Thursday, March 31, 2011

Red Sox Player Preview: The Bullpen

Sox fans can feel pretty confident about their team due to the big name hitters the Red Sox brought in during the off-season. They can also feel good about their starting rotation, which looks to be set up as one of the best in the Majors. However, as valuable as hitting and starting pitching are, there's another key piece to completing every World Series run. The bullpen.

Last year, the World Series champion San Francisco Giants had the second lowest relief ERA in the majors at 3.60. Meanwhile, the Sox relievers ranked among the worst in the American League -- with a 4.24 ERA and 23 blown saves.

Opposing hitters decimated the
Sox bullpen last year. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
“I think the bullpen is important,” said Sox manager Terry Francona in early December. “We probably lost some games there last year that hurt us. That’s a hard way to lose games, especially when you want to be a good team.”

The Sox got a great year from Daniel Bard, whose 1.93 ERA was easily the best of his Sox peers. Jonathan Papelbon had the second lowest ERA of the relievers with 3.90 and had 37 saves but blew eight. The rest of the 2010 bullpen? They're all gone.

Here's a look at the Red Sox bullpen that will start the 2011 season:

• Right-handed relievers (6): Jonathan Papelbon, Bobby Jenks, Daniel Bard, Dan Wheeler, Matt Albers, Tim Wakefield.

• Left-handed relievers (1): Dennys Reyes

• Disabled list: Felix Doubront, Junichi Tazawa

The Red Sox completely revamped their pen for the 2011 season. Their major additions have been Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler who will complete a foursome that will give the Red Sox a dangerous arsenal of late inning relievers, with Papelbon still locked in as the closer.

Here's a quick look at their stats from last year, career highs in parentheses.

Is Jenks amish?
(Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
Jonathan Papelbon:
Innings Pitched: 67 (69.1, 2008)
ERA: 3.90 (0.92, 2006)
Saves: 37 (41, 2008)
Blown Saves: 8 (3, 2007, 2009)
WHIP: 1.27 (0.77, 2007)

Daniel Bard:
Innings Pitched: 74.2 (74.2, 2010)
ERA: 1.93 (1.93, 2010)
WHIP: 1.00 (1.00, 2010)

Bobby Jenks
Innings Pitched: 52.2 (69.2, 2006)
ERA: 4.44 (2.63, 2008)
Saves: 27 (41, 2006)
Blown Saves: 4 (2, 2005)
WHIP: 1.37 (0.89, 2007)

Dan Wheeler
Innings Pitched: 48.1 (74.2, 2007)
ERA: 3.35 (2.21, 2005)
WHIP: 1.08 (0.87, 2009)

Bobby Jenks was the closer for the Chicago White Sox, but his coming to the Red Sox doesn't mean that he's taking over Papelbon's position as the Boston closer. However, this year Papelbon has both Jenks and Bard breathing down his neck for that spot due to his struggles last year. It doesn't help matters that he's following it up with a worrisome spring training.

Papelbon's ERA this spring is a staggering 9.00 over seven innings pitched. Even so, Papelbon is in the last year of his contract and many don't expect him to return to Boston next year. He could be a valuable trade piece at the deadline in July.

Matt Albers and Tim Wakefield will both be looked at as long relievers, with Wakefield providing the Sox some insurance in case a starter misses time with injury.

Wakefield's one of the oldest Red Sox, and the knuckleballer currently holds the franchise record for innings pitched -- a testament to his longevity and dedication to the game.

Here's a quick look at their stats from last year, career highs in parentheses:

Tim Wakefield
Games Pitched: 64 (75, 2006)
ERA: 5.34 (2.15, 1992 *Only 13 games pitched)
WHIP: 1.35 (1.05, 2002)

Matt Albers
Innings Pitched: 75.2 (110.2, 2007)
ERA: 4.52 (3.49, 2008)
WHIP: 1.48 (1.33, 2008)

Dennys Reyes will be the Sox only LOOGY
 to start the season. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Albers has had a very strong spring, which has to be a big part of the reason why he's made the final cut to the opening day roster. In 10 innings this spring training, Albers has posted a 1.80 ERA with 11 strikeouts and no walks.

The final spot in the Red Sox bullpen belongs to Dennys Reyes, who will be the only left hander the Sox will feature. The Sox are Reyes' eleventh team in the majors, let's hope this one sticks. It's a bit odd to see Reyes alone because Francona generally likes to have two lefties on the roster, as a means of keeping them getting worn out.

Here's a quick look at Reyes' stats from last year with the Cardinals, career highs in parentheses:

Dennys Reyes
Innings Pitched: 38 (108.0, 2004)
ERA: 3.55 (0.89, 2006)
WHIP: 1.45 (0.99, 2006)

Reyes has also had a solid spring, posting a 1.29 ERA over seven innings with seven strikeouts and two walks.

The Red Sox still have Felix Doubront on the disabled list. When healthy, he could step in as either a left handed option, long reliever or insurance starter. Junichi Tazawa is on the 60-day disabled list and could also provide some further depth. Hideki Okajima has been optioned to the minors by the Red Sox. If he has success in Pawtucket there's always the possibility he could be called back up to the Majors.

Reliever Dan Wheeler also brings a bit of luck to the Sox. After his first child was born in 2004, he went to the World Series the following year with the Astros. Then they had a second child in 2007, and he again went to the World Series the next season with the Rays. Last year, Wheeler and his wife had a third child. Odds are that means another trip to the World Series. This time with the Red Sox. Let's hope the third time's a charm for a win.

The Red Sox have completely revamped their bullpen and as a result they have a lot of depth and a lot of talent. They're certainly ready to live up to the hype and become genuine contenders for the World Series this year.

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