As pitchers and catchers start reporting to camp this week, fans across both leagues are analyzing their teams’ rosters to see in what areas they’ll be able to boast dominance. For the Boston Red Sox, the bright spot lies solely in the bullpen. Though the lineup and starting pitching are merely acceptable right now (perhaps even bordering on mediocre), the bullpen appears, at least on paper, to be well above average.
The Red Sox added two big names to their relief corps over the winter. They signed set-up man Koji Uehara and traded for closer Joel Hanrahan. Uehara is coming off a season in which he posted an ERA of 1.75 and a microscopic whip of 0.639. Hanrahan saved 76 games in the last two seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates. It could be said that having a healthy Andrew Bailey will equate to a third addition to the bullpen. Bailey missed most of 2012 due to injury.
The incumbent cast pitching out of relief for Boston is fairly solid as well. Alfredo Aceves (25 saves), Craig Breslow (2.70 ERA), Franklin Morales (one strikeout per inning), and Junichi Tazawa (0.955 WHIP) will all be looking to build on their 2012 seasons. In addition, the Red Sox also have lefty specialist Andrew Miller, rookie Rubby De La Rosa, and former top set-up man Daniel Bard in the mix.
The 2013 Red Sox are hoping to mimic what the Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics did last season—that is, make it to the playoffs on the strength of a great bullpen. Both the Orioles and A’s were successful in making it to the postseason in 2012 with very unimpressive lineups and slightly above average starting pitching. The Red Sox, a powerhouse offense over the last decade, are sure to struggle at times this year in scoring runs due to a depleted batting order that was rocked when the team traded away Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Kevin Youkilis last year, and failed to re-sign Cody Ross over the winter.
While many teams will be posturing this preseason to prove that they have the best bullpen, the Red Sox have forced themselves into the conversation with their off-season moves. On paper, they’re as good as anyone. But as it’s often said, games aren’t played on paper.
(JM Catellier is the author of the book Fixing Baseball, a guide to restructuring the Hall of Fame. Follow him on Twitter: @FixingBaseball and Facebook, and check out his site: www.fixingbaseball.com)