Welcome to BP Boston’s Roster Recap series! Over the next four months, we’ll be breaking down every player on Boston’s 40-man roster and many of their top prospects in order to provide a comprehensive overview of the Red Sox roster’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as what we can expect moving forward. There’s no better time than the offseason to review the best (there was some best!) and worst (there was a lot of worst!) of the past year in red and navy. You can see previous editions of Roster Recap here.
Brandon Workman came up in the Red Sox system as a starter and was very successful in doing so. Drafted in 2010, Workman started in Low-A Greenville in 2011 and moved quickly, progressing to High-A Salem and ultimately to Double-A Portland by the close of 2012. By 2013, he finished his climb from Double-A, finishing strong in Triple-A Pawtucket and posting his best ERA of any level at 2.80. He then got his call to the show.
The last good memory I have of Workman is from the improbable 2013 Red Sox World Series run. Pitching out of the bullpen, Workman was able to make seven impressive appearances, ending the postseason with an ERA of 0.00. Sure, his excellent ERA was backed by middling strikeout rates and an unsustainable 90 percent strand rate, but he was nonetheless instrumental in getting key outs in October.
The year after celebrating with champagne and bud light, things started to go awry for Workman. Heading into 2014 the plan was to keep Workman stretched out and have him work as a starter. This went very poorly. Workman limped to the finish of 2014 season posting a bloated ERA of 5.17 to go along with a 1-10 record. Things didn’t get much better last year and John Farrell decided, correctly, that Workman is best suited for use out of the pen. Workman just didn’t look right from the get-go, posting an ERA of 6.43 in the spring only to be shut down on April with UCL damage. After trying rehab he went under the knife in mid-June as he now recovers from Tommy John surgery.
What Went Right?
Well, at least he found the problem. The reason why Workman stunk up the joint during the spring was likely because he was pitching with a torn UCL. Who knows exactly when the injury occurred but what we did find out was that the bullpen is where he needs to be. As a starter, Workman’s stuff played way down.
Workman’s velocity dropped by two miles per hour on two of his key pitches: the cutter and the four-seam fastball. At 91 mph, his whiff rate on his fastball, which he throws over 50 percent of the time, dropped from over 10 percent as a reliever to just over five percent as a starter. The cutter remained effective, staying in double-digits in terms of whiff rate, but still dropped by three percentage points.
As a reliever Workman was able to maintain three pitches with double-digit whiff rates, with his curveball arguably serving as his best weapon.
What Went Wrong?
The waiting. In April, it was known that Workman had torn his UCL. Rather than trying rehab and using platelet rich plasma therapy he should have just gone for the surgery. This decision cost him two months of recovery time. That being said, at just 27 years old Workman is still plenty young and should be recovered and pitching in games by the all-star break.
Outlook for 2016
It would be folly to expect big contributions from Workman this coming year since, albeit commonplace, Tommy John surgery is still a big deal. With a bullpen that features right-handers Craig Kimbrel, Koji Uehara, Carson Smith, Junichi Tazawa and long-man Steven Wright, the need for Workman’s presence is not urgent. If an injury happens the Red Sox can turn to Matt Barnes, who was much improved at the end of last year, rather than putting pressure on Workman.
Look for Workman to spend the majority of the season getting his footing back in Triple-A Pawtucket for a possible return when rosters expand in September. If Dave Dombrowski has properly done his job and the Red Sox find themselves headed into October baseball, the addition of Workman will inject new life into the bullpen and would be a huge benefit. For 2017 and beyond I believe he will be a key righty out of the pen.
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