Friday, April 27, 2012

What should the Red Sox do with their bullpen?

While it was nice to see the Sox get a series sweep of the Twinkies (and now four in a row with a win over the White Sox on Thursday night), it is still apparent to anyone who was watching the games that their bullpen is pathetic (with the exception of Tazawa – he has…marbles!).  If these guys can’t get the Twins out, then you know we have a problem.  Now, Clay Buchholz is also looking like he is going to be a problem on this pitching staff, but that is a topic for another day.  I want to break this thing down using each of the seven available spots, the guys the Sox already have, and the group of guys at AAA who may become potential replacements.  For now, I’m not going to pontificate about potential trade targets.  Here goes:

Spot #1: Closer 
Current Pitcher: Alfredo Aceves
Potential Replacements: Franklin Morales, Daniel Bard, Alex Wilson, Vicente Padilla
Comments:  It is quickly becoming apparent that Fettuccine Aceves does not really have the stuff to be a reliable closer.  On Wednesday night, it looked as though he had no idea where the ball was going when it left his hand.  Salty had to dive several feet in either direction several times just to catch the ball.  He hit another batter, surrendering another precious base runner in a one-run save situation.  I have been an advocate of waiting it out, giving him a full shot at keeping the job, and seeing where we’re at in May.  It is becoming apparent that he has changed his approach in the closer’s role to try to increase his velocity, and he has sacrificed his control.  Also, his mechanics are atrocious.  I think there is now about enough of a body of work that we can say he is not going to succeed in this role long-term.  So what do the Sox do?  I am already on record that I want to keep Bard in the rotation.  I have suggested in the past that Morales be given a shot at the job, but the way he has pitched recently, it doesn’t look like he would be an upgrade.  The best solution left in the system is to groom Alex Wilson to be a closer, call him up in mid-May as soon as he is ready, and if Fettuccine doesn’t have his mechanics figured out by then, plug the rookie in and hope he has a Papelbon-like impact right away, at least until Bailey comes back from the DL mid-season.  Wilson has one of the best fastballs in the Sox system (excepting Bard), and a plus slider, which translates to potential success in a closing role.  If he can show command and comfort out of the pen in AAA, I’d like to call him up and insert him into the closer’s role.  However, this probably won’t happen until mid-May at the earliest, if at all, so for now the job still belongs to Fettuccine.

Spots #2 and #3: Setup Men
Current Pitchers: Franklin Morales, Vicente Padilla
Potential Replacements: Mark Melancon, Matt Albers, Junichi Tazawa, Alex Wilson
Comments:  Morales and Padilla have had mixed results thus far on the young season.  At times, they have looked like they can be lights-out setup men.  Other times, they have struggled to record outs. One option would be to bring Wilson up once he gets his feet wet in the bullpen at Pawtucket to take over the right-handed primary setup role from Padilla, moving Padilla to more of a long-relief role.  It is much more likely that the Sox will start Wilson in a less pressure-packed role to see how he responds that it is that they would insert him right into the closer’s role.  However, a few more poor outings from Aceves that costs the team wins might force their hand to try something new.  So I would like to see Morales and Wilson in the setup role as soon as Wilson is ready, moving Padilla to the long relief role.

Spot #4:  Left-Handed Specialist
Current Pitcher: Justin Thomas
Potential Replacement: Rich Hill, Andrew Miller
Comments:  Of all of the nightmarish results of the Sox bullpen this season, perhaps the most ghastly has been the performance of Justin Thomas.  He just flat out does not belong in the major leagues.  He is just as likely to injure somebody as he is to get them out, as he showed on Wednesday night.  Opponents are hitting .476 batting/.560 on-base/.619 slugging against Thomas.  He needs to be the first to pack his bags and leave, and yesterday wouldn’t be fast enough.  Rich Hill is working his way back from Tommy John surgery and has been very effective at AAA (15.0 K/9, 5.0 K/BB).  As soon as he is deemed ready, I expect him to be called up to replace Thomas.

Spots #5 and #6:  Middle Relief
Current Pitchers: Matt Albers and Scott Atchison
Potential Replacements:  Junichi Tazawa, Mark Melancon, Andrew Miller, Alex Wilson
Comments:  Albers and Atchison struggle to get major league hitters out.  Albers especially has been dicey.  He did force a clutch ground ball for a double play to preserve the one-run lead on Wednesday night, but his stuff looks flat and hittable.  Atchison has actually been one of the best pitchers out of the bullpen all season long, even drawing praise from Bobby V recently in a Boston Globe article.  But he too has average stuff that is best suited to a mop-up role, or frankly, pitching in AAA. Junichi Tazawa was called up to replace Melancon in the Boston bullpen, and so far he has yet to give up a run or a walk in three appearances.  It is not clear what is role is on this team, but he has pitched well since being moved to the bullpen, both in AAA to start the year and since being called up.  I think he should be moved up to appearing in closer games in tighter situations.  We could have a right-handed Hideki Okajima on our hands here, which wouldn’t be bad at all.  At some point, everyone associated with this team wants Mark Melancon to be a solid pitcher out of this bullpen.  He has had success at Pawtucket since being sent down last week.  He was historically bad to start the season in the majors (49.50 ERA, 6.00 WHIP, 5 HR allowed, 6 outs recorded anyone?) but his past numbers in the major league suggest that he will figure it out enough to at least be a middle relief option for this team.

Spot #7: Long Relief/Mop-Up/Spot Starter
Current Pitcher: Junichi Tazawa
Potential Replacements: Vicente Padilla, Aaron Cook, Andrew Miller, Junichi Tazawa
Comments:  The recommendations above leave Padilla without a role in the bullpen.  He has never really had a late-inning role in his career, with the exception of some closing for the Dodgers, with mixed success.  He has the experience as a starter to be successful in the long relief/mop up/spot start role at the back of the bullpen.

So in the opinion of this Maineiac, I would like to see the Red Sox bullpen constructed like this, once Wilson is ready to come up to the big leagues, which will hopefully within a week or two.

Closer – Alfredo Aceves (unless he continues to struggle, then I say give Wilson a shot)
Setup – Franklin Morales, Alex Wilson
Lefty – Rich Hill
Middle Relief – Junichi Tazawa, Mark Melancon
Long Relief – Vicente Padilla

Remain in AAA for now: Aaron Cook (if he doesn’t opt out, if he does oh well), Andrew Miller

Send down to AAA or release: Justin Thomas, Matt Albers, Scott Atchison

What do you think?  Does anybody think I am crazy to want to see a young rookie pitching at the end of major league games?  Anybody want to argue that Melancon should not see a major-league mound again for a couple months?  Anybody desperately want to hang on to Scratch my Atchison or Hey, Hey, Hey….it’s Fat Albers?  Let’s discuss it in the comments section below.


  1. While the rest of Sox Nation has come down off the bridge since the four game winning streak. Brandon clearly remains on the bridge because of his concerns with the bullpen. Clearly Brandon didn't get the memo that everything is supposed to be honky dory when we win and we have to fire the manager when we lose!!??

    I think Brandon has jumped the shart, I mean shark, with Wilson. It was reported a couple of days ago that he was being moved to the bullpen in Pawtucket. I suggest Brandon and others go to and read the scouting report from his first bullpen appearance. It doesn't appear that Wilson will be the savior or the next Papelbon or Bard, but he's about the best major league ready pitching prospect they have right now. That doesn't mean he's going to be a good mlb pitcher. You are crazy if you want to hand him the closer's role. Aceves just needs to stop overthrowing and go back to relying on him movement and location to get people out and he will be fine.

    All pitchers are going to have their ups and downs but I still think that Padilla, Morales and Aceves will be fine to pitch the 8th and 9th innings.

    Also if Hill comes back and pitches like he was last year prior to the injury, he becomes more than just a lefty specialist. He could be a lefty specialist/set up man. He could pitch the 7th or 8th if 2 out of 3 batters coming up are left handed. I also think Tazawa can become a middle reliever/set up guy and Atchison can be used as the mop up/long relief guy.

    I think things are becoming clearer in the pen. Keep in mind that we will be getting Bailey back at some point in the season and Melancon most likely will come back, like you said to at least a middle relief role. So we don't need Wilson or anyone else to become the closer for now until the end of time.

    Here's how I see things shaping up in the pen
    Closer: Aceves
    Set-up: Padilla, Morales, Hill
    Lefty specialist (and set up): Hill
    Middle relief: Tazawa, Melancon, Albers
    Long relief: not really needed, but rotated between Albers and Tazawa when necessary
    AAA: Miller/Atchison
    This means I think they should get down to 7 pitchers in the bullpen and call up another position player.

    P.S. If Buchholz can get his head out of his butt that would help the bullpen tremendously! And the award for longest comment on a blog ever goes to...

    1. They are down to 7 players already! My bad...I had Melancon back on the 25 man roster which threw my numbers off a little bit. When Melancon is ready to come back they will have a tough choice to make from Atchison/Albers and Tazawa. I'm afraid that Tazawa may be the guy to get called down unless he can make himself irreplaceable in the set up role between now and then.

  2. Don't get me wrong, I'm ecstatic with the four game winning streak. But let's not let our happiness with the results cloud the fact that two of those wins were one-run wins over a terrible Twins team that the bullpen tried to lose for us. It's still a hot mess, excepting Tazawa. Monday night it took using Bard in the 8th to preserve the win, and then if it were not for a lucky at 'em ball to Youk they would have blown it. Wednesday night they nearly gave up a six-run lead and I'm still shocked Aceves didn't give up a run to tie it in the 9th.

    Wilson may or may not be the answer. I think he deserves more than one appearance from the bullpen in AAA before we pass judgement on the entirety his future MLB career. I said we should call him up mid-May IF he has success and give him a middle relief role, then IF he succeeds there have him replace Aceves. Two big if's I know. We may have to endure Fettuccine for the entirety of Bailey's DL stint, or look to trade for somebody. All I know is Aceves is a mess right now. Did you see the way he was pulling off his pitches on Wednesday night? How he almost fell over backwards after delivering? How Salty was diving all over to catch his pitches? He's a complete roller-coaster who is going to continue blowing games unless he seriously irons out his mechanics.

    The Sox have hit the ball really well lately and they're rolling. But we need something to dissect on the blog, right?

    1. When your timetable for Wilson plays out we'll be talking about the return of Bailey.

      I hope that Wilson ends up being a homegrown bullpen stud that can at least approach the success of Bard and Papelbon, but his scouting report sounds a little more like Bowden than Bard. Although he does appear to throw 2-3 mph harder than Bowden which is key and hopefully once he gets used to throwing out of the bullpen he may gain a couple mph's on his fastball which commonly happens when starters get converted to the bullpen. I'm just cautioning fans from hanging there hopes on a prospect that no one was really talking about until 3 days ago.

  3. Peter Abraham is reporting that Rich Hill has been called up from Pawtucket and Justin Thomas has been sent down!!! Yippie-ki-yay!

    1. That's a major upgrade in the bullpen! Of course, the water cooler would be a major upgrade over Thomas.

  4. Another thought on a alternate plan if Aceves cannot hold down the fort at closer. Mark Melancon. I know, I know, he played a Washington General to the AL's Globetrotters to start this season. But, he has pitched several scoreless outings at AAA, and supposedly his problems stemmed almost entirely from a mechanical issue with his curveball. He is working on the mechanics at Pawtucket. Melancon had 20 saves in the big leagues last year ( I know it was the NL Central, but that would be home of the defending WS champs, as well.) You would be lucky right now to go on the trade market and get a closer with 20 saves ability. I also think Alex Wilson can be a big part of the pen, but he has to pitch some more at AAA, as Brandon stated, and he will need to start out in the majors at some lower intensity level, not closer. But, depending the date of Bailey's return, Wilson could close this year I think. But if Alfredo struggles in the next week or two, I would try Melancon next.

  5. I need to see Melancon succeed in lower intensity situations before I let him anywhere near a game where we have the lead. Melancon has 3.1 innings of shutout relief in Pawtucket. I'd let him get up around 10 innings before I brought him back assuming he is still pitching well. When he comes back he needs to show me he can get big league hitters out and I would slowly increase his role as he succeeds at various levels. Start him out in mop up situations and then middle relief and each time he does well increase his responsibility. Until he hits some of those checkpoints I don't want him anywhere near a close game, but that's just me. What do I know?

    The other concern about bringing Melancon back too fast is if he fails again right away you may lose him for good.