With all due respect to Alex Cora, who clearly is having fun with the media, there is neither a committee nor a debate: Matt Barnes is the closer for the Boston Red Sox.
In fact, with an admittedly small sample size, Barnes this season easily has been one of the five best relievers in Major League Baseball, if not the best.
Barnes on Tuesday pitched a perfect ninth inning against the Minnesota Twins to pick up his first save in five appearances. Although the hard-throwing righty had only one save opportunity in Boston’s first 10 games, he did deliver electrifying, high-leverage outs in a pair of extra-inning victories for the Red Sox.
So, his numbers aren’t hollow, even if they aren’t products of, say, one-run saves in front of sellout crowds at Yankee Stadium. Maybe those appearances will pop up down the road. For now, we’re not going to hold it against him.
First, let’s look at normal statistics that most people can wrap their heads around. Then we’ll get into the advanced analytics stuff, just for fun.
Barnes has surrendered zero runs, allowed zero hits and issued just one walk in six innings of work. He has struck out 12 of the 19 batters he has faced.
Command issues have plagued Barnes in previous years (4.2 walks per nine innings over seven-plus campaigns), but his trips outside the strike zone this season have been few and far between. Of his 79 pitches, 61 have been for strikes. His current strike percentage (77.2 percent) is well above his career mark of 61.8 percent.
Thus far, batters largely have proven incapable of catching up to Barnes’s high-90s fastball and knee-buckling curveball. An incredible 37.7 percent of his strikes have been swings-and-misses. His career swing-and-miss percentage only is 22.2 percent. Typically, Barnes lives on looking strikes and foul balls.
Alright, now, let’s get nerdy with some FanGraphs numbers.
Barnes’ 0.4 WAR currently has him tied with four other players for second-highest among all relievers. Old friend Craig Kimbrel (three saves) ranks first with a 0.6 WAR. Barnes ranks third among relievers with a 0.33 SIERA, a metric we don’t remotely understand but are told is a new, fancy-schmancy way of estimating actual ERA.
His -0.35 FIP (fielding-independent pitching)? Fourth. His 0.52 xFIP (an even fancier way of calculating true ERA)? Third. Barnes’ 0.36 E-F (ERA-FIP Differential) supposedly is really good, too.
If that stuff doesn’t tell you how good Barnes has been, nothing will.
Listen, Barnes only has appeared in five games. And, for the majority of his career, he’s performed closer to an above-average reliever than an elite one. The law of averages suggests he eventually will regress to his means and simply be a really good relief pitcher for the Red Sox — which would be totally fine.
But, seemingly every year, a reliever puts everything together and pitches out of his mind for an entire season. Perhaps Barnes is in the early days of such a campaign.
He is in a contract year, after all.