When I was doing my preseason predictions, one of the things I stated was that it seemed impossible that the Boston Red Sox bullpen could be as good as it was last season when it was one of the reasons the team went all the way to the World Series title. While we are still in small sample size territory, it looks like I was dead wrong. It appears the bullpen for the Red Sox is every bit as good as it was last season.
The bullpen starts and ends with closer, Koji Uehara. What Uehara is doing is historical. We have never seen anything like this before. Uehara last blew a save on July 6, 2013. He has not blown another one since. But the save thing is not the statistic to focus on. Everything else is mind blowing.
Since July 5 of last year, he has walked one batter. One! Since the start of the second half of 2013, Uehara has pitched 34 times covering 37 innings and has given up twelve hits. Twelve! That works out to a .098 batting average. He has given up one run. One! That works out to an ERA of 0.24. He has struck out 48 batters in those 37 innings for a strikeout to walk ratio of 48 to 1. Good golly!
I am not sure the baseball world has really gotten a hold of how incredible this run has been for Koji Uehara. Like I said, we have never seen anything like this before. I will give you Kimbrel of the Braves. But which closer would you take right now? I would take Uehara.
I have always said that a great bullpen needs three really good relievers at the back end. The Red Sox have had that and more. Junichi Tazawa is not in the same league with Uehara, but if you throw out his bad September last year, a month in which his BABIP against was .360 and he has been very good as well.
So far this year, Tazawa has not given up a run and has an 8.7 strikeout to walk ratio. He has only walked one batter.
The American League got a bit of a break when the Red Sox activated Craig Breslow and sent Brandon Workman to the minors. Workman was doing an incredible job for the Red Sox bullpen. He had an 0.78 WHIP and a 7.00 strikeout to walk ratio. It's not like Breslow is not any good. The lefty did finish with a 1.80 ERA last year despite not striking out batters as often as the rest of the bullpen. He is just good at what he does and gets batters out. And the Red Sox have added another just like him in Chris Capuano.
Capuano had rebuilt his career as a starter the last couple of seasons after years of injury troubles. But the Red Sox have had him in the bullpen and he has really responded well out there. He has not walked a batter and has an impressive WHIP of 0.60. Capuano, Breslow, Uehara and Tazawa have not allowed an inherited runner to score this season. The bullpen has also not allowed a homer.
Edward Mujica had an early struggle, but picked up a save last night against the Yankees giving Uehara a rest. Andrew Miller can be erratic, but is hard to hit most of the time. The weakest link seems to be Burke Badenhop. Badenhop will not blow hitters away and relies on a high ground ball percentage, which means he is a bit open to the foibles of BABIP. Workman is clearly a better option than Badenhop, but the Red Sox understandably do not want to give up on Workman as a starter and thus the demotion to get reps.
The real key to understanding what makes Uehara, Tazawa and even Workman so good is their ability to get batters to swing at pitches outside the strike zone. Workman had an O-swing rate of 45.2%, which is pretty incredible. Uehara is at 39.4% and Tazawa at 42.9%. Capuano and Mujica are both over 30%. Uehara also gets a first pitch strike 68% of the time, which means that batters are pretty much at his mercy the rest of the plate appearance.
I did not think the Red Sox bullpen could be as good as last year. So far, I couldn't be more wrong. If the bullpen stays this good all season, the Red Sox are going to be mighty tough to beat.