Rebuilding Red Sox Bullpen: Are These Recent Non-Tenders Diamonds In The Rough?

Trying to find a fit for the Boston bullpen

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The pool of options to rebuild the Boston Red Sox bullpen got bigger Wednesday.

The deadline for teams to offer contracts to arbitration-eligible players came and went, with a handful of players being non-tendered, making them free agents. As Fangraphs pointed out, the number of non-tenders has been on the rise in recent years, and it’s probably no surprise the number grew even more this year amid the economic uncertainty within the sport.

For a team like the Red Sox, which seemingly has money to spend and incentive to do so, this could present opportunity.

We still don’t have a concrete idea of how Chaim Bloom wants to build his baseball team. We know the chief baseball officer loves to preach versatility while constantly insisting the team is open to anything and everything to improve. Understandable lack of detail — he doesn’t want to give away his recipe — but we’re left to look at certain clues as to how he and his staff want to build a ballclub.

For the sake of this exercise, we took a look at how the Red Sox built their bullpen in 2020, honing in on the profile of pitchers they used to hopefully get an idea of what they might be looking at in free agency. It’s very much an inexact science, but bear with us.

RED SOX RELIEVER PITCH USAGE

Pitch typeUsage rate (%)
Fastball56.7%
Breaking ball32.9%
Offspeed10.4%

MLB AVERAGE

Pitch typeUsage rate (%)
Fastball58.1%
Breaking ball30.9%
Offspeed10.9%

Admittedly, there’s not a ton to take away from that, but a couple of things obviously stand out.

The Red Sox, compared to the rest of baseball, used relievers who leaned more on the breaking ball than the fastball. It stands to reason that discrepancy could have been even bigger had the Red Sox not traded Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree. The two relievers were two of the more curveball-heavy pitchers (46.3% and 42.5%, respectively) when they were in Boston.

Few other things to take from pitch-usage numbers:

— Red Sox relievers used 2-seamers at a slightly higher rate than league average
— Red Sox relievers used cutters at a slightly higher rate than league average
— Red Sox relievers used changeups at a slightly higher rate than league average and rarely used any splitters

Velocity wasn’t necessarily a priority. Red Sox relievers were league average in fastball velocity.

OK, so now that we’ve got that all out of the way, which recently non-tendered relievers could the Red Sox pursue in free agency?

RHP Ryne Stanek
2020 stats: 9 games, 10 innings, 7.20 ERA, 11 strikeouts/8 walks

This almost makes too much sense for the Red Sox. Stanek, 29, has obvious pedigree. The 6-foot-4 right-hander was a first-round pick in 2013. The team that drafted him? That would be the Tampa Bay Rays, Bloom’s old employer. Stanek even was used in the opener role with the Rays and had a couple of really nice seasons before Tampa Bay traded him to Miami at the 2019 deadline. He obviously had a rough 2020 season, but his season was more or less derailed as he was one of the Marlins who missed time with COVID-19. An interesting buy-low option given his history, arsenal profile and familiarity with Bloom.

RHP Jimmy Herget
2020 stats: 20 games, 19 2/3 innings, 3.20 ERA, 17 strikeouts/14 walks

Herget had a nice season in Texas, where he posted a 143 ERA+ with most of his work coming from the sixth inning on. You’d obviously like to see more strikes, but he induced a good deal of soft contact. If he could improve the control and command, he’d go to another level, being lauded by Fangraphs in a prospect report for a “deadly” slider prior to the 2020 season.

RHP Keynan Middleton
2020 stats: 13 games, 12 innings, 5.25 ERA, 11 strikeouts/6 walks

Middleton is another buy-low reclamation project. Go back to 2018, and the future looked bright for the hard-throwing right-hander who was serving as the Angels’ closer. Tommy John surgery derailed his career path, at least temporarily, and he obviously struggled in 2020. Consistency was a big issue, making him the ideal change-of-scenery candidate. As recently as midway through the 2020 season, Angels pitching coach Mickey Callaway praised Middleton’s “electric stuff,” saying there was “no doubt that this guy can be a high-leverage reliever.”

The Red Sox shouldn’t be building their offseason around trying to find the the Ryne Staneks of the world with the hopes of turning them into the next Edwin Diaz.

But in his first season as pitching coach, Dave Bush showed he can help unlock potential in previously overlooked pitchers like Philips Valdez or Austin Brice. For a team looking to improve its pitching staff across the board, don’t be surprised if they take even more chances on a sizable reliever market.

Thumbnail photo via Angels Baseball/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Network

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