Yesterday, I looked at how the Boston Red Sox bullpen has gone from being the worst in the game to being the best over the past two weeks. One player who has been solid since the very start of the season is Scott Atchison.Atchison leads all major league relievers in innings pitched with 24 innings thus far. That workload has helped him to rank among the top 10 in Fangraph’s WAR for relievers, tied with last season’s best closer Craig Kimbrel with 0.5 WAR. His durability, combined with an improved strikeout rate and walk rate, has made Atchison a centerpiece to the Red Sox retooled bullpen, something that no one in baseball saw coming.
Back in January, Scott Atchison designated for assignment to make room for Cody Ross. The 36 year old righty had to clear waivers to remain with the Boston Red Sox and all 29 other teams passed on him. Since returning from Japan, where he pitched from 2008-2009, Atchison had become an organizational solider for the Boston Red Sox, moving back and forth between Boston and AAA Pawtucket as needed and pitching as a spot starter and mop up man when needed. His career 3.70 ERA and 3.85 FIP do not make him an elite reliever, and before this season, Atchison seemed destined to life on the borderline of the major leagues.
This season, however, something has changed. It would wrong to overlook the element of luck in Scott Atchison’s success this year. He has a .232 BABIP and a left-on-base percentage of 91.8%, both of which are not sustainable going forward. However, Atchisonhas shown a few tenancies that indicate he may be slightly better than the pitcher who first returned from Japan. His control has been getting better and better since his return to MLBand his strike out rate has been climbing up as well. Over his last 79 innings, he has a K/BB ratio of 3.43, comparable to elite relievers like Kimbrel, Andrew Bailey and Ryan Madson. Add to that a GB% of 52.4% in the last calendar year and you have a one time replacement level pitcher who, at 36 years old, is becoming a force in the late innings.
Atchison’s best quality is not his stuff, however. While heavier reliance on his curve and his slider/cutter hybrid have raised his punch outs, he is most valuable to the Red Sox because he can pitch multiple innings. Atchison is now finding himself filling an important role in the bullpen, the role that Alfredo Aceves played last year. In 2011, the current closer pitched 114 innings, 93 of them in relief. Ace averaged over an inning and a third out of the bullpen and helped Terry Francona deal with the his pitcher’s inability to go deep into game. This season Atchison is on pace to pitch almost 99 innings and appear in 71 games, a very similar workload to Aceves.
Atchison is a guy that is easy to root for. He signed with Boston in 2010 primarily so that he could be closer to his then-two year old daughter who was being treated for a rare bone disorder in the Boston area. He has done everything the team has asked of him, shuttling back and forth between the minors and the big league club as needed. At 36, he may not have much time left as a big league pitcher, but it would be great to see to him spend his final few seasons as a key member of the Boston Red Sox new and improved bullpen.