Anthony Ranaudo Traded for Robbie Ross

Here’s a link.

Ross is a lefty. He started some with the Rangers in 2014, but it’s probably safe to assume that he’s going to be in the bullpen for the Sox.

I’ll get into him a bit more in the second part of the bullpen roundup in a few days, but there’s a good chance he’s one of two lefties in the pen (with Craig Breslow.)

And the number I know you’re all looking for, he has a groundball rate of 53.8% for his career against a league average of 44%.

The Sox are stocking up on ground ball pitchers, and a guy on SoSH (whose name I don’t recall at the moment) had a good argument why. I think I’ll be digging it out and expanding upon it once the roster roundups are done.

Roster Roundup: Bullpen Part 1

And we’ve gotten to the point where we have to talk about the bullpen and the thing with that is, well, bullpens are inherently variable. There aren’t many relievers who are consistently good from year to year and it’s not entirely clear how to determine which ones are which so it’s really hard to put together a whole group of pitchers you can trust to be good.

So we’ll start with the guys we can be sure are going to be in the major league bullpen before moving into guys who are being brought in just in case they catch fire.

Koji Uehara: There’s an interesting little factoid about Uehara’s 2013 that always amazes me. He allowed a run in his last appearance of June, then didn’t allow a run in July, August, or September, only to allow a run in his first appearance of October, in Game 3 of the LDS against the Rays.

Of course, this is largely irrelevant to what he’ll do in 2015. Will he still be good in 2015? As long as we’re understanding that “good” doesn’t mean he’s going to be as otherworldly awesome as he was in 2013, then yeah, he’s probably going to be good. He was good in 2014 with the exception of a few weeks at the end of a lost season. The thing is, he’s going to be 40. Here’s the thing about being an athlete at 40. If your performance completely falls off the cliff, it’s not a surprise. There are just so few athletes who are still effective at that age, that guaranteeing good performance is ludicrous.

So yeah, he’s probably going to be good, unlikely to be outstanding, and there’s a non trivial chance that he’s just terrible.

Junichi Tazawa: He’s more than a decade younger than Uehara, but has never reached Uehara’s peak. Still, a solid but unremarkable set up man is nothing to be sneezed at. Tazawa has been that, and there’s no particular reason to believe he’ll be different in 2015 other than the inherent volatility of the position.

Craig Breslow: Breslow is perhaps the Red Sox poster child for the volatility of the position. He was brilliant in 2013, holding all batters to a .635 OPS, and terrible in 2014, allowing an OPS of .887. What are we going to get from him in 2015? No idea, really. He’s had more good years than bad in his career, so I guess that’s more likely than a bad season, but by the same token, he’s 34 and well past his prime. If 2013 turns out to be his last good year, it shouldn’t really surprise anyone.

Edward Mujica: Mujica gets a bit of a bad rap for his 2014 because it started off so damn crappy. He was terrible in April and May, as well as July, but he was quite good in June, August, and September. Was there something wrong with him? Was it just the volatility of the position? I don’t know, you don’t know. This we do know. 2014 was his worst year since 2009. He’s 30 so he’s not young, but that’s not terribly old either. Chances are, he’s pretty good in 2015.

Brandon Workman: He’s kind of just a guy, you know? He did well as a starter in 2013, and very well as a reliever in the post season, but in 2014 it was just the opposite. Some of that is no doubt due to small sample sizes and being bounced between one role and the other. My guess is that being able to settle in as a reliever on a permanent basis is going to be a good thing for him and allow him to be the very effective reliever he looked like in the 2013 post season.

And I’m going to stop there for now because these are the guys that are highly likely to be in the 2015 bullpen, and the rest of the guys are less likely for various reasons. Also, and perhaps more to the point, these are the five guys who are probably going to determine if the Sox have a good bullpen or a bad one. In the model of six innings from a starter and three from relievers, these are the guys who are going to be getting those three innings when we’re in close games. If they do well, it mean a lot of good things for the Sox starting staff just because they don’t have to be out there trying for seven innings every night.

The first thing that should be pointed out about these guys is that we know their names. There are a lot of teams that don’t know the names of their top 5 guys, so the fact that the Sox do is a non trivial advantage. More than that, they’re all fairly likely to be good. I say that within the context of the whole position being volatile, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone if any particular one of these guys mediocre to terrible.

And that’s over 800 words so we’ll take a look at the other candidates next week.

2013 Red Sox Preview: Bullpen

The 2013 Red Sox look to be a fairly mediocre team overall. They’re likely to end up in the tail end of the Wild Card chase mostly because there are two wild cards and you have to be really terrible not to be within striking distance with a month or so left.

Over the next several weeks, I’m going to take a closer look at the various parts of the team and I’m starting with the bullpen because it’s the one part that really has the chance to be a difference maker.

I’m going to assume it’s a seven man ‘pen because that’s just the way things go these days.

  • Andrew Bailey is returning from a lost season. He only pitched fifteen and a third innings and didn’t pitch them particularly well, allowing twenty-nine baserunners and twelve runs. Still, the questions about him have always been about his durability and never about his ability. 2013 included, he has allowed just over one baserunner per inning and just under a strikeout an inning. If healthy, he is a quality arm for the end of the bullpen.
  • The acquisition of Joel Hanrahan was a bit puzzling. He’s been in short relief for years and generally done well. He averages over a strikeout per inning, and though he has a tendency to walk a few too many, he has generally been a good but not great short reliever.
  • Koji Uehara has been an excellent short reliever everywhere he’s been, and there’s no real reason to suspect that will change.
  • Junichi Tazawa was utterly brilliant in 2012, allowing less than a baserunner per inning, and striking out more than one per inning while allowing very few walks and homers.

 

The four of them figure to be the core of the bullpen. It has been suggested that Tazawa has options remaining and thus isn’t a lock to be in the bigs on Opening Day but that would be a travesty. He has the potential to be a dominant short reliever for the Red Sox for the better part of the next decade and his time should start now.

The very fact that there are four of them is encouraging. Whatever downside there is to injury and the simple volatility inherent in bullpen performance, there are four guys who can reasonably be relied upon to get outs in the eighth and ninth. If they’re all healthy and as effective as their track records indicate, the Sox are going to have an absolutely brilliant back of the bullpen with high performance and deep depth.

That suggests a question about the Hanrahan trade. With the Sox already having three good short relievers, why trade for another?

Some take it to mean that the team has soured on Andrew Bailey. He did, after all, only pitch fifteen innings last season. I think that’s silly. It was, after all, just fifteen innings and his reputation for being injury prone preceded him.

Could that reputation for injury have prompted the trade for Hanrahan purely for depth? Perhaps.

I suspect the reality is that the front office knows the overall team is fairly mediocre, and that if one looks at overachieving teams of recent vintage, it seems a surprising number of them had excellent bullpens. An excellent bullpen certainly doesn’t guarantee that a team will exceed their Pythagorean expectation or win an absurd number of close games but it is a trait common to teams that have exceeded the non mathematical projections of the collected punditry.

It should also be noted that there is always a market for short relievers at the trade deadline and if the Sox do fall flat, it is entirely likely that trading away Hanrahan, who will be a free agent at the end of the season, would bring back prospects the Sox value higher than Jerry Sands, Mark Melancon, Stolmy Pimentel, and Ivan DeJesus.

Daniel Bard is a bit of a mystery. A return to form would give the Sox a bullpen to drool over with five guys who can do it on any given night, virtually guaranteeing that at least two of them will be available for every single game. That said, I’m not sure we can really put any reasonable estimate on the likelihood of that return to form.

From a distance, it looked like Bard was simply unable to repeat his delivery a hundred times, leading to fatigue and less than stellar performance. At least, that’s what it looked like early in the season. Bard rather quickly morphed into someone who simply had no confidence in his ability to throw a pitch of any kind with anything resembling accuracy.

The Sox insist there was no injury as such, but Bard has given up thoughts of starting. He’s been reunited with the man who was the pitching coach during his first two, very successful, seasons in the majors. Can he get back there? I just don’t know.

The answer to that question may well be the biggest factor in the composition of the bullpen come opening day.

Without Bard, the rest of the bullpen would seem to be pretty well set:

  • Alfredo Aceves had a terrible season as a closer, which was predicted by, well, almost everyone. He’s never been the kind of shut down reliever a team wants in close and late situations. He has been, however, extremely effective as a long reliever/swing man, able to pitch two or three innings multiple times a week and make spot starts with a decent chance to go five decent innings. If there’s no roster crunch, it’s hard to see Aceves not get that role.
  • Franklin Morales can also perform in that role and has the added advantage of being lefthanded in a bullpen that so far doesn’t have anyone of that stripe.
  • Andrew Miller seems to have finally found a role in which he can be successful. In his seventh year in the majors he finally broke through and managed to be not terrible in 2012. He was death to lefthanded batters, holding them to a .248 on-base percentage, and a .429 OPS.
  • Craig Breslow allowed more walks and fewer hits (to lefties) than Miller, leading to a similar (.246) OBP and higher (.597) OPS.

 

One rather suspects that were Bard to flame out, the bullpen would consist of Bailey, Hanrahan, Uehara, Tazawa, Aceves, Morales, and Breslow. Breslow gets the nod over Miller for two reasons, control (Breslow walked 22 in 261 plate appearances while Miller walked 20 in 169) and effectiveness against right handers. Miller was dismal (.829 OPS in limited duty) while Breslow was quite effective (.683 OPS in 145 PA.)

Miller would no doubt surface somewhere as lefty specialists never die.

The question, then, is Bard. If he is back to his previous stature–and I would suspect that will be clear by the end of Spring Training–it’s impossible to imagine he doesn’t come north with the big club. That would likely send Aceves packing based almost entirely on the benefit of having a second lefty.

And, as always, it’s entirely possible, even probable, that someone will get injured before Opening Day making all speculation moot.