Koji Uehara, Pablo Sandoval and Daniel Nava

Read Sox: The Bullpen, the Offense and the Influence of a New Coach

Welcome back to Read Sox. This week we examine the Red Sox bullpen usage, try to figure out the struggling offense, and look at the potential impact of new pitching coach Carl Willis.

Going Deep

Through Sunday’s games the Red Sox had used their bullpen for 131.0 innings pitched, a mark that ranked third in the game behind only the Rangers (134.2) and Rays (133.0). This usage level is a by-product of the poor performances the team got from the starting rotation through the first ~40 games of the season. The relievers have done a reasonable job despite the high workload, posting a 3.71 ERA (ranked 17th), although their 4.57 FIP (ranked 29th) foretells some underlying issues. Over at FanGraphs, Craig Edwards wrote about bullpen usage with some specific attention given to the Red Sox. If the Red Sox starters do not start performing better and going deeper into games, which to be fair they have over the last eight games, the stress on the bullpen will begin to be too much and reliever performance could slip. This could mean that the Sox will need to realign or retool their pen to keep fresh arms in the mix. While there has been no indication of an impending change to the rotation, they could move a current rotation arm like Justin Masterson or Joe Kelly (more on him below) out to the bullpen, promote another one of the arms at Pawtucket to the big league club, or some combination of the two. Either way, this is something that needs to be monitored.

While the Red Sox‘s pitching has improved dramatically of late, the offense has yet to live up to expectations. On the season, they own a .262 TAv (ranked 22nd in baseball), an 85 wRC+ (ranked 25th) and are scoring just 3.97 runs per game (ranked 20th). These numbers provide a simplistic look at the general ineptitude of Red Sox batters, but Baseball Prospectus’ Matthew Trueblood dug deeper and suggested that a too-patient approach and ugly times through the order splits are the primary problems. BP Boston’s own Matthew Kory dug even deeper in an article over at FanGraphs this week, and reminded us that the patient approach of the Red Sox is still a good thing as it leads to batters getting on base. The problem with the Sox offense, as Kory sees it, is that as the batted ball data show, the Red Sox have not been hitting the ball hard often enough to warrant success (27.0% hard, 21.9% soft, ranked 25th and 1st, respectively). The glass-half-full outlook for Red Sox fans is that many of these hitters have a history of success that should impart confidence they will eventually get locked in, and produce a lot of runs.

The witch hunt for players using performance-enhancing drugs continues to be a focus within the office of the commissioner. While the investigation into Biogenesis revealed a number of players using PEDs, it also revealed that they were doing so for a period of time without being caught, to some extent verifying the adage that cheaters will always be a step ahead of the testing. But Buster Olney of ESPN.com suggests that major league baseball could use Statcast data to assess dramatic performance changes for players and consider said changes as a form of evidence of drug use. A sudden increase in a pitcher’s velocity, or a hitter showing a significant increase in bat speed could be taken as a sign that the new performance comes via artificial enhancement. I am always in favor of gathering more objective and good evidence to support claims, and this proposal falls within that sentiment. It at least partly moves this aspect of baseball away from reporters seeing pimples on a guy’s back as enough to produce a guilty verdict. My concern is that we still don’t really know how PED use changes performance, if at all. We have ideas, and Olney suggests the two I gave above, but where are the boundaries in respect to any performance increase that, if broken, will be taken as an example of chemical enhancement? To determine such a thing the league would need to know who was using and when, observe any change in their performance, and establish it as a benchmark to which others are compared. I am not sure it is even possible to obtain something like that in a meaningful sample of players. And even if it were, it is not clear that any given drug has the same impact across players, so the problem is even more difficult. It is a messy situation that needs to be considered carefully.

Quick Hits

Pablo Sandoval’s continued struggles when hitting right-handed (.207 TAv against left-handed pitching), have lead to him getting a few off days over the last few weeks when the Red Sox’s opponent has a left-hander starting. Despite this, Sandoval told Ian Browne of MLB.com that he remains confident in his ability and has not given any thought to abandoning switch-hitting.

The Red Sox pitching staff has performed very well since the hiring of Carl Willis (5.04 ERA pre-Willis, 3.14 ERA with-Willis), although as Willis tells Jason Mastrodonato of the BostonHerald.com the credit should be given to the pitchers who have been better in their execution. While this recent run of success for Red Sox pitching may not be entirely related to the presence of Willis in the dugout, The Boston Globe‘s Alex Speier writes that there is precedent for in-season pitching coach changes leading to improvement in runs allowed numbers for the team.

One of Carl Willis’ primary tasks will be the growth of Joe Kelly, who can no longer rely entirely on Yadier Molina doing his game calling. Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal highlights how Kelly is learning how to best use his fastball and incorporate his secondary pitches in with it. There is no doubt that Kelly has great potential as a starting pitcher, hopefully he and Willis can work to implement it.

Three Good Game Stories

Clay Buchholz threw 8.0 tremendous innings on Friday night, but a Nelson Cruz walk-off single saddled the Red Sox with a 2-1 loss. MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith writes that John Farrell was candid in taking responsibility for the loss, and claiming his decision to pitch to Cruz was ‘terrible’.

After hitting a bomb off of Felix Hernandez in the Red Sox’s 4-2 win over the Mariners on Saturday, David Ortiz spoke with CSNNE.com’s Sean McAdam about his success against King Felix, and how he likes hitting against aces.

WEEI.com’s Ryan Hannable writes that Sunday’s loss to the Mariners was representative of a recent theme for the Red Sox: good pitching and poor hitting against left-handed pitching.

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