The Boston Bullpen: Koji and Crew

 It’s time for our Depth Chart Discussions to begin. In an effort to suss out every team, we’ve divided them into four parts (infield, outfield, bullpen, and rotation) and will begin breaking them down for you over the next few weeks. You can find them gathered here.

The Boston Red Sox bullpen has a clear closer in Koji Uehara, but following him, there are some questions. Burke Badenhop, who led the Sox pen with 70.2 innings last season is currently a free agent and the club appears to be shopping the normally dependable Edward Mujica. Andrew Miller posted an incredible season in 2014 but he now pitches for the Yankees. There are holds to be had, but it is a question of distribution.

Koji Uehara

Junichi Tazawa
Edward Mujica

In the mix
Anthony Varvaro
Brandon Workman
Robbie Ross

Also rans
Alexi Ogando
Craig Breslow
Tom Layne
Heath Hembree
Drake Britton

Uehara is about as steady as closers come. He did post a somewhat elevated 1.40 HR/9 last season, however given his fly ball nature, he will be prone to doing so. Still, Uehara posted his third consecutive season of a double digit K/9 to with a sub 3.00 ERA. Steamer is predicting a dip in the strikeouts, but Uehara’s swinging strikes almost tied a career best mark at 18.8%. Besides the occasional dinger, Uehara is great.

Moving further down the bullpen, things get a bit murkier. Last season Tazawa was second on the team in shutdowns, trailing only Uehara, and figures to have the edge as the primary setup man. Tazawa led the the pen in holds with 16, beating out both Miller and Badenhop. His appearances is 71 games in both 2013 and last season is a credit to Tazawa’s durability and management’s faith in him to get out of jams. Another fly ball pitcher, he is still nonetheless a great option for low ratios as well as strikeouts. Edward Mujica may not be in Boston by the time spring training kicks off, as Ken Rosenthal notes. Assuming he stays, expect a bounce-back from him as he was torched by the BABIP gods with a .332 mark, 40points above his career average. Don’t count on too many strikeouts — compared to other seventh inning guys — as Mujica has never posted a K/9 above 7 since 2011 but has nonetheless proven himself as a solid reliever, even grabbing 37 saves in 2013. If Mujica does get moved, he may get tabbed as his new team’s setup man, thus granting him more holds opportunities.

Last season as a member of the Atlanta Braves, Varvaro seemingly put his walk rate issues behind him, posting an impressive 2.14 BB/9 compared to his previous seasons all being above 3.00 BB/9. While his strikeouts didn’t match his upper minors numbers, 8.47 K/9 is league average for a reliever. Expect him to gather the occasional hold as a seventh inning type. Workman is set to begin the season in the minors as the front office decided to make him a reliever full time. Given his success in the minors as a starter, Workman has the potential to be a devastating two-pitch reliever with his fastball and knuckle-curve once he acclimates to a relief role. Another trade acquisition in Ross figures to be the first left-handed option out of then pen for Boston. Ross posted a rather brutal season in 2014, but his 6.20 ERA betrays his a more tolerable-but-still-bad 4.26 SIERA. Probably best used as a matchup guy at this point, but being a LOOGY isn’t so bad, right left?

Ogando is a massive question mark, but if his elbow and shoulder issues are truly behind him, then he becomes a powerful right-handed reliever. Think of an Octavio Dotel type, only Ogando can get left-handed hitters out too. If he is healthy and Ross falls on his face, don’t be surprised to see Ogando come in to face a lefty hitter, as he has held them to .296 wOBA for his career.

Often known as the smartest man in baseball, Breslow is probably the second lefty in the pen. He struggled at times last season, as his ERA and estimators (other than his 4.72 SIERA) are all north of 5.00, but he actually wasn’t that bad. Okay, he was sort of bad. If Ross, Ogando and Breslow are all bad, injured or some combination of the two, get ready for the Tom Layne show to begin! The lefty specialist posted a 0.95 ERA last season — albeit in 19 innings — where he faced 76 batters, 48 of them fellow lefties.

After Uehara and Tazawa things thin out rather quickly for Boston. Varvaro is an interesting option, potentially made even more so if Mujica gets shipped out. Still, with only two clear fantasy worthy guys, Boston’s bullpen probably won’t finish in the top 10 of WAR as they did last season.

You can catch David spouting off about baseball, soccer, esports and other things by following him on twitter, @davidwiers.

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Joshua Duncan
Joshua Duncan

I love Uehera! What i want to know is why do hitters miss his below 90s fastball so much? I remember Johnny Gomes calling his fastball an ‘invisipitch’.

But you are right, it seems its uehara, tazawa and everybody else.