Matt Barnes Not Only Reliever Who Could Close Out Games for Red Sox Following Brandon Workman Trade, Ron Roenicke Says

With Heath Hembree and Brandon Workman now Philadelphia Phillies, a couple late-inning spots just opened up in the back end of the Red Sox bullpen. More specifically, with Workman gone, the Sox do not exactly have a set closer at this point in time.

Right-hander Matt Barnes took charge of that responsibility in Boston’s 8-5 win over the Orioles on Friday and he looked good doing so, needing just 13 pitches to record his first save since last June.

Even with Barnes’ impressive importance fresh in his mind, Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke didn’t really commit to the 30-year-old hurler as his set ninth-inning man moving forward.

“No doubt, I have faith in what he can do,” Roenicke said of Barnes during his postgame media availability. “I probably won’t do it the same way that we did with [Workman] because we had Barnes for the seventh or eighth or somebody and then going to [Workman]. This will be a little bit different, probably. I’m sure [Barnes] will get most of the opportunities, but if it matches up better with him in the eighth inning and another closer in the ninth, we’ll do that. I don’t think I’m just going to limit him to doing it for one inning.”

If it’s Barnes getting the call for the ninth, Roenicke named Austin Brice and Josh Taylor as relievers who could close out games if necassary.

“I think we have a couple guys that could do it,” the Sox skipper added. “I’m comfortable with all of them, so I think the match-ups will tell us what to do there.”

Left-hander Darwinzon Hernandez, who worked two scoreless innings in his 2020 debut on Friday after missing time on the COVID-19 related injured list, could be another candidate to close were it not for the plans the Red Sox have for the 23-year-old hurler.

“The only thing with Darwinzon is because we know he can give us two or three [innings], it may be more important to do that in the…sixth, seventh, or eighth, maybe,” said Roenicke. “I think he is more valuable in doing that than just keeping him to one inning. We’ll see as time goes on, but he was coming out [Friday] for the first time. He threw some nasty pitches. I know sometimes he may get a little wild, but his pitches, you see the swings they take and the bats that break and it’s just really good stuff.”

Out of the 40 pitches Hernandez threw in his first outing on Friday, the Venezuelan got the Orioles to swing and miss seven times. Because he accrued two innings of work against Baltimore, his next outing likely won’t come until the Red Sox’ next series against the Blue Jays in Buffalo.

Putting Craig Kimbrel’s 2017 Season Into Perspective

After being named the Red Sox’ president of baseball operations on August 18th, 2015, one of Dave Dombrowski’s first orders of business in his first offseason at the helm in Boston was to acquire a topnotch closer to supplement the back end of his bullpen.

That November, Dombrowski did just that, as the Red Sox acquired then-four-time All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel from the San Diego Padres in exchange for a package of four prospects.

With three years of club control remaining after signing a four-year, $42 million extension with the Braves that included a club option for a potential fifth year prior to the start of the 2014 campaign, the Sox were getting one of the best late-inning hurlers in the game in the form of the flame-throwing Kimbrel.

Kimbrel was an All-Star in each of the three seasons he donned a Red Sox uniform, and he capped off his tenure in Boston with his first World Series ring in October 2018.

For this piece specifically though, I’d like to focus on Kimbrel’s 2017 season.

2017 was a rather forgettable year for the Red Sox despite them winning 93 games and the American League East for the second straight year, but Kimbrel was as dominant as ever coming off a somewhat bumpy first year in Boston.

Appearing in 67 games in his age-29 season, Kimbrel posted a 1.43 ERA, a 0.68 WHIP, and a 1.50 xFIP over a nice 69 innings of work. He converted 35 of a possible 39 save opportunities, was named the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year that October, and finished sixth in American League Cy Young voting that November.

To put those numbers into perspective, Kimbrel was worth 3.2 fWAR in 2017, per FanGraphs. Using that metric, that’s the best year any Red Sox reliever has had since at least 1901, which is as far back FanGraphs goes on its leaderboard page.

Out of the 254 batters he faced in 2017, Kimbrel struck out 126, or 49.6%, of them. That’s the highest mark for any reliever to work at least 60 innings in a single season since the turn of the century. In that same time frame, the Alabama native also posted the highest K/9 average in 2017 (16.43). Surprisingly enough, Matt Barnes, who averaged 15.4 punchouts per nine innings last season, is right behind him.

It probably would have been better to write something like this while Kimbrel was actually still on the Red Sox. But with the lack of things to write about lately and all, I thought what the former Sox closer accomplished in 2017 was worth taking another look at.

Now a member of the Chicago Cubs, Kimbrel may not be the dominating late-inning force he once was, but he’s still one of the best to do it in this era. That’s for sure.