The strike zone in Boston figures to take a beating in 2014.
Only two relievers in baseball issued fewer walks per nine innings than Koji Uehara in 2013. The Red Sox have reportedly signed one of them, as Edward Mujica has agreed to a two-year, $9.5 million deal with Boston, according to Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan.
Mujica’s reported signing strengthens a Boston bullpen that was up and down a bit this past season. Uehara was stellar from start to finish and Craig Breslow was fairly consistent with the exception of a few rocky postseason appearances, but there were other times when the club’s relief corps looked like its Achilles’ heel. As such, general manager Ben Cherington has made it a point to bolster the unit for Boston’s title defense, with Mujica representing a very good signing by the Red Sox, who decided to non-tender Andrew Bailey earlier this week.
Uehara led the American League and ranked third among all major league relievers in issuing 1.09 walks per nine innings in 2013. His willingness and ability to successfully pound the strike zone was remarkable, especially given that his pinpoint control held up down the stretch and into the playoffs despite a career-high workload for the 38-year-old.
Mujica featured even better control than Uehara, if you can believe that. The 29-year-old issued just five walks in 64 2/3 innings — equating to a 0.70 walk rate — in 2013. It was far and away the best mark in baseball, with Pirates reliever (and former Red Sox hurler) Mark Melancon checking in second at 1.01.
The Red Sox’ decision to non-tender Bailey, who figured to garner just north of $4 million through arbitration, made sense given his unclear health status for the upcoming season and his overall ineffectiveness since joining Boston via trade prior to the 2012 season. It makes even more sense with Mujica joining the mix at only a slightly higher average annual salary.
Mujica fell out of favor in St. Louis in 2013 following some late-season struggles. He finished the year with a very respectable 2.78 ERA, but the figure actually ballooned down the stretch. Mujica entered the final month of the regular season with a 1.73 ERA before surrendering nine runs over 7 1/3 innings in September. The Cardinals removed Mujica, who saved 37 games, from the closer’s role in favor of hard-throwing rookie Trevor Rosenthal amid the veteran’s struggles. Mujica only pitched in two postseason games, neither of which came in the World Series.
Mujica’s September collapse is somewhat concerning, although it might be in large part to a lingering back issue that he began dealing with in late August. It is worth noting that Mujica owns a 5.14 ERA (43 earned runs in 75 1/3 innings) in 62 career regular-season appearances in September/October — much higher than his overall career ERA of 3.75. But those concerns should be mitigated by his overall track record, which includes a career 2.79 ERA (three earned runs in 9 2/3 innings) in the postseason.
Despite his late-season demotion from the closer’s role, 2013 marked Mujica’s best season to date. The right-hander put together two decent seasons with the Padres in 2009 and 2010 — 5-6 record, 3.80 ERA over 126 appearances — but his career really took off after he was traded to the Cardinals from the Marlins just prior to the 2012 trade deadline. Mujica posted a 1.03 ERA (three earned runs in 26 1/3 innings) over 29 appearances with St. Louis down the stretch in 2012, helping him land a $3.2 million salary for 2013.
Mujica will receive a nice little raise in Boston. Fortunately for the Red Sox, they’re not paying by the strike.