The 2009 season appears to be another slugfest in the AL East. There are powerful hitters on the Yankees (A-Rod, Texeria, Swisher, Matsui, Posada, Jeter), Rays (Pena, Longoria, Crawford, Upton, Burrell), Jays ( Rolen, Overbay, Wells, Rios), and Orioles (Huff, Mora, Roberts, Markakis). The Red Sox lineup that ended the season pretty much intact and they will score runs. The Question arises “Who on the Red Sox is going to get these guys out?”
Teams that have tried to slug their way to a championship and don’t concentrate on pitching usually aren’t successful, The winning strategy seems to be pitching and defense. Even with Fransisco Rodriguez’s record breaking 62-save season last year, saves could possibly be the most misleading stat as to how successful a bullpen is.
Only twice over the past decade has the team that had their closer lead the league in saves made it to the World Series (Mariano Rivera for the 1999 and 2001 Yankees). This is era of 100 plus pitch-counts and the emphasis of a “quality start”(six plus innings leave with your team tied or in the lead, turn it over to the bullpen, allowing three or less earned runs) 1-2-3 9th innings and 30 second highlight clips. With most closers throwing one inning and rarely getting a six-out save, teams that have success are the ones that are able to get the ball from their starters to the closers.
The ‘hold’ (same rules as a save situation, plus retire one batter and don’t give up the lead) has become an integral part to a bullpen’s success. Last year for instance, the Phillies had four guys in the top 50 in holds (who combined for 72), 18 wins and had their closer Brad Lidge get 41 saves. The runner-up Rays top three hold guys combined for 58 holds 15 wins and 45 total saves. The most important part of the game (innings 6-8) and the "bridge" guys (who get those important nine outs from starter to closer) are often overlooked.
So who are the Red Sox pitchers that are building the bridge to Jonathan Paplebon?
-Hideki Okijima- 23 holds 62.0 innings 60 strikeouts 49 hits 18 runs Lefty, an already proven all-star who can pitch to right and left handers, striking out both. Okijima has shown he can handle the regular and post season pressures. Also he has the capability to pitch more then one inning.
-Manny Delcarmen- 18 holds 74.1 innings 72 strikeouts 55 hits 28 runs two saves. Manny is another power arm in the Sox bullpen who can pitch to both right and left handers (sub .220 avg to both) and strike guys out.
-Takishi Saito- A right-hander with 47.0 innings 60 strikeouts 40 hits 14 runs 18 saves last season. A former all-star closer who is looking to rebound from a season cut short by injury. However in his three seasons in baseball he has racked up 81 saves. Doesn’t have to be the main setup man because of Okijima and Delcarmen
-Javier Lopez- 10 holds 59.1 innings 38 strikeouts 53 hits 18 runs 0 saves Lefty, should thrive again this year pitching to lefties (.182 avg) but not righties (.311). Pitched almost equal amount to both.
-Ramon Ramirez- Right-hander with 21 holds 71.2 innings 70 strikeouts 57 hits 23 runs one save last season. Was acquired from Kansas City in the Coco Crisp trade. Probably the biggest question mark out of the pen. Kansas City isn’t Boston, but his stats on paper do show that he has been successful out of the bullpen. He has pitched almost evenly to right and left handed hitters and he will contribute by getting right-handers out (.153 avg) and keep him away from lefties (.300). This gives the Red Sox the pieces in place to match other teams lineups when needed, or have one pitcher handle a whole inning or two.