The Boston Red Sox Have The Best Bullpen In Baseball

Updated: December 23, 2012

hanrahan_joel640_640According to reports that surfaced yesterday, the Red Sox are on the verge of acquiring Pittsburgh Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan in what seems to be a six player deal. Since the specifics of the trade aren’t out yet, I’m not going to comment on the players going over to the Pirates, or the guy(s) traveling to Beantown with Hanrahan. (Though I will say that pitcher Stolmy Pimintel and outfielder Jerry Sands seems like a very high price to pay.) Instead, I’ll take a look at what the addition of Hanrahan means to the Sox.

Joel Hanrahan saved 76 games over the last two season, a pretty good feat in Pittsburgh. He’s been an All Star both those years too. To  give you an idea of how effective he’s been, last season his ERA increased by nearly a full point–all the way to 2.72. In 2012, however, his walk total was pretty high as he put on batters at a 5.4 per 9 inning clip and that absolutely must improve.

When Joel did get it over the plate, he was nearly unhittable; lefties batted a putrid .135 with a .256 OBP in 2012.

Meanwhile, over in Boston, the Red Sox have a suspect starting rotation and have made some questionable free agent signings, but their bullpen is dynamite. With Hanrahan, it might be the best in baseball. They have two proven closers, some very effective lefties, a quality setup man or two and even a good long guy. Let’s take a look:

Andrew Bailey is the closer. He is a former rookie of the year who was hurt for the vast majority of last season. Even when he was back, he wasn’t great, posting an ERA over 7.00 and a WHIP of nearly 2.00. However, there’s a reason the Sox traded Josh Reddick for him and I think he can still be an effective closer for them. When Bailey came back to Boston, the Sox were long since out of the race and the entire season was lost. I think its fair to chock last season up as lost and expect the guy who saved more than 20 games a season for a crappy A’s team to bounce back.

Same goes for Mark Melancon. Last year was just awful. It pains me to recap it so I’ll just say that Mark was so bad that the established big league closer had to be sent down to AAA. Again though, it’s not unreasonable to expect him to rebound quite a bit. There is no precedent for Melancon to be as bad as he was and, like I mentioned, last season was just a disaster through all facets. I see Mark as an effective righty-matchup guy, at worst.

Next, let’s talk about new addition Koji Uehara. Uehara played for Texas last season and posted a 1.75 ERA and a sub 0.70 WHIP. Need to know any more? He gets people out at a nearly league leading clip and he’s a top notch 7th or even 8th inning guy. The only knock on Koji is that he doesn’t throw a whole ton of innings per season. He’s not a 60 or 70 appearance guy and manger John Farrell will have to be a little bit careful with how he employs Uehara’s services.

Junichi Tazawa pitched in 37 games for the Sox last season. He struck out 45 and walked five en route to a sub 1.00 WHIP and a 1.43 ERA. He’s good, and between Tazawa and Uehara, the 7th inning should be pretty secure.

Andrew Miller  is the lefty specialist in the ‘pen. Miller had a bumpy beginning to his career as a starter but pitched well for Boston last year. The 27 year old held lefties to a .149 AVG and a .245 OBP last season. He’ll be especially helpful against the likes of Robinson Cano, Prince Fielder, and Josh Hamilton.

Let’s not forget Craig Breslow. The Yale educated lefty was acquired from the Diamondbacks midseason and finished the year with a 2.70 ERA in 63 games. He is a very effective lefty workhorse who has never had a bad season and has experience in both leagues. He could be a key piece of this team.

The wild cards in the bullpen are Daniel Bard and Alfredo Aceves. Like so many Red Sox, last year was a lost one for Bard. The starting rotation experiment failed miserably, but prior to 2012, he was one of the most dominant setup men in the game. If he can regain that form, the Bard, Bailey, Hanrahan combo over the last two innings will be the toughest in the game. Aceves can do it all for the Sox. In 2011 he was a very valuable spot starter and long-middle reliever. In 2012 he saved 25 games for a bad team. His effectiveness will likely be tied to his mental state, but if he can corral his emotions he can corral opposing hitters as well.

Unlike most teams, the Sox ‘pen is filled with proven pitchers who know how to have success at the big league level. Hanrahan is the fourth guy in the ‘pen with at least one 20 save season under his belt. Other teams rely on patchwork bullpens staffed with rookies and washed up vets trying to bridge the gap to a questionable closer. Not Boston. They are stacked, and with Hanrahan now in the mix, have the best bullpen in baseball.

Now they just have to figure out how to take a lead into the seventh.

-Max Frankel

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