Tyler Thornburg

Roster Recap: The Eighth Inning Belongs to Tyler Thornburg

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!

Tyler Thornburg was the most exciting Red Sox offseason acquisition for about three hours. Traded for Travis Shaw, Mauricio Dubon and Josh Pennington, Thornburg becomes the de facto set up man for Craig Kimbrel. Especially with Carson Smith not returning until early-summer, Thornburg will see his fare share of high-leverage situations right out of the gate.

What went right in 2016?

Thornburg had a career year in 2016 and it wasn’t particularly close. Only 11 relief pitchers were worth more wins. He reached a career high in innings (67) and posted career best statistics across the board, including WHIP (0.94), ERA (2.15), and FIP (2.83). It was his first healthy season of being used exclusively as a reliever, and Thornburg didn’t disappoint. His K/9 jumped from 8.91 in 2015 to 12.09. What’s better, the walks didn’t rise with the strikeouts. His BB/9 remained virtually the same, going up from 3.15 to 3.36. Having a clean bill of health unquestionably played a large part of his stellar season, but so did adding a curveball, apparently. 

What went wrong in 2016?

It sounds lazy, but nothing, really. If we’re going to split hairs, batters put the ball in the air against Thornburg a lot. His FB% (44.8) was the 14th highest of any qualified relievers, according to FanGraphs. (It just so happens that Craig Kimbrel sits seven spots higher on that list, so there’s a new nightmare to look forward to.) He also threw 67 innings for the first time since suffering an elbow injury that almost required Tommy John, which isn’t in itself an unusually heavy workload – there’s just always more of an element of unknown after a serious elbow injury. But again, splitting hairs.

What to expect in 2017?

A dominant eighth inning guy. It’s clearly his spot to lose, and if 2016 was any indication, he’ll be one of the league’s best in that role. There will by fly balls caught by Jackie Bradley/Andrew Benintendi that are 440 feet into dead center, but that’ll just be a fun excuse to watch them make some nice running catches. Thornburg gives the team a scary trio of backend options, and while it’s certainly not without its warts (elbow concerns, fly balls, Kimbrel not knowing where any pitch he throws is going), it’s better than what a lot of teams can offer.

Photo by Gary A. Vazquez/USA Today Sports Images

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