Matt Barnes

Roster Recap: Matt Barnes Makes Modest Improvements

Welcome to BP Boston’s second annual Roster Recap series. Over the next few months, we’ll be analyzing 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. From MVP-candidate right fielders to reserve relievers, we want to give you a look at every Red Sox who might matter in 2017. View the complete list of Roster Recaps here. Enjoy!

Matt Barnes certainly isn’t the flashiest name in the Red Sox bullpen. He’s not the most talented pitcher, either. What Barnes brings to the bullpen, for starters, is durability. 2016 was his second full season in Boston, although he made a brief appearance in 2014. After logging 43 innings in 2015, Barnes stepped it up last year, adding 23 extra innings to his workload in 2016. That inning count (66) was the highest of any Red Sox reliever in 2016. He was primarily split between the 6th (18.2 IP), 7th (16.2) and 8th (12) innings. It was an increased workload that probably took a toll on him towards the end of the summer. That aside, Barnes became a passable reliever who was capable of showing frequent flashes of the talent that the Red Sox saw when they drafted him 19th overall in the 2011 amateur draft.

What went right in 2016?

Comparing Barnes’ 2016 stats to the season before tells a mostly encouraging story. The strikeouts skyrocketed – his K/9 went from 8.2 to 9.6 while his K% soared from 19.6 percent to 24.7 percent. His ERA dropped 1.4 points and his FIP dropped almost two entire points. He walked over one batter less per nine innings and held his opponents to a slightly better TAv in 2016 (.255) than the year before (.260).

Barnes kept the ball in the park significantly more often in 2016. His GB% increased by seven percentage points, going from 38 percent to 45 percent. Consequently, his FB% dropped six percentage points. Why is that? Looking at his pitch frequency percentages, the only drastic change Barnes made was incorporating a slider more often, mostly at the expense of his change up. He only threw his change up five percent of the time in 2016 after throwing it 15 percent of the time the year before.

In his second season, and first with a major-league level workload, seeing such improvements across the board is never a bad thing.

What went wrong in 2016?

With that said, Barnes’ numbers are still … very much average. Of the nine Red Sox relieves that threw at least 20 innings for the team, Barnes ranked 5th in K%, 4th in K/9, 8th in WHIP, and 6th in FIP. He was, however, in the top third for BB% and AVG against. He also had the highest Hard% of any Red Sox reliever. He was right in the 50th percentile for a good but not necessarily great bullpen in 2016.

Secondly, while Barnes’ numbers did improve from 2015-2016, a look at where those numbers fell leaves more than a little to be desired. Despite the improvements, he still had an ERA above 4.00 and while his WHIP improved, 1.40 isn’t blowing anyone away. Of 85 qualified relief pitchers who through at least 60 innings, Barnes ranked 44th in K%, 50th in FIP, 71st in WHIP, and 60th in AVG against. It’s not especially inspiring.

What to expect in 2017

Hopefully, continued improvements. Barnes is a first-round talent and has shown the ability to improve considerably during the short time he’s been in the majors. He’ll need to continue to improve at the current rate, especially with the additions of Carson Smith and Tyler Thornburg. Both Thornburg and Smith are righties who, when healthy and available, would get called upon in a high-leverage situation before him. With that said, Barnes is only 26, can throw in the high 90s and can mix in two other pitches. It’ll be an uphill climb for him to see any high-leverage innings to begin the season, but a Barnes reaching his ceiling as a power backend arm isn’t that unrealistic, either.

Photo by Brad Rempel/USA Today Sports Images

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