Before his thumb injury took him out of commission he was slated to be Boston’s successor to Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth inning.
But Bailey’s injury threw all of Bobby Valentine’s bullpen plans out the window and the shuffling of bullpen roles showed its ugly side during the first month of the season. The Red Sox bullpen struggled against the Detroit Tigers and didn’t fare much better against the New York Yankees to start the season.
But Boston’s bullpen has been much better as of late and a reliever of Bailey’s caliber could turn a good bullpen into a great bullpen.
Here are 10 reasons why Bailey’s return will make the Red Sox a very dangerous team down the stretch.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats are from baseball-reference.com
With Bailey back in the mix, the Red Sox can go back to their original plan and insert him as the team’s closer. Valentine can put Bailey in to finish games and use his other pitchers in their original roles.
This wouldn’t be the exact plan the Red Sox had in mind during the spring because Mark Melancon, who was supposed to fill Boston’s eighth inning role, is still working things out in Triple-A Pawtucket.
But it would be the closest facsimile of what Red Sox fans were envisioning when GM Ben Cherington acquired Bailey from the Oakland A’s during the offseason.
Last season Bailey had a 3.24 ERA with 24 saves. He’s comfortable in the closer’s role and is a two-time All-Star. He’s also pitched well against the AL East in his career. That kind of stability in the ninth inning could be just what the Red Sox need down the stretch this season.
Alfredo Aceves is currently keeping the ninth inning warm for Bailey. But if Aceves continues to prove he can handle the job, Valentine could elect to use Bailey as Boston’s eighth inning setup man.
The search for a setup man has been something akin to the search for the Holy Grail for Valentine this season. Melancon was supposed to be that man but failed in historic fashion. The Red Sox still do not have clearly defined bullpen roles for their pitchers this season.
If Bailey can effectively return as Boston’s setup man and Aceves remains the closer the Red Sox will finally have stability they’ve been searching for all season.
Aceves was the Swiss Army Knife of pitchers for Boston last season. He fulfilled almost every role Terry Francona asked of him. If Bailey does return as the closer, Valentine could use Aceves much like Francona did.
Aceves excelled no matter when he was called upon to pitch.
In 114 innings pitched last season Aceves was 10-2 with a 2.61 ERA. He started four games and saved two. He defined flexibility.
His flexibility is just the reason why Valentine turned to him to close games once Bailey went down. But when Bailey returns it may be time to free up Aceves to once again be the weapon Valentine could use in any imaginable scenario.
If Valentine does indeed elect to insert Bailey back into the closer’s role, Aceves could simply flip innings.
This season Aceves has been very good closing games for Boston. He has 11 saves with a 4.76 ERA. He is striking out 9.6 hitters per nine innings this season. That strikeout rate is the stuff of closers.
While he has done an admirable job in the ninth his true spot may be in the eighth.
If Aceves can translate that strikeout rate to the eighth inning the Red Sox may have a dominant setup man on their hands.
Once again, this would give some sense of order to Boston’s bullpen: Aceves in the eighth, Bailey in the ninth.
This would give Boston a formidable one-two punch to close out games during the final three months of the season.
Daniel Bard may have to move back to the bullpen.
Daniel Bard has been dogged all season by talk he should be the team’s closer. Or, at the very least, return to his role as setup man.
The talk is not without merit.
Last season Bard pitched in 70 games, struck out 9.1 hitters per nine innings pitched and had the ability to bridge the gap to Papelbon. He had 34 holds.
Out of the 70 games he pitched last season, 56 came in the eighth inning. He struck out 50 hitters in the eighth and held the opposition to a .205 batting average. The kid can flat out dominate the eighth.
But Valentine and company decided to turn Bard into Boston’s fifth starter.
The experiment has hardly been a disaster but it also hasn’t really worked.
This season Bard is 4-5, with a 4.69 ERA in 48 innings pitched. He only has 28 strikeouts on the season.
Alex Speier recently wrote for weei.com:
"But there is a surprising inability to get strikeouts, a lot of walks and tons of base runners. Among 121 qualifying starters, Bard ranks 112th with a 1.56 WHIP—almost twice the mark of major league leader Justin Verlander, who has a 0.80 WHIP, and a colossal increase from the 0.98 WHIP he had as a reliever in 2010-11."
Daisuke Matsuzaka and Aaron Cook will both eventually return to Boston and neither will go to the bullpen. It may be time to put Bard back to where he is the most effective: the eighth inning.
When Bailey does return Boston would have a scary one-two-three punch of Aceves, Bard and Bailey to close out games.
The hard reality of sport is injury. Injuries will happen. Every injury has a ripple effect and the only way to mitigate how much a particular injury will affect a team is quality depth.
For the most part the Red Sox pitching staff has been lucky this year but they’ve been relying heavily on Scott Atchison and Matt Albers. It’s not out of the realm of possibility someone will breakdown before the season ends.
Rich Hill is pitching with a surgically repaired elbow. Franklin Morales missed time during the spring with weakness in his pitching shoulder.
The return of Bailey will provide the Red Sox with the insurance and depth teams desperately need to compete for a title.
Matt Albers faded down the stretch last season.
Matt Albers was an effective pitcher for the Red Sox last season. In 56 games he went 4-4 with a 4.73 ERA. He ate up 64.2 innings.
Albers was very effective over the first four months of the season. His worst month over that period of time was May where he posted a 4.40 ERA. He was lights out in July where he appeared in 10 games and did not allow a run.
But the workload caught up to him.
Albers seemed worn out and the numbers bear that out. In August he appeared in 11 more games. The results were not the same. He posted a 12.34 ERA. He gave up eight home runs.
Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe wrote, “Overuse was probably a contributing factor, too. Albers appeared worn out, and his sinking fastball floated up as a result.”
Albers simply couldn’t keep his production where it needed to be when the Red Sox needed him the most.
Albers once again is off to a strong start. In 18 games he has a 2.14 ERA and a 0.952 WHIP.
But Albers has already pitched in three more games than he did at this point last season.
Eventually Valentine will have to find a way to keep Albers fresh to prevent a breakdown similar to last year’s breakdown.
Adding Bailey to the bullpen could be the key to keeping Albers rested. When Bailey’s role is in place it will allow the rest of the bullpen to fall into order. The ripple effect of Bailey’s presence in the bullpen should help ease some of the workload placed on Albers.
The Red Sox must be careful not to overuse thier aging bullpen.
The return of Bailey should also help other pitchers from wearing down. Vicente Padilla, Atchison and Albers have all been leaned upon heavily to start the season.
Padilla has appeared in 18 games and has been great at stranding runners. His 11 holds are good for fourth best in all of baseball. (h/t mlb.com)
But at 34 years old Valentine has to be careful how often he uses Padilla.
Atchison has also been a great surprise for the Red Sox. In 18 games Atchison’s ERA stands at 1.00.
But like Padilla, age could be a factor down the stretch. At 36 years old Valentine may have to curtail the amount he uses Atchison.
If Valentine can learn anything from last season’s collapse, it should be not to overplay his hand and keep his relievers rested as much as possible.
The addition of Bailey to the bullpen should help to ease the minds of the Red Sox starting pitchers.
When Bailey returns the Red Sox could potentially have a dominant combination of Bard, Aceves and Bailey to close out games.
Valentine has had the tendency to keep his starting pitchers late into games.
If Valentine knows he has Bard, Aceves and Bailey ready to go in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, he may be more willing to turn to that potentially devastating combination rather than keep his starters in the game too long.
A player’s impact on the clubhouse often goes overlooked unless they have somehow negatively influenced it.
What shouldn’t go overlooked is Bailey’s personality.
Bailey’s former teammate Jerry Blevins told Brendan McGair of the pawtuckettimes.com, "He’s a pretty positive guy. He’s more broken hearted for the team and also the fans because he wanted to do well for Boston. He’s moving along with his rehab and everything’s on schedule.”
Blevins went on tell McGair:
“He’s one of the friendliest players that you’ll have on your team. He’s always smiling and joking around, but when it’s game time and he’s out there in the bullpen, he develops that real intense approach that you need in a closer, which is perfect.”
The Red Sox have been a team with their fair share of clubhouse controversy. Bailey’s personality could be the part of the solution to what sometimes feels like a broken clubhouse.