Should the Red Sox Extend Brandon Workman this Offseason?
In a season where all anyone could talk about was the necessity of a closer, the Red Sox seemed to have found one internally. Brandon Workman’s 1.91 ERA ranks 6th in the MLB amongst relievers (min. 50 IP), and his 2.54 FIP ranks 7th. Ever since his unofficial takeover as closer, he has gone 13/15 in save opportunities, donning a 2.15 ERA and .453 OPS against. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, he is no longer controlled by the team after 2020. The question for the Red Sox is, should the Red Sox go for an extension with Workman when he’s at his peak value?
Can Workman Be Trusted As a Long-Term Closer?
This is a necessary question because if you want to extend Workman this offseason, you will likely have to pay him closer money. And with the numbers that he has put up this year, it will likely be good closer money. There are two very persuasive sides to this argument. The side that says “no” might point to numbers from previous years. In 2017, he had a 3.18 ERA through 39.2 IP. In 2018, it was a 3.27 ERA through 41.1 IP. The ERA wasn’t bad, but his FIP was below average, being 4.49 and 4.42 respectively. Part of the reason that the FIP is much lower this year is because of the fact that he has given up just one home run in 70.2 innings of work. One could argue that this type of prevention can not be sustained.
The other side might say that Workman has finally formed his identity as a pitcher. He has become aggressively careful. When he misses the target, it is likely out of the zone. He has become more willing to walk someone than to get hit hard. As a result, his strikeout rate (22.2% to 35.7%) and walk rate (9.6 to 15.9%) have gone up significantly. Also, his hard-hit rate has gone down from 35.1% to 30.4%. Perhaps most surprisingly, Workman’s barrel rate is 2nd-best in the MLB at 0.7%, which is one barrel out of 135 batted ball events. With this change of approach, one could argue that it is safer to invest in Workman now. He did not just luck his way to this magnificent season.
It All Depends On Offseason Priorities
Most extensions occur during Spring Training, which is when most of the free agents have signed and most of the trades have been made. There are some attractive relief pitchers on the free agent market this offseason, such as Dellin Betances, Will Smith, Steve Cishek, and potentially Aroldis Chapman (pending a potential opt out). It is possible that the Red Sox pull the trigger on one of these options rather than waiting to extend Workman.
Then, of course, the bullpen might not be a focus of spending, yet again, in 2020. The Red Sox could go after another starting pitcher after a severe underperformance from their staff in 2019. To add to that, the team may have to invest more in the offense. With J.D. Martinez likely opting out after this year and Mookie Betts possibly leaving after 2020, the Red Sox could decide to re-invest in their elite offense. Re-signing Martinez, Betts and Workman would almost guarantee them being over the luxury tax for multiple years.
If you’re asking me, I lean more towards the side of extending him this offseason. They have invested plenty in the starting pitching and the offense. The last large investment the Red Sox made in their bullpen was with Craig Kimbrel in 2016. I mean, the highest paid reliever for the Red Sox this year was Tyler Thornburg, with a fat price of $1.75 million. The Red Sox have finally developed a very good reliever, and it is probably best to keep him around.
Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com (Sept. 28, 2018 – Source: Omar Rawlings/Getty Images North America)