Major League Baseball 2011: Why The Red Sox Bullpen Will Be A Strength

Bleacher ReportCorrespondent IJanuary 17, 2011

Major League Baseball 2011: Why The Red Sox Bullpen Will Be A Strength

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    In 2010, the Red Sox missed out on the postseason in large part due to its woeful bullpen. The relievers in 2010 posted a miserable 4.24 earned run average, which was good for 23rd in the MLB. The 19-23 record they produced played a major role in the Red Sox's failure to reach the playoffs. 

    However, this winter, Boston has made the necessary transactions in order for its bullpen to be among the best in the league. Sure, it would have been nice to have added Rafael Soriano to their staff, however, its free agent signings and re-signings have been sufficient. 

    In this article, I'll provide an outlook the Red Sox's most significant relievers, and why they will succeed in 2011.

Hideki Okajima Resigning

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    No, Okajima is no longer a dominant reliever. He has been declining ever since his rookie year, during which he posted a 2.22 ERA. His poor 2010 season confirmed the end of his reign as an elite reliever, which only lasted two years. So why was it important for the Red Sox to have resigned Okajima?

    If nothing else, Okajima provides depth in the Red Sox's bullpen, which is never a bad thing, especially with the possibility that Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka may not be up to par next season.

    However, if we look deeper into Okajima's stats, we see that his 2010 statistics may be a bit misleading to base his whole season on. 

    Let's begin with Okajima's splits. While his first half was miserable (2-2, 6.00 ERA), he was an elite reliever after the break, posting a 2.37 ERA in 19 innings. Since 2008, Okajima has been more of a second half pitcher, however, these splits are too extreme to ignore. 

    It is also important to note that Okajima was placed on the disabled list during 2010, so pitching injured or not completely healthy may have been a contributing factor to Okajima's poor season.

    Do I think Okajima will pitch like he did in 2007 and 2008? No. But he will improve on his 2010 production and he will be a more constistent reliever than he was in 2010, which will bolster the Sox's bullpen in 2011. 

Dan Wheeler Signing

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    Ever since the Rays jumped onto the scene in 2008, Dan Wheeler has been a key component of their success. Of those three seasons, the Rays bullpen has been in the top five in ERA twice, and their ERA never finished above 3.98 during any season.

    Wheeler's 3.24 ERA over those three years, during which he pitched 172.1 innings, was one of the reasons why the Rays' pen was so successful.

    This gives Red Sox fans real hope entering 2011 that Wheeler can provide the Sox with some stability. His 3.35 ERA in 2010 was a full .89 points below the Red Sox' bullpen ERA. At just $3 million in 2011, Wheeler is a huge bargain for the Red Sox.

    The Red Sox lineup should be very content with this signing, as Wheeler has had a 1.66 ERA against the Red Sox since 2008. 

    Moving to the Red Sox should be no issue for Wheeler, as he will not even be switching divisions, though Fenway Park is a much more conducive park to hitters than Tropicana Field. 

    Overall, Wheeler should be a huge success in Boston. He will provide the Red Sox with a strong veteran arm that was missing for it in 2010. 

Bobby Jenks Signing

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    Twenty-nine-year-old Bobby Jenks has spent the last four years of his career closing for the Chicago White Sox in high pressure situations. On the Red Sox, Jenks will have a less significant role, relieving some of the stress of closing at the major league level. 

    While you may think that Jenks is a washed up closer whose 4.44 ERA in 2010 provided proof, Jenks is actually still a very dangerous reliever, and his 2010 statistics do not reflect that.

    In 2010, Jenks' FIP (Fielder Independent ERA) was 2.59, just above his career best of 2.56 in 2007. His K/9 ratio was a full 1.62 points higher than his career ratio of 8.80. His BABIP against was an extremely high .368, well above his career average, which shows his 2010 stats do not display Jenks' talent.

    What does all this mean? It means that Jenks is still in the prime of his career, and as long as his defense backs him up, he could be an elite middle reliever in 2011. Just what the Red Sox need. 

Daniel Bard

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    Bard was one of the top set-up men in 2010 at just 25 years old. He had an ERA of 1.93, fourth in the majors of for pitchers with at least 70.0 innings pitched. His batting average against was a phenomenal .176, displaying how unhittable he was. 

    Bard is significant for the Red Sox in two ways. The first is that he provides them with a shut-down option in the seventh or eight inning. However, more importantly, Bard provides the Red Sox with a backup plan if Papelbon implodes at any time this season. 

    Just a fun fact: Bard had a 2.61 ERA against the Yankees in 2010, a 0.00 ERA against the Rays, a 0.00 ERA against the Jays, and a 4.00 ERA against the Orioles. Talk about dominating the division.

Jonathan Papelbon Will Rebound

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    Papelbon's two key weaknesses were his control issues and the amount of home runs he allowed. 

    Papelbon's home runs per fly ball rate rose to 9.1% in 2010, a 3.8% increase from 2009. Despite allowing fewer fly balls and the fact that a higher percent of those fly balls did not leave the infield (9.1% in 2010, 16.0% in 2009), Papelbon was allowing a higher rate of home runs. It is unlikely that this will continue through 2011, so a slight improvement should be expected. 

    Even if Papelbon does not get his control back to where it was in past seasons, he should see an increase in productivity. Will he ever be an elite closer again? It's unlikely. But as long as he can remain a solid closer, the Red Sox will have a strong bullpen in 2011. 

    In conclusion, Red Sox fans should be exited that the Red Sox have addressed their bullpen issues, and should look forward to a season without worrying about how many runs their relievers will let up.