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40 in 40: Boston Red Sox Player Profiles: Alfredo Aceves

Alfredo Aceves was one of the Boston Red Sox best acquitions in 2011. The former New York Yankees pitcher was non-tendered after the 2010 season and the Red Sox signed him on February 11, 2011. He ended up being the third most valuable relief pitcher in the Boston bullpen in 2011 (by fWAR), behind Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon. He pitched 93 innings in relief, working as a setup man, long reliever and middle reliever. He also made four starts, pitching 21 innings as a starter. Aceves flexibility was a major key for the Red Sox last season and it will likely play an important role again in 2012.

Entering Spring Training, Aceves was one of the top contenders for the starting rotation, along with Danial Bard, Felix Doubront, Aaron Cook, and Vicente Padilla. One of the main things working against Aceves in that competition, however, was his ability to move back and forth between starting and relieving. Now that Doubront and Bard have won the final two starting spots, Aceves returns to the bullpen, at least until such a time as the Red Sox need a spot start. In fact, Aceves might be needed in the rotation before either Doubront or Bard throw a pitch.

Aveces has been more successful as a reliever throughout his career, with a 2.62 ERA in 192 relief innings against a 4.18 ERA in 47 starting innings. However, we should be careful not to draw any strong conclusions from his limited starting experience. He has a 6.26 K/9 rate and a 2.70 BB/9 overall and while he is a flyball pitcher (44.4% FB career) he has shown the ability to keep the ball in the park, with a 7.2 HR/FB ratio in 240 Major League innings. If he is able to maintain that ratio and keep his other peripherals close to his career numbers, Aceves can be as effective in the rotation as he has been in the bullpen

Repertoire

Aceves features three different fastball variations, with a four-seamer, two-seamer and cutter. Last season, he used the two seam version the most, throwing it around 35% of the time. It averages 91.7 mph and has the movement in toward righties that is typical of two-seam fastballs from righties. He throws it throughout the zone, but tends to work up in the zone against righties and more down in the zone against lefties with the pitch. His four-seam fastball is close to the same speed, but it lacks the horizontal movement and has slightly more “rise.” He threw it around 20% last season and used it up in the zone regularly, much like his two-seamer. His cutter moves in the opposite direction from his two-seamer and clocks in a bit slower averaging 88.7 mph. He used it close to 20% last season, throwing it to the catcher’s right hand side predominantly to take advantage of its movement away from righties and in on lefties.

As a pitcher who throws 75% fastball variations, Aceves relies less on off-speed stuff than most major league hurlers. By changing up movements on his fastball, Aceves gives hitters different looks while throwing heat. When he does change speeds, he can go with either his change up or his curve. He throws both pitches to righties and lefties, though his change up gets more work against lefties. It averages 84.4 miles per hour and moves just like his two-seamer. This helps deception helps explain the pitch’s 15% whiff rate, the best of any pitch. Hitters who don’t miss the change generally foul it off, with a 22% foul rate. Still, Aceves used this pitch just 8% of the time last year, favoring his curve as his main breaking pitch, tossing it 13.7% of the time. His curve has a good deal of horizontal movement and drop on it. He doesn’t get great whiff rates on the pitch, mostly because hitters don’t swing at it much, chasing the pitch just 30% of the time. Aceves wisely throws it in the zone close to 60% of the time, often locating it for a mid to high strike. The choice of location may help explain hitters’ high take rates, as it starts well above the zone and then breaks down for a strike.

Whatever role Aceves pitches in, he is going to have a major impact on the Red Sox 2012 season. He fills a role that many pitchers are unable to. He can go three innings in relief, he can pitch in late game, high leverage situations and he can take spot starts when needed. That super reliever role served Bostonwell last season and with Bobby Valentine now in charge, Aceves might get even more work in that capacity.