Twenty-two games into the 2013 season, the Boston Red Sox are sitting atop the A.L. East with a 15-7 record. They have a two game lead over the second place Baltimore Orioles, and the heavily favored Toronto Blue Jays are in last place, 6.5 games back.
Needless to say, there’s been little to complain about considering the uncertainty that surrounded the Red Sox heading into spring training. But if you twisted my arm, forcing me to pinpoint something that I am unhappy with regarding this team, it would definitely be John Farrell’s management of the bullpen thus far.
Now don’t get me wrong here. There has been a lot to like about the Red Sox’ relief corps during the first three weeks. After an injury to closer Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey has stepped in and dominated the ninth inning. In addition, Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa have been great, pitching in important innings of close games. And that’s precisely where the bullpen governing could be better.
Andrew Miller is a reliable reliever under certain circumstances. He’s not a guy that can pitch in any inning at any time. More specifically, he should not be pitching in tie games or with the Red Sox ahead by one run. He simply walks too many batters. His wildness can be very effective though, when the score is not so close. Miller is 0-1 with a 5.79 ERA to date, and he’s walked six batters in 4 2/3 innings.
Now this isn’t me being a Monday morning quarterback here. Miller has had high walk rates throughout his career. In fact, he’s only boasted a WHIP lower than 1.600 once in his career—once! But that’s not all.
In his eight year career, Miller has allowed opposing batters a .395 OBP when the game is tied, the highest percentage of any situation in which he’s pitched. His strikeout to walk ratio is at its lowest (1.18) when the game is tied. However, when pitching in a game where either team holds a lead of four runs or more, Miller’s batting average against is a mere .207—again, his lowest in any situation.
Now shouldn’t Farrell know all of this?
Thus far, this trend has continued in 2013. In ties or one-run games, opponents are hitting .400 against Miller, and they’ve walked more times than they’ve struck out. In all other situations, opponents are hitting just .167 with twice as many strikeouts as walks. The reason for these discrepancies is irrelevant. They exist, and the manager should be aware of them.
Misuse of Miller has already cost the Red Sox one game—and we’re only three weeks into the season. That’s my complaint. That’s it. This entire scenario should apply to Daniel Bard as well, for as long as he remains in the big leagues. Guys that are wild can be very effective when pitching in the right situations, but certain pitchers simply should not be used in close games. Farrell needs to recognize this moving forward so it doesn’t cost the team any more games.
(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)