Opinion

Evaluating the Boston Red Sox relief pitcher carousel

The Red Sox have invaluable relief pitcher depth

Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com: (June 6, 2018 – Source: Adam Glanzman/Getty Images North America)

Over the past few weeks, there has seemingly been an endless shuttle which has picked up relievers from Pawtucket and brought them to Boston. The trip is rarely one way and usually heads back to Pawtucket as soon as it arrives at its destination. Relievers Justin Haley, William Cuevas, Ryan Brasier and Jalen Beeks have all made this trip recently, filling in for a myriad of injured Boston Red Sox pitchers.

Of those four pitchers, only Brasier seems to have a realistic shot at staying in Boston for a lengthy amount of time. Beeks, after a rough appearance last night in relief of Hector Velazquez, will likely be shipped back to Pawtucket soon.

He will be another victim of the Red Sox reliever carousel, but will likely be seen again at some point this year for the team. Pitchers get hurt and Boston has already had 22 different pitchers make an appearance this year, none of which were position players pitching.

There are only three pitchers on the 40-man roster who have not had an opportunity to pitch at the big-league level this year: Ty Buttrey, Chandler Shepherd and Williams Jerez.

All three of those guys have been performing well, though, with the former doing an exceptional job in Triple-A. In 40 and 1/3 innings in Pawtucket, Buttrey has pitched to the tune of a stellar 2.01 ERA and 2.69 FIP. The rumor is the tall right-hander can hit 100 mph on the radar gun and has seen his K/9 soar while his BB/9 has simultaneously dropped.

He has been in the Red Sox organization since 2012, finally putting it together in 2018. The North Carolina native does not seem to need much more seasoning, so when he does get the call, perhaps it will be indefinite? They have hesitated to send him on the quick shuttle, opting to go with pitchers with demonstrably worse numbers and stuff, so maybe they are trying to carve out a permanent role for him? He appears ready whenever the Red Sox are.

Anyway, Buttrey is far from the only standout pitcher for the Pawtucket Red Sox. All of the guys mentioned have done well, not to mention early-season passengers Bobby Poyner and Marcus Walden.

Poyner (1.69 ERA and 2.75 FIP) and Walden (3.68 ERA and 2.04 FIP) were more than solid in their brief time with the big-league club. However, they have not made an appearance since June 6th and May 3rd, respectively. Again, it is not as if there have not been chances for them to get the call. There have been plenty of opportunities and the four Pawtucket-originated relievers in the opening paragraph all saw action as recently as July.

Starting with the diminutive southpaw, Poyner has done extremely well at each level, Triple-A and MLB. His ERA is south of 3 in Pawtucket, striking out over a batter an inning while limiting free passes. Walden, in contrast, has had a rough go in six appearances with the minor-league squad, but has dealt with injuries. In fact, he currently resides on the 7-Day DL for the Pawtucket Red Sox.

Poyner seems poised to be a solid bullpen arm whenever he gets the chance again, while a healthy Walden can presumably be a fringy, serviceable long man.

Insofar as Poyner is concerned, it is a bit dubious why he is been called up since early June. Pitchers like Cuevas and Haley, who have done fine in Triple-A this year, have been getting the nod over him. With that said, those two both have more stamina than Bobby P., as they are starters in Pawtucket. Lately, it seems like the Red Sox are relying on Triple-A starters (Jalen Beeks, too) as quick replacements for their banged up pitchers.

Especially since Wright has gone down, the Red Sox seem keen on having a long man when Brian Johnson, who actually just went to the 10-Day DL, or Hector Velazquez make a spot start. It is a contingency plan for them, in case they cannot go very deep into the ball game. This strategy has actually worked out fairly well for the Red Sox this year.

We saw Beeks going 2+ innings last night, but Haley has done so three times this season (with mixed results) and Cuevas has done so once. By having these guys for a quick merry-go-round, even if they do not do as well on an inning-per-inning basis as Buttrey or Poyner, they can save their bullpen from being taxed.

While it seems like Boston has had an inordinate amount of relievers come up for a sojourn in the bigs, the team actually has not had nearly as many as some other teams. For example, the Tampa Bay Rays, which have been drowning in success with their “bullpen day” strategy, have used 27 different pitchers this year. They may be an exception, considering they operate their pitching staff differently than most clubs, but most teams have used 20+ pitchers this season. The Red Sox are not an anomaly.

Boston just seems to have a lot of quality options down in Pawtucket. The Red Sox’ Triple-A squad currently features the fourth-best team ERA (3.46) in the International League, which is comprised of 14 teams.

Brandon Workman is perhaps the most successful reliever to take that shuttle into Boston this year. Since making his 2018 debut with the Red Sox on June 5th, he has stayed with the club, pitching to the tune of a 1.80 ERA and 2.80 FIP in exactly 15 innings. For him, it has been a one-way trip, although, to be fair, Workman has had more big-league experience than a lot of these other pitchers.

In today’s game, you cannot just have your 12 or 13 pitchers from your Opening Day roster. Depth is increasingly critical, as pitchers are going to the disabled list more frequently than ever. A club needs to have guys in Triple-A ready for the call and Boston seemingly does have a plethora of viable options if one of their pitchers were to get hurt.

In fact, the Red Sox have had their pitchers get hurt, with Steven Wright, Brian Johnson and Drew Pomeranz all on the shelf at the moment. Boston has been fortunate to have pitchers like Poyner, Workman, Brasier, Walden and Haley step up in their absences and provide quality innings.

It may, indeed, be a carousel for the remainder of the season for some these Red Sox relief pitchers, but their value to the team cannot be understated. Depth is imperative and the Boston Red Sox have it with their relief pitchers.

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