Opinion

Matt Barnes: 2019 Boston Red Sox Preview

With Craig Kimbrel possibly gone, right-handed reliever Matt Barnes could find himself as the closer for the 2019 Boston Red Sox.

Boston Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes continues to get better and better with every passing season. The hard-throwing righty improved upon his ERA, FIP, and strikeout totals for the fourth-straight year while working as Boston’s primary set-up man during the 2018 season. With Craig Kimbrel’s fate currently unkown, there’s a real chance that Barnes could enter 2019 as the closer. Barnes was one of the better relievers in baseball, but can the 28-year old take the next step and be one of the top relievers in baseball?

2019 Boston Red Sox Player Previews

2019 Boston Red Sox Preview: Matt Barnes

After coming through the minor leagues as a starting pitcher, Barnes has found a major league home in the bullpen. Barnes just finished his fourth full season in the majors, compiling a 3.65 ERA and a 2.71 FIP while striking out 14.01 batters per nine innings. The ERA and FIP were solid figures for a reliever, while the strikeout rate was one of the best in baseball.

All of the aforementioned numbers were the best of Barnes’ career, and he’s steadily improved every year he’s been in the majors. Most major leaguers reach their peak in their late 20’s, so it’s possible we’ve not yet seen the best of Barnes.

The biggest knock against Barnes entering the 2018 season was that he couldn’t pitch in high leverage situation. This criticism was certainly earned, as the right recorded a ghastly 11.20 ERA and a 4.54 FIP in high leverage situations through his first three seasons. Barnes somewhat put that narrative on blast during the 2018 season. While his 6.06 ERA in high leverage situations looks awful, he actually recorded a 1.94 FIP in the same scenarios. FIP is more indicative of future success than ERA, so basically Barnes pitched well enough in these situations, but he just got historically unlucky with batted balls.

2019’s Goal

There are a few things Barnes will need to improve upon if he’s to take the next step in his career. For one, he’ll need to lower his walk rate. Barnes finished 2018 walking 4.52 batters per nine innings. This is way above the league average, and anyone who has ever watched Barnes on the mound is all-too-familiar with his erratic control.

Barnes was never known for his command, but his 2018 walk rate was easily the worst of his career. Reliever can away with walking guys more than starters can, but the Red Sox really need Barnes to get better at finding the strike zone. If he can do that, he should be a natural fill for the closer position.

Additionally, Barnes needs to get better in the second half of the season. Barnes has a career 5.28 ERA and 3.76 FIP during the second half of seasons, and these figures will need to improve. Barnes couldn’t conquer his second-half demons in 2018, posting a 6.41 ERA and a 4.03 FIP after the All-Star break. Granted, a lot of that was due to playing through a hip injury which clearly impacted his performance. However, he’ll need to find a way to buck his career trend and pitch at a high level throughout the 2019 season.

Overall Projection

Steamer Projections expects Barnes to finish the 2019 season with a 3.27 ERA and a 3.24 FIP. His K/9 is expected to drop to 11.36 while his walk rate is expected to drop down to 3.79. The ERA, FIP, and walk rate all sound about right, but the strikeout number is a little surprising.

Striking out 11.36 batters per nine innings is a good rate, but it’s well below the 14.01 batter per nine he struck out in 2018. He probably can’t sustain that high of a strikeout rate, but he shouldn’t drop that much. Matt Barnes continues to get better each and every year he’s been in the league. Whether it’s as a closer or a setup man, look for Barnes to be a good, albeit not great reliever while striking out roughly 12 batters per nine innings.

2019 Boston Red Sox Season Preview

Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com
(Oct. 22, 2018 – Source: Elsa/Getty Images North America)

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