over when Keith Foulke and Jonathan Papelbon were entering the game? Kimbrel is much better than both of them were. He throws 97-98 miles per hour and his career strikeouts per nine innings is 14.6.
Having Kimbrel gives the Red Sox the luxury of putting Uehara into a setup role. When Carson Smith returns, he will join Uehara. Don’t forget about Junichi Tazawa. He had a tough year last year, but he has been very solid during his Red Sox career.
Consider this: Here are the ERA’s of the Red Sox four top bullpen pitchers using a three-year sample size from 2013-2015.
Craig Kimbrel: 1.77 ERA
Koji Uehara: 1.86 ERA
Carson Smith: 2.07 ERA
Junichi Tazawa: 3.36 ERA
Smith’s numbers include 2014 and 2015 only because he was a rookie in 2015.
There has been a lot of concern about the Red Sox starting rotation after David Price. However, if the Red Sox can keep these four pitchers healthy, they should win a lot of close games. The Sox offense should be one of the top groups in the American League. They have three shut down relievers and another steady relief pitcher. In games that the Red Sox are tied or ahead after the 6th inning, Red Sox Nation should feel very good about this team’s chances. It also will be a lot of fun to watch. Winning close and late is what separates good teams from bad ones.
There was a time when the bullpen was an after thought. What a difference a year makes…