Red Sox hope bullpen changes improve on 2011 performance

As they say, out with the old...

On paper it looks like Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon are a step down from Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard.  The Red Sox team ERA last season was 3.67, which was good for 13th in the major leagues.  The bullpen failed the Red Sox in the stretch run however.  The Red Sox had a team ERA of 5.84 in the month of September.  Papelbon’s September ERA was 3.72 and Bard’s was an astonishingly high 10.64.  Daniel Bard blew three games alone in the last two weeks of the season and Papelbon himself coughed up the last game against the Orioles with the playoffs on the line after he had gotten the first two outs of the inning.  The September swoon by the Sox pitching staff may or may not have been an anomaly but the Red Sox felt the need to institute changes none the less.

Papelbon found his money in Philly

Jonathan Papelbon was coming off of a sub par year in 2010 as he was preparing for the final year of his Red Sox contract.  He had an ERA of 3.90, 28 walks, and 7 losses – all career highs.  He returned to form for most of the season but fell off in September, raising some concerns about his arm and his workload.  The question the Red Sox had to ask themselves was whether or not Jonathan Papelbon was worth the investment.  He would likely demand a contract of at least four years and upwards of 15 million dollars a year.  The Red Sox decided to let Papelbon chase the money, which he found in Philadelphia.  The Red Sox may regret losing Jonathan Papelbon from the back end of their bullpen but you can’t really question refusing to give 15 million dollars to a guy to close at age 36.

In regards to Daniel Bard, here is a guy who is 6 feet, 4 inches tall and 215 lbs.  He lost 9 games last season and had a 3.33 ERA.  As bad as he was in September, he was a streaky guy all year.  A few years ago Bard looked to be the heir apparent to Papelbon and his 1.93 ERA in 2010 looked to solidify that.  When you look at Bard’s performance last year however you see a guy who was not very comfortable where he was.  He mostly pitched in the 8th inning, sometimes he would come into the game in the 7th to get a few extra outs but it didn’t ever look like a role that suited him.  They say that you should develop your best arms as starters in the minors, as they did with Papelbon, but for some reason the Sox brass moved Bard to the bullpen after only a handful of starts in low A ball.  Bard wanted to either start or close and the Red Sox didn’t think he was the right guy to close (and really who can blame them) so they chose to move him into the rotation.  They are hoping that Bard finds the same success that C.J. Wilson and Alexei Ogando did in Texas.  If he can succeed in the rotation that he would a huge boon to the Red Sox staff who have two huge holes in the back end of their rotation.

In with the new, new Red Sox closer Andrew Bailey

Of course these moves can only be facilitated if they can replace those two guys.  Enter Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon.  Andrew Bailey is as good as they come for young closers in baseball.  He has recorded 75 saves in only three seasons in the majors.  That’s impressive considering his team did not finish over .500 in any of those three years.  He is a two time all-star and former AL Rookie of the Year.  He’s got a career ERA of 2.07 and a WHIP of 0.954.  He’s got a career 1.74 ERA vrs. the Orioles, 1.50 ERA vrs. the Rays, 0.00 ERA vrs. the Blue Jays and a 3.27 ERA vrs. the Yankees.  While you’d like to see his number against the Yankees go down he has pitched well against the vaunted AL East.  He’s also a local kid, born and raised in Connecticut.  Some say that closing is 50% mental and we’ll see if Bailey has what it takes to be the closer in the baseball pressure cooker that is Boston but I don’t see any evidence that shows that he doesn’t have the make-up to get the job done.  Melancon is more of a enigma.  He had a cup of tea with the Yankees before he was traded to the Astros where he  has developed into a solid back of the rotation arm.  He has closing experience and the stuff to succeed in the AL East.  He didn’t have horrible numbers as a member of the Yankees, with a 3.86% ERA in 13 appearances in his rookie year.

The key for Bobby Valentine and the Red Sox will be defining roles in the bullpen.  Even as Papelbon and Bard struggled in September Terry Francona played it like a two-man bullpen.  They need more people to step up this year.  Obviously Aceves is a gamer and will be another guy to count on as long as the rotation stays healthy and he’s not needed there.  Bobby Jenks is the wild card.  If he is healthy and can pitch effectively then he will take a lot of the pressure off of young Melancon in his first year with the Red Sox.  Franklin Morales could also emerge as a guy who can get people out on either side of the plate.

Two years ago it seemed like Papelbon and Bard would carry the back-end of the bullpen for years to come.  That didn’t work out.  The Sox are no doubt taking a gamble on these two young guys but if it works out then they could be the anchors of the Sox bullpen for years to come themselves.

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About evonsports
30 year old sports enthusiast and aspiring writer from Boston.

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