Years from now, when people talk about the 2019 Boston Red Sox, the failures of the team’s relievers undoubtedly will be one of the first things mentioned. And that will be fair, as the bullpen’s shortcomings played an undeniably crucial role in what was a hugely disappointing season for the defending World Series champions.
Just leave Brandon Workman’s name out of that conversation, unless you’re talking about how ridiculously good he was.
Believe it or not, Workman just put together one of the greatest seasons for a reliever not just in Red Sox history, but also in the history of Major League Baseball. In fact, a low number of saves (16 — he didn’t take over as the closer until August) and an ugly walk rate (5.7 per nine innings) are the only knocks against the 31-year-old righty.
Workman ranked near or at the top of nearly every statistical category for big league relievers. But we’re not here to compare his numbers to the stats compiled by other relievers this year. Rather, we’re going to offer some historical context on the outstanding season Workman just had.
Let’s show where Workman’s single-season numbers rank among those of other qualified relievers in Red Sox history.
ERA: 1.88, 11th best — 2006 Jonathan Pabelbon 1st (0.92); 2013 Koji Uehara 2nd (1.09); 1986 Calvin Schiraldi 3rd (1.41)
Hits allowed: 29, 2nd fewest — 2016 Craig Kimbrel 1st (28); 2007 Jonathan Papelbon 3rd (30)
Home runs allowed: 1, 6th fewest — 1915 Carl Mays, 1945 Frank Barrett, 1998 Derek Lowe, 2000 Hipolito Pichardo and 1912 Larry Pape all allowed zero homers
Strikeouts: 104, 13th most — 1964 Dick Radatz 1st (181); 1963 Dick Radatz 2nd (162); 1962 Dick Radatz 3rd (144)
Strikeout rate: 13.06 per nine innings, 6th best — 2017 Craig Kimbrel 1st (16.43); 2019 Matt Barnes 2nd (15.39); 2016 Craig Kimbrel 3rd (14.09)
Strikeout percentage: 36.4%, 7th best — 2017 Craig Kimbrel 1st (49.6); 2018 Craig Kimbrel 2nd (38.9); 2019 Matt Barnes 3rd (38.6)
Opponent batting average: 1.21, 1st — 2013 Koji Uehara 2nd (1.29); 2017 Craig Kimbrel 3rd (1.40)
Fielding independent pitching (FIP): 2.46, 11th best — 2017 Craig Kimbrel 1st (1.42); 2011 Jonathan Papelbon 2nd (1.53); 2013 Koji Uehara 3rd (1.61)
We know, we know, we just threw a lot of numbers at you. Still, they help illustrate just how good Workman was this season. (Side note: Kimbrel, Papelbon and Uehara were so, so good.)
The most incredible stat from Workman’s season is that opponent batting average.
Check out this tweet from Red Sox Notes:
Of course, there are many ways to measure the success and ability of a pitcher. Sometimes fans, media and teams get carried away looking at numbers. But allowing the lowest batting average of any pitcher in 119 years and the lowest slugging percentage in nearly 60 years speaks for itself.
Whether Workman will remain the team’s closer next season remains to be seen, as does his ability to replicate what was the best season of his career. Perhaps Workman, who entered spring training on the roster bubble, will regress to being a good but unspectacular reliever. Maybe he’ll solidify himself as an elite bullpen arm — who knows?
For now, we should appreciate Workman’s season for what it was: historically great.