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In my report card, I graded the bullpen a B- and ranked them as the worst of the four units of the team. Jonathan Papelbon was the rock of this unit all season, as expected. Justin Masterson, after his conversion from starter, was also an effective later inning option for Terry Francona.
However, too many of the other options, specifically Hideki Okajima, were too inconsistent. The bullpen had stretches of dominance, but more often struck Red Sox fans with trepidation when they came into the game.
The most telling problem from the relief staff was the problem with inherited runners. Looking at the numbers from the core relievers do not indicate any issues. Papelbon registered a 2.34 ERA with a miniscule 0.95 WHIP and phenomenal 10.00 K/9. Manny Delcarmen (3.27, 1.12, 8.72), Okajima (2.61, 1.16, 8.71), and Javier Lopez (2.43, 1.35, 5.76) all put up respectable lines.
Masterson (2.36, 1.17, 7.60 as reliever; 3.16, 1.22, 6.93 overall) was more effective as a reliever than a starter. Adjusting to the role change could have resulted in poorer numbers due to fewer innings to recover from a bad outing. Bad innings for a starter can be averaged out of the course of a long season, but a reliever’s bad innings impact the permanent record for a longer time. On the flip side, concentrating outings into shorter innings can make pitchers more effective as they avoid the tired innings that can get them into trouble. Based on the half season in each role in the majors, Masterson looks to be effective in either role.
But, what those stats hide is the negative effect that the starters absorbed for them. Okajima got off to a rough start and settled down as the season wore on, but he allowed more than half of his inherited runners to score: 13 of 25. Contrast that with his All-Star 2007 campaign when he was the ultimate setup man for Papelbon and one-half of that lockdown eight and nine inning combo. Last season, he allowed only four of 28 to reach the plate.
Okajima, while having the best contrast, was certainly not alone however. David Aardsma allowed 13 of 32, Craig Hansen saw six of 15 score as a member of theRed Sox, Delcarmen was 16 for 45, Mike Timlin allowed 5 of 17, and Lopez saw more than a quarter score, 12 of 46. Masterson was great, allowing three of 17 and Papelbon was nearly perfect, allowing four of 30. If the Red Sox keep Masterson in the pen, the setup role might be the place for him to rekindle the 2007 situation and effectively make games seven inning affairs.
The bullpen could have been a lot better had they been more consistent. The divide between Papelbon and Masterson and the likes of Aardsma, Timlin, and Hansen makes the pen tough to manage and the inconsistency from Okajima, Delcarmen, and Lopez held them back. However, one thing that was consistent all season was their percussion abilities.