On paper, the Red Sox have one of the best bullpens in the league. Entering Opening Day, they are the most injured bullpen.
The Boston Red Sox bullpen last year was bad. Not as bad as other teams, but they were bad. Of the relievers with at least 47 innings pitched, only one had an ERA under 3.00 and it wasn’t the closer. Things don’t look like they are going to get better this season. They have two injured relievers and a struggling closer. Let’s make sense of the Boston bullpen.
The Red Sox will begin the season with Craig Kimbrel as the closer. He had a down year in his first season in Boston. Kimbrel posted an ERA over 3.00 for the first time in his career. Going from the NL West to the AL East will do that to even the best relievers.
Many thought that Kimbrel’s time as the Red Sox closer was limited with the depth behind him (before the injuries). The Red Sox lost two veteran relievers in Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara. The front office needed to bring in new relievers and they traded for a solid replacement.
The Red Sox traded for Tyler Thornburg last December. In 67 innings with the Brewers, he posted a 2.15 ERA, 0.940 WHIP and 13 saves (in 21 opportunities). He struck out 90 while walking 25 batters.
Thornburg’s arm issues began back on March 5. Red Sox manager John Farrell said they will back off Thornburg as he was dealing with a dead arm, according to the Providence Journal. He didn’t throw again until March 24.
Tim Britton of the Providence Journal tweeted on March 25 that Thornburg would be ready for Opening Day. That outlook changed just three days later as Thornburg was diagnosed with a shoulder impingement according to Pete Abraham of The Boston Globe. He will likely begin the season on the DL.
After the dead arm and now the shoulder issue, things aren’t looking good for Thornburg this season.
Carson Smith pitched just 2.2 innings before being shut down last season. He underwent Tommy John surgery on May 24. Farrell said Smith’s bullpen session went well, according to Britton. He followed up by saying that Smith felt some tightness after the session.
While it doesn’t seem like a full setback, this isn’t good news. Smith isn’t expected to be back in the Red Sox bullpen until June, but nothing is certain. He pitched well in his full year with the Mariners in 2015. Red Sox management and fantasy owners are hoping for close to the same in the future.
Joe Kelly is the likely new replacement for Thornburg as the Red Sox set-up man. He didn’t have the best 2016 season, though. Kelly posted a 5.18 ERA and 1.70 WHIP in 40 innings. He did have a 10.8 K/9 with a ridiculous 5.5 BB/9. The AL East isn’t a division to try to bounce back and lower the WHIP and walk rates.
Things don’t look better this spring. In 9.0 innings, he has a 3.00 ERA, 1.44 WHIP and a 9:8 K:BB ratio. As the de facto set-up man, Kelly may be a liability for Boston and hurt Kimbrel’s fantasy value, similar to the Giants situation.
If Thornburg was healthy, he would be the set-up man behind Kimbrel. If Kimbrel struggles again, I would have expected him to take over. Now, Kimbrel is locked in as the closer regardless of what his performance may be. I had Kimbrel as my No. 7 closer, but there are plenty of others I would draft ahead of him.